The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

September 23, 2012

Don Steese column: Greetings from the north

By Don Steese
For The Daily Item

— I arrived in Saskatchewan last Tuesday, picked up my hunting buddy on Thursday and we’ve been running dogs since then. The dogs are probably a bit less beat up than us two old fellas are at the moment. You can put on a lot of mileage out here without thinking too much about it. The only saving grace is that it’s mostly level walking.

We were very concerned about how much the bird populations had rebounded from what was a very dismal year last year. I had these two dogs with me last year that I wanted to evaluate and there were barely enough birds to make that possible. I’m happy to report that things are much improved this year.

My young setter has been getting a noseful since we arrived and I’m absolutely delighted with her performance so far!  

My own — not so much.

In bird dog parlance this dog is what we call steady to wing, shot and fall. That means that when she establishes point she will not move until I give the command. When a dozen birds get up all around her and I fire a couple shots, (and miss) she’s supposed to stay stock-still.

She does, but I’m trying to concentrate on watching her and watching the bird at the same time. Let me report that that’s a great way to guarantee a miss each and every time. I think I’ve finally gotten comfortable enough with the fact that she’ll remain steady that I’ve begun concentrating on the departing bird. I can think of no other reason for the fact that I’m actually hitting a few after a rather dismal start.

By the way, she also looks like she’s going to be a great retriever. It’s a bit of a struggle to get the bird pried from her clenched jaws, but other than that she does a super job. We’ll have to work on the hard mouth thing, either that or come to grips with pre-tenderized table fare.

One thing we are noticing that indicates that bird numbers haven’t fully recovered is that many of the coveys of Hungarian Partridge are small, only a half-dozen or so birds. We won’t shoot a bird out of a covey with less than nine or 10 birds because they, like bobwhites, huddle together to keep warm during the long winter nights, and the bigger the covey the better their chances for survival.

So far we’ve seen coyotes, mule deer, whitetail deer, scads of hawks (they’re migrating through here right now), thousands of ducks and geese, a couple skunks and a porky or two. I had to pick several quills from one of my dogs the other night proving that you can even get quilled by a dead porky — but you have to try awfully hard. I also saw a badger the other day, something I’ve only seen a few times in my life. They are mean-looking characters, to say the least.

There are four of us hunting right now and two are hunting both waterfowl and upland birds. They’re doing well on both, especially the waterfowl. It’s hard to describe the numbers you see out here. There’s a prairie pothole about every mile and every one has ducks galore.

One of the guys hunting with us is a retired wildlife biologist and is a real fountain of knowledge about the wildlife we’re seeing each day. I may actually be learning some things.

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