Gone Hunting 9-20-10
September 20, 2010
I’ve played on football fields on Chicago’s south side, in Kansas and in Arkansas. This was my first experience on a football field in Montana.
We rolled into Red Lodge, Mont., at 2 a.m., and it just didn’t make sense to spend money on a motel room for about four hours.
The Montana upland bird season opened Sept. 1, and we wanted a crack at those little rascals right at sunrise.
My hunting buddy, Laurence Stanton, and I rolled our sleeping bags out in the end zone of Red Lodge high school’s football field and tried to get as much sleep as we could.
Breakfast was light: a bottle of orange juice and a cinnamon roll. We were rolling before sunlight toward a small spot on the map named Belfry.
I had read about the Bureau of Land Management’s public hunting lands that surround Belfry in an old issue of my National Rifle Association’s magazine, “The American Hunter.”
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The rugged, arid canyon lands near Belfry harbor what we called a triple crown: Hungarian partridge, sage grouse and chukar partridge.
The sage grouse or sage hen is the only native bird of our triple crown. The Hungarian partridge or Hun was introduced here, obviously, from Europe.
The widely recognized North American authority on the chukars is Glen C. Christiansen, retired from the Nevada Department of Fish and Game. In his opinion the predominant chukar introduced to Western American rangelands is an Asiatic species.
I’ve had many opportunities to hunt the sage hen and the Hun. This was my first chance at a chukar.
There are several “bird farms” that raise chukar and sell them to dog trainers and hunting preserves. These pen-raised birds are not in the same universe as their wild cousins that inhabit the canyon lands of the West.
To try to put it in a perspective that everyone might understand, it would be like comparing a 10-year-old “Pop Warner” football player to an NFL All-Pro, such as the Chicago Bears’ Brian Urlacher.
Right at sunrise, we rolled into one of the rocky basins that dot the map around Belfry. There is nothing there other than rocks, cheat grass and a trickle of water that could be mistaken for a creek.
I should have bought a lottery ticket that day. It was my day! We hadn’t driven into that basin more than a quarter mile when a covey of birds about the size of a pigeon raced across the road right in front of my truck.
It was Chinese fire drill time. By the time we let the dogs out and uncased our shotguns, that covey was across the creek and on its way up the steep walls of that basin.
I could tell now that these were chukar – they love to run uphill and they do it very well. They outran the dogs easily. The key to putting them in your game bag is persistence. Stay on their trail until they make a mistake and you somehow corner one or two. Then they will fly. You just need to make sure you’re within shotgun range when they do.
I saw two chukar run up into a craggy, rock-filled sliver that cut into the side of that basin.
Pepper, my German short-haired pointer, and I climbed up through those rocks. Just as we closed in on the top of the plateau, those two chukar flushed and flew downhill right past us.
Jupiter and Mars must have been perfectly lined up and all was well in the Age of Aquarius because two shots from my Browning over/under 20 gauge dropped both birds.
I’ve been hunting for more than 40 years, and these are the only two wild chukar that have graced my game bag.
We took several huns and sage hens – not nearly a limit of any of the three species, but we did complete “The Triple Crown.”
If you’re looking for a terrific getaway, give Red Lodge, Mont., a try. It’s one hour north of Cody, Wyo.
It does have several acceptable motels, good dining, a challenging golf course and several antique stores.
You can also try your luck on the Yellowstone River. I’ve caught rainbow trout near Belfry.
The trout were much more cooperative than the chukar.