I have consolidated the last three days of our pheasant quest primarily because as we traveled west, internet connections became scarce, and so it would have been hard, if not impossible, to update this blog.
Day 9: Near Corinne, Utah
The agricultural fields sandwiched in between the Wasatch mountains and the Great Salt Lake allowed us a morning to look for some Utah pheasants not far from I-84. The rain had been persistent prior to our arrival and consequently the hay fields were still un-mowed (tall and thick). The wheat grass along the edges was tall, but gave the birds some space to move around. While the morning was clear and crisp, the cover was still wet. Not ideal, as birds generally don’t want to fly with wet feathers. (Go figure.) But as we moved up the rows of tall wheat grass, the dogs successfully put up a total of 9 birds.
Two things of note. My shooting was improving quite a bit, so no dramatic shots or retrieves were required. Dog flushes bird, Russ shoots bird, dog retrieves bird, next. But out over the hay fields, two birds did get up in front of Norm, where he made a couple of successful long shots. The deceased birds glided into heavy wet alfalfa, a hundred-plus yards away. Scarlett, who stands just below the height of the hay, quartered out in front of Norm, and found both birds.
So after a couple of hours we had 8 more birds to add to the cooler.
If you are a photographer such as myself, or a serious bird hunter, it is inadvisable to wield both a camera and shotgun for reasons of safety, aesthetics, and only having two hands. I carry a small camera in my upland vest while hunting, but only use it when the shotgun is down and safe, hence no action photos when I have a gun. As such, the following image is one I made while resting at the end of a field, looking back east at the Wasatch mountains to give an visual reference to the hunting conditions.
After cleaning the birds, we snagged a lunch at Mollies in Snowville, Utah and headed into Idaho for the night.
Day 10: East of Shoshone, Idaho
We spent the night in a ubiquitous Motel 6 in Twin Falls, Idaho. Then after a solid breakfast at a local place named Norm’s Cafe in Twin Falls, we headed north to Shoshone, then west on along the rail line until we found the Little Wood Ranch, which straddles the Little Wood River. This was an area of hay and grain fields surrounded by sagebrush. Due the marvels of modern irrigation, when you mix water with Idaho desert soils, you get great farm land. (Yes, this is the source for your fried potatoes at McDonalds and Tater Tots from Ore-Ida foods, but I digress.) These fields held quite a few birds and due to the dogs’ week of daily hunting and our week of practice with our shotguns, the birds were easy to find, shoot, and retrieve.
While the hunting seemed like a slam-dunk pheasant shoot, it turned out to be a dunk only. Tooey followed a scent trail and disappeared into some tall cover next the the Little Wood River. I immediately knew this was not a good thing thing, because if Tooey finds water, she goes swimming for the sport of it. I quickly dropped my shotgun, ran to the river bank (a 4 foot drop), and saw Tooey swimming hard upstream but floating downstream in the swift current around the bend. This is not an image you want etched into your memory if this is the last you ever see of your dog. I ran a short distance downstream along the bank, and got Tooey to swim laterally until she could find some traction on bottom. She got to the edge, I lay down and grabbed her collar (and I have long arms) and pulled her up the bank.
Now with a wet (and happy) dog, I had to find my shotgun somewhere upstream. Dog, check. Shotgun, check. Okay, time to start hunting again. We crossed a small footbridge over the river and hunted a field on the north side. Norm shot a bird that glided into trees next to the river. (Oh Shit!! Not again.) Scarlett disappeared into the cover, and then into the water. But as providence would have it, the pheasant landed in a shallow eddy on this side of the river, and Scarlett found an entry point that matched her 12″ height. Wet dog, wet pheasant delivered to hand. Heavy sigh.
The only other interesting note was that we bagged a couple of chukar in addition to the 8 pheasants. While this is a pretty location with birds, I am no longer inclined to hunt areas with swift moving rivers with steep banks.
A couple of hours to the west, we stopped to have dinner with a dog friend, Ryan, near Boise, Idaho. We met Ryan several years ago in Oregon where he was one of the founding members of the Lower Columbia Hunt Retriever Club. But his work took him, his family, and small fleet of Labrador Retrievers to Idaho. After a nice break catching up and having great Thai food (way off the Interstate), Norm and I headed back into Oregon and a night stop in Baker City.
Day 11: A great Oregon pheasant hunt
Back in our own state of Oregon, we wandered out north of Baker City to the Tucker Creek Ranch. Fortunately Tucker Creek, which runs through the heart of the ranch was about 2 feet wide and dry. But the fields and trees along the creek bed were ideal bird habitat. The weather was perfect, the landscape was eye candy, but the birds very elusive. Tooey put up two rooster pheasants that went into my hunting vest. Tooey put up a third rooster, but somehow my crack shooting and Norm’s long distance skills were no match, and it got off to live another day. Oh well. On our way back up the creek towards the car, a covey of about a dozen quail flew up out from the cover and upstream among the trees. But quail season does not open for another 5 days, so we just watched with delight as these birds reconvened into the cover (another reason to return to Tucker Creek).
As we poked around the stream bed, I frequently reminded Tooey to “go find the birds”, but in her excitement, she must have misheard me and instead thought I said, “go find the burrs”. Being a good dog, she complied and brought back plenty. In addition to the cockle burrs and the sand spurs, she added a new variety to her collection, Beggars Lice.
While we only came away with two birds today, it was the best hunting of the trip. The weather, topography, ranch owner were perfect. Maybe it’s an Oregon thing.
After nearly two weeks of Motel 6s, it was time to go home. We just packed the dogs, birds, and gear into the car and headed the last 300 miles home to Portland. Arrived dirty and dog tired. But happy.
Day 12: Dog Grooming
Even though an hour was spent last night grooming Tooey to get out the burrs and spurs acquired from Tucker Creek Ranch, another pass was required this morning before it was bath time. Trice will be returning from her vacation in a few hours, and Tooey will be clean, dry, curly, and smelling fresh when Trice walks in the door.
And so in the last 12 days:
- 3000 miles driven
- traveled through Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas (and back again!)
- 47 birds delivered to hand (45 pheasants, 2 chukar)
- weather included hot sun, tornado warnings, flash floods, thunder storms, driving rain, and blue skies. Everything but hail and snow.
Tooey has been a trooper; sleeping all night on the beds in Motel 6s, logging 3000 miles in her car crate, protecting me from thunder, and covering miles on the ground looking for birds.
She is a Champion in the show world. She also has her titles in Obedience and Rally, Retriever and Upland Hunt Tests. She has earned the AKC All-Around IWS award and has qualified for the Quintessential Versatility Award. She is also a Top Producer in that she has produced three champion show dogs (aka puppies) located in the the USA, Canada, and Australia. And she is (as of now) one of only 5 Irish Water Spaniels to have done all of the above.
And now for the drum roll . . .
I have no data to prove this, but of the other 4 IWS that can match Tooey for the number and variety of titles and accomplishments, I venture that none of the others has ever produced as many birds in as many states as Tooey. So far to date, she has found and delivered waterfowl and/or upland birds in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Kansas, Utah, and Idaho. (And next year’s plan includes the Dakotas and Canadian provinces!)
In my mind she is quite a Renaissance Dog. What’s not to love.
To be continued . . .