OUTSHOOTING MATT: The Fall

Continued from Part One below.

Matt and I lost touch for a few years after that, but when Matt moved to Driggs, Idaho to work for the Teton Regional Land Trust, we instantly renewed our friendship, as if we never had been apart. During Matt’s absence, we both separately continued to pursue our love of bird hunting with great ardor. Logan had aged significantly over the years, and it showed in the grey whiskers throughout his muzzle, but he still loved to hunt.

As in old times, I soon invited Matt to hunt with me at my favorite covert which I have named, “The Royal MacNab” after Robert F. Jone’s unforgettable story, “The Royal MacBob” which happens to be one of my all-time favorite outdoor stories. Like the story, this cover has it all: Deer, pheasants, ruffed grouse, Hungarian partridge, and most importantly, sharptailed grouse. This incomparable area is comprised primarily of CRP fields that gently slope downhill. However, slicing the CRP fields are numerous parallel draws running east to west that have drained the area for eons. As the draws slope downhill to the south, they become increasingly deeper and wider to the point where they become more like canyons than draws.

Inside, the draws are lined with quaking aspens and numerous berry bushes, including service berry, rose hips, and elder berry, which serve as food sources for all the local gamebirds. Above the CRP fields to the east are grand, steep mountains with thick pine forests. To sum it up, the surrounding panorama is simply breathtaking. When I think of heaven, I wonder if it could beat the glory of the Royal MacNab in its fall garb. I was sure Matt, of all people, would appreciate the singularity of this covert and would, based upon his own personal ethical code, keep it a secret.
One October Friday afternoon, we both snuck away from work early and traveled south to this royal place for a few hours of hunting. At the time, a thick and gray cloud covering blanketed the sky, but the rain held off that fateful afternoon. With the assistance of our dogs, Matt and I worked across the CRP and checked all the usual locations where the sharptails hang out, like the leeway side of hills out of the wind, but the grouse were elsewhere.

As we pushed downhill, I spied a solitary flying sharptail drop down into some sage brush bordering the edge of the biggest draw. With focused intensity, Sunny, my French Brittany, and I walked towards the place where I had marked the bird down and, as I hoped, it flushed giving me an easy straightaway shot. In short order, I had the first of my two-bird limit.

In circling back towards the truck, Matt and I dropped over the edge of the draw and made our way across the narrow creek and then up the other side to another rolling CRP field. Over the years, this area has always held good numbers of sharpies. To the east of this CRP field and uphill is a patch of quaking aspens that separated us from where Matt’s truck was parked. Matt and I spread out about twenty- five feet apart and let the dogs work through the area as we pushed up towards the quakies. Not far from the treeline, a grouse flushed about ten feet behind Matt . Like a man on a mission, I instinctively mounted my 12 gauge, swung out well ahead of the sharpie, tugged the trigger, and the bird folded.

“Man, that was quick Andy. You had that shot off before I could even get on him.” Matt complimented.

I quickly learned that right as I pulled the trigger, Matt was bearing down on the escaping grouse, but I beat him to the punch. And with that bird, I had my Idaho limit of sharptail grouse: Two birds with two shots. Not bad, for a duffer, if I do say so myself. I suddenly felt the pressure release and now I could relax the rest of the hunt.

Matt and I made our way back to his truck where, on the tail gate, he made us some hippy sandwiches, which consist of bagels, spicy sliced chicken, Swiss cheese, sliced cucumbers, sprouts, humus, spicy mustard, and the coup de grace, horseradish. I highly recommend this for any outdoor outing.

Matt makes hippie sandwiches.

After dinner, I left my gun in the truck and pulled out the digital camera to capture the rest of the hunt. This time, we swung up east towards the mountains. A sharptail soon flushed in front of Logan and Matt made a good shot. As always, Logan lived up to his breeding and delivered the bird to hand.

Although we hunted hard, we did not find a lot of birds on this swing so we headed downhill to the south towards the truck. For the whole hunt prior, we had left my big running Elhew Pointer, Dusty, in the truck so that he would not interfere with slower going Logan. With the lack of birds, I suggested to Matt, “Maybe Dusty will be able to cover more ground so that we can find you some birds.” Matt agreed and we let Dusty out of his kennel for the rest of the hunt.

What followed is one of my all-time favorite memories of Dusty. Sometimes I’d call him “Bustin’ Dusty” because of his tendency to flush birds to the horizon, but he was all about business that late afternoon. As we hiked, Matt missed a bird that flushed wild but in range. No big deal, I thought, he won’t miss again.

Matt follows Logan in the rolling CRP.

As shooting light began to slip away, Dusty froze on a solid point on the rim of the canyon. I signaled Matt in to honor the point and he walked in behind Dusty and as if scripted, the bird rose up giving Matt an easy straight away, which he whiffed, not once, but twice!

“Dang it!” Matt hollered in frustration as darkness descended.

Matt had failed to obtain his limit of sharptails. It soon dawned on me that, although I did not say it at the time, I had outshot the master!

What’s the saying? Every dog has his day. Two shots, two birds.

In hindsight, however, I can say that my glory was short-lived as Matt has consistently shot better and harvested more birds than me over the years. Nowadays, you always hear outdoorsmen say, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” I too have said this numerous times, but now that I think about it, I would rather be good. You see, good shots capitalize more on the limited opportunities of flushing birds that they have in a season. Now as this story shows, Matt is by no means perfect, but he is good. At least, I can look back and say that there was that one time when I outshot Matt.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. AndyYou are becoming the poet laureate of this blog! Great stories and your writing gets evermore polished. Keep it up and someday your books on hunting and fishing will be collector's items in their first editions. Keep it up!Walter

  2. Andy W. says:

    Walter, Thanks for your kind words. "Outshooting Matt" is another piece which has run the gamet of the hunting magazine editors without any interest and/or takers. One editor said it was just a: We went hunting and had a good time story. Another editor said my writing was not ________ magazine's caliber of writing. Despite the criticism, I thought the story was fun and wanted to share it with the blog readers. Your praise is much appreciated and gives me hope for the future of my writing.

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