“There is nothing good unless you do it.” -Eric Kastner
By all accounts, the sport of hunting is dying. Every year, our nation is facing a decline in the numbers of hunters as gauged by the number of hunting licenses sold. Part of the problem is the absence of mentors for those interested in hunting. Let’s face it: Learning how to successfully chase birds with bird dogs takes patience and time. It took me years to figure things out and I still have a lot to learn. Admittedly, I have not been the best at reaching out to newcomers and welcoming them along for a hunt, but I am trying to do better.
Every year, Shawn and I get together for a week of hunting in the Idaho uplands and we both post voluminous photos of these outings on social media, hopefully to everyone’s delight (or annoyance as the case may be). In October of 2016, towards the end of our week, a friend on social media, Sam Smedley, messaged me that he loved seeing all my photos, had just started bird hunting, did not yet have a bird dog, and would love to come and spend a day with me in the uplands. Feeling generous, I invited him to come and hunt with me, my brother Shawn and my son Tommy on a new property that I had just received permission for that year. We met at Smitty’s in Idaho Falls on a Saturday morning for breakfast, then headed out to our hunting destination.
During breakfast, I found Sam to be an easygoing, likeable young man. He told us he was going to school and was not yet married. I explained to him that we would be hunting a property owned by a client that reportedly held sharptails. He responded that he had only taken one sharptail during his short hunting career and was eager to experience more of them. His enthusiasm for the hunt was infectious. I bought his breakfast and we traveled northeast to our hunting destination.
The late October morning was chilly, but the skies were mostly clear. The new covert looked appealing with rolling, grassy hills and thick pockets of quakies tucked on the hillsides, where the plow couldn’t reach and annual moisture remained longer. We first hunted up the edge of the property and flushed numerous birds up top. The landowner had informed me that the property was enrolled in the Idaho Fish and Game’s SAFE program which is a habitat program for sharptails where the landowner plants food and cover. The program worked on this property as there was no shortage of birds, even though the surrounding properties were devoid of cover because of the prevalent wheat production.
In the far, southeast corner of the property, Misty pointed a bird and I made a nice shot which Misty retrieved to hand. We then swung back to the crest of the tallest hill in the middle of the property, covered in sagebrush and straddled by quakie patches on the steep hillsides. Some of the birds that we flushed earlier had flown up to the top of this hill and we pursued. At the narrowest part between two quakie patches, Misty became birdy and began to cat crawl. Sam and I pursued, and when the sharpie finally flushed, he made a great shot, dropping the bird over the edge into the trees. Misty showed off with a nice retrieve and Sam smiled wide as he soaked in the experience.
We crossed over the road to another area we had permission to hunt and were amazed at the volume of birds. Misty worked them perfectly, but unfortunately, they flushed out of range. On the far side of the property, we found this weedy area that wasn’t much to look at, but the sharptails begged to differ. We flushed a mega covey of sharptails and Shawn made an incredible shot as one flew high over his head. With that, all three of the gunners had bagged a bird from the new covert. The panorama from the property of the snowy Big Hole Mountains to the north was breathtaking. As we walked back to the truck, I named the covert, “Summer’s End” because I knew that winter was not far off. You could feel it in the cool, fall air.
After our sharptail hunt, we celebrated at the truck with a few cold rootbeers provided by Shawn. We then hunted a nearby ruffed grouse covert, Butt Kickins’, but saw no birds. Still, we all felt the hunt was a success. Sam took his leave from us from there.
Since that time, much has changed. Misty passed away in March of 2017 and Rainey, my French Brittany, came to my home in June of 2017. Though we have not hunted together since, I have kept tabs on Sam through social media. I was excited to see that he eventually got a bird dog of his own, a liver and white Brittany named, Scottie, in March of 2019. I always wondered if his choice of breed was because of the show that Misty put on that October day.
I also saw that he married a girl from New York City in 2021 and moved there to start his family. As a lover of the outdoors, I wondered how this leap of faith would work out for him and Scottie.
On September 25, 2022, I unexpectedly received a message that warmed my heart:
Hey just wanted to reach out and say that you taking me out hunting that one time has changed my life. As you know I got my Brittany. I moved to NYC and just got my first Adirondack ruffie.
I was thrilled to get this message and see pictures of Sam’s eastern ruffed grouse and to tease him about trying to keep a bird dog in NYC (“Get a rope!”). More power to him!
This story goes to show you that one seemingly insignificant hunt shared with a newcomer can make a huge difference in their life. Those of us who are addicted to the pursuit of upland birds can’t keep all this excitement and beauty to ourselves. We have to pass it on to the next generation to ensure the future of our wonderful sport.