FUSILLADE AT THE WINDY MILLS: DAY FOUR IN THE IDAHO UPLANDS

Fu·sil·lade

[ˈfyo͞osəˌläd, ˈfyo͞osəˌlād]

NOUN

  1. a series of shots fired or missiles thrown all at the same time or in quick succession: “Marchers had to dodge a fusillade of missiles” ·

Tuesday night was chilly and Wednesday morning dawned bright and sunny.  The conditions made for a stiff wind all day long.  By Wednesday, I was feeling the fatigue of all-day hunting for three days and my immune system was down.  I began to develop a cold and a cough.  Nevertheless, I felt determined to hunt hard, if only for Rainey’s sake.

Since our old reliable spots hadn’t panned out, we searched for some new hunting grounds.  Our friend Josh May tipped us off on a new place to hunt sharptails.

“When you get there, park at the old abandoned homestead and hike south toward the old windmills.  The birds will not be in the old CRP, but in the newer CRP near the windmills,” Josh instructed.

IMG_6061
Shawn gets his setters, Gretchen and Cinder ready for the hunt.

Shawn, Ron and I followed his directions, but found that the journey was more than meets the eye as we had to cross two deep ravines that we couldn’t see from where we parked.  In one of them, Shawn observed a flock of 30 sharptail flush unprovoked and fly toward the windmills.  The incessant wind blasted our faces the whole time we hiked.

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Ron and Shawn at the Windy Mills.

After we crested the top of the second draw, it wasn’t long before we traversed into the newer CRP with much more variation in cover and food.  We knew it was only a matter of time before we found birds.  Within five minutes the dogs kicked up a covey and I sent out a few hasty shots, which caused more birds to flush wild and into the wind.

Shawn and Ron followed Shawn’s setters to the right and I headed uphill to the left towards the mountain range.  In short succession, Rainey and I were into more sharptails, than I had ever seen in one small area. We even kicked up a covey of Huns with no shots.  However, the wind made the birds jumpy and when they hit the wind, they swerved making the shots extremely challenging. In times past, I proudly thought that sharptails were easy, but these birds were kicking my trash!  I burned through 3/4 of my box of shells in short succession to no effect.  I think the wind was the primary culprit for my poor shooting, but the cold, fatigue–along with my desperation to get a bird for Rainey–were certainly not helping either.

After flushing all of the grouse into the next county, I turned back downhill to find Shawn and Ron.  They too had experienced flighty birds and long shots.  Neither Ron or Shawn had brought down any grouse with their 12 gauges.  “I wish I would have brought my Ithaca NID 10 gauge!” Shawn lamented.

IMG_6063
Shawn and Ron cross the great divide to get to the Windy Mills.

We all decided to hunt downhill in a line hoping for a few closer opportunities.  As we pushed, one grouse flushed, caught the wind, and gave me a tough left to right crossing shot.  I swung as fast as I could with the Sterlingworth, shot twice, and thought I missed.  However, the bird flew about fifty yards and dropped suddenly and vertically into the deep draw.  Since Shawn was over that way the last time I saw him, I thought that either I wing-tipped that bird or Shawn hit it, but I couldn’t hear his shot because of the wind.  I decided to go over and check it out.

I walked straight toward where I saw the bird drop at the edge of the steep and deep ravine. I looked to the right and saw Shawn about fifty yards down at the bottom of the draw–way past where the bird dropped.

“DID YOU SEE A BIRD GO DOWN AROUND HERE?”  I yelled to Shawn over the wind.

With all the noise, the nervous bird directly below me tried to make for the escape and I caught up with it on the second shot.

“NO, BUT I SAW THAT ONE!” Shawn yelled.

Shawn birddogged his way back up the bottom to where the grouse had dropped and retrieved it for me.

IMG_6084
Fetch!  We don’t call him the Bird Dog Doc for nothing.

At the top of the draw, we talked about the blasted wind, the spookiness of the sharpies and the tough opportunities they presented.  Ron soon made his way over and we talked about a new game plan.

IMG_6086
Finally got the skunk off.  Rainey was pretty stoked too.

“I’m about out of shells boys,” I reported. ” I have two shells left and then I need to head back to the truck for more. I’ll hunt down with you until I run out.”

From where we pow-wowed, I walked no more than ten steps and another sharpie unexpectedly jumped right in front of me.  I promptly wasted my last two shells.  I then had to take the long walk of shame back to the truck.  By the time I made it back, I was totally spent and decided not to cross the great divide back to the wind mills. The sharpies had given Rainey and I way more sport than we could handle.

IMG_6087
Sweet 16 Sterlingworth with our one grouse.  Notice how the wind ruffles its feathers in this picture.

The bottom line is that late-season sharptails are tough and, if you throw a stiff wind in the mix, they are pert-near impossible.  Did I mention that the blades of the old wind mills had long-since been destroyed by the very thing they attempted to harness?  We named this fun, new covert, “Windy Mills,” as no other name could quite capture the butt-kicking those sharptails gave us.  When Shawn and Ron made it back to the truck, we decided to go try and find some more genteel birds [forest grouse] to hunt.

IMG_6088
Ron toasts a root beer to a great hunt.

 

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