Years ago when I lived in Ely and grouse season rolled around, as it will again Saturday, I regularly strolled into the woods toting a Model 12 Winchester.
I had cut down this vintage smoke pole from its original 30 inches to a more swingworthy 28 and bored it for Briley chokes, screwing in the cylinder option for Ol' Ruff. The Winchester wasn't much of a grouse gun but it was the only gun I owned. Cased, it could slide behind the seat of my '56 Willys pickup, while my yellow Labrador, Boogie, rode sidekick. Dinner was what we brought home, if anything.
Duck hunting is a good time, but the uplands and the many game birds they harbor — woodcock, pheasants, various species of quail, prairie chickens, sharp-tailed grouse and Hungarian partridge, in addition to my Ely quarry, ruffed grouse — often attract wing shooting specialists who want nothing to do with targeting mallards or other fowl.
Exercise freaks by another name, upland hunters prefer to walk for their birds, often endlessly, rather than sit in a blind and await their prey to arrive over decoys.
Already this early fall, sharptail seasons are open in North Dakota and Montana, and Minnesota nimrods eager to wear out boot leather are striding across western prairies, having the time of their lives putting birds in their hands. Or trying to.
Among these is Jerry Kolter, who with his wife, Betsy, owns a Sandstone, Minn, setter and pointer training and breeding kennel. As you read this, Jerry's following an eager phalanx of his charges over hardscrabble flatlands, awaiting one of them to point and his other dogs to back — a visual rush that for centuries has inspired scattergunners and painters alike.
Bud Grant was more of a duck hunter than an uplander, but he could cover country like Big Foot if there was a chance a covey of sharptails lay ahead.
Years ago, Bud and I were in North Dakota, hightailing it through Bismarck, where at Bud's insistence we pulled over for ice cream.
"It's bad luck to drive by a Dairy Queen without stopping,'' Bud said.
"Words to live by,'' I said.
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