“Huns sound fast.”
–E. Donnall Thomas, Jr.
On day one of our annual hunt, Saturday, October 1st, Shawn and I first hunted the Royal Macnab in the morning with great success. Since it was Shawn’s birthday, we then went for tacos at a place called Taqueria La Costa in Chubbuck, Idaho. I bought Shawn’s lunch and he absolutely loved their adobada tacos. It’s a proven scientific fact that Mexican food makes you happy.
We weren’t ready to call it a day, so we decided to hunt for Huns at another one of our favorite covers. Tommy’s Covey is a covert made up of sagebrush steppe benches surrounding dryland wheat fields, some currently planted in sprouting winter wheat and some freshly cut with the stalks still standing. This special place sports some of the best Hun hunting we’ve ever experienced and also used to hold really solid sharptail hunting. However, sharptails go where their preferred food source is. Last year the farmer planted safflower and sharptails moved on.
Near the dirt road, there’s a hilly sagebrush strip adjacent to the farmer’s field that extends for miles and we usually find numerous coveys of Huns and some sharptails along its lengths. Up higher, where we parked, however, the field was planted in winter wheat. We parked and released the only two working dogs we had left, Misty and Ellie (Sunny Girl had passed over the rainbow bridge, Danny Boy had been placed in a good adoption home, Gretchen was injured and out for the week, and Cinder is too young for active duty and stayed home in Colorado). In years past, we have hunted this cover with as many as six dogs. We were—what some might call–“dog poor.”
We hunted the sagebrush strip down with no finds in all of the usual grassy swells. When I was a kid, we used to sing a song in church: “Pioneer children sang as they walked, and walked, and walked, and walked . . .” Well, this is exactly how it felt as we trudged along for miles with no birds.
Where the heck are they?
We made it down almost to the bottom of the strip and Misty finally located a decent covey of Huns in a thick patch of sage, but I was not in position to shoot and Shawn was sleeping on the job. However, we marked the covey down as they flew across the farmer’s field into another draw between two cultivated fields, which we know well. When we made it to the bottom of the strip, a bull, cow, and calf moose blasted out of the cover. This is not a place one would expect to see a moose in Idaho (let alone a whole family), but Shawn and our friend Kevin saw this very bull in this same spot two years ago.
Despite our tiredness, Shawn and I decided to hike up the draw to try and relocate those Huns. As we walked up the grassy draw, we came upon freshly cut wheat fields (as opposed to green winter wheat) with the stalks still standing and we suddenly started finding birds—lots of them. But with the wind, the Huns were spooky and they were getting up way ahead of us. With each wild flush, we kept pursuing, knowing that at some point, we’d get some action. One large covey flew out of the draw we were in and uphill onto the newly plowed field.
Alongside a deep, narrow wash, Misty went on point in some tall wheat stalks, untouched by the combine. Here was my chance! The Hun got up like gray lightning and I missed twice. At least, I got to my back trigger of the NID.
When the cover started petering out, we decided to try to relocate the covey that flew up to the top of the freshly plowed field. We found them a hundred yards further, almost near the sagebrush strip we had first hiked down. I had another Hun flush unexpectedly from bare ground right at my feet and I missed again with both barrels.
Man, those suckers are fast!
By cutting across the plowed field, Shawn and I had cut off about two miles of hiking and, though we did not say it out loud, we both were glad. Plus, we had pushed a few of the Huns back into the sage strip so our long walk back to the truck might be productive.
Almost as soon as we stepped from the plowed field back into the cover, Misty locked up on point. The gray streak gave me an easy shot and I missed again. After a morning of good shooting on sharps and a ruffed grouse, I was truly humbled. But the bird flew up the strip in the direction we were heading.
As we walked, a storm formed behind us in the mountain range across the valley and it was approaching very quickly. We knew we needed to make some good time to avoid its reach.
In a little swell, Misty pointed again and the Hun flew straightaway. In my haste, I missed the first shot, but connected solidly with the back trigger before the lightning fast bird could make its escape. Misty made a nice retrieve.
By this time, the storm was hard on our tails and Shawn and I made for the road to do the final mile as quickly as possible. Soon lightning began crashing all around us. We had bolts that hit the ground within a hundred yards of our position. Despite having already hiked thirteen miles that day, I jogged the last half mile back to the truck as the rain drops started to fall. While a little wet, we were no worse from the wear as we drove home. Our first day had been a great success.
Looking back, this foul (or should I say fowl?) storm seemed to compliment perfectly this Hun hunt. They were fast. They were unforgiving. They were challenging. And they were unforgettable.