Day 4 Recap: Buddies with Bird Dogs

5d559be2-5598-4627-ae99-68e5cffab0d5 When we loaded up the Apple Auto Ford Rooster Road Trip truck last Friday in Minnesota, amidst the shotguns, coolers, cameras, and clothing was our most precious cargo.  Inside four kennels slept my pair of shorthairs, Jared’s Lab and his English pointer.  Along the way, the pups have slept with us in our hotel rooms and produced quail and pheasants in front of the camera. 
 
The trip has been hard on the dogs however.  “Jaxon,” the English pointer, has a belly rubbed raw by Oklahoma’s sage.  We’ve also been careful not to over-exert Jared’s black Lab, “Koda,” who’s thick dark coat makes her susceptible to over-heating during the warm weather we’ve encountered during the majority of our journey.  My elder shorthair, “Trammell,” is showing the signs of her ten seasons of hunting with sore hips.  And my Energizer “Esky” is also finally running out of steam and licking her scraped ankles and chapped paws beside me as I write. 
 
Thankfully, we’ve been able to add some buddies with bird dogs along the route.  We were joined by Laura McIver’s Brittany, and shorthairs belonging to John Bellah and Dwayne Elmore in Oklahoma.  Yesterday in Nebraska, Bob Allen brought his Lab and French Brittany to assist the effort.  There are some fine bird dogs across the Great Plains.  Pheasants and quail best beware.  They better especially be on alert for a German shorthaired pointer named “Sadie” who lives in southwest Nebraska with Pheasants Forever’s Coordinating Wildlife Biologist, Andy Houser.
 
We met up with Andy at o’dark thirty this morning with smiles and hugs.  Andy has been a biologist with Pheasants Forever for six years, but I really didn’t get to know him until 2014 when the Rooster Road Trip last visited Nebraska.  Andy is the walking embodiment of the saying “salt of the earth.”  He’s one of the nicest guys on the planet and happens to live in Nebraska’s pheasant epicenter – the southwest corner where the highest concentration of Open Fields & Waters Program acres can be found. 
 
Andy had a strategy for today’s hunt and it was a good one.  We left the trucks headed into a cross-wind over a ridge for half a section.  Within minutes of our walk, a pair of prairie chickens left the township from the top of the ridge well out of range.  Their wings flapping five times followed by a long glide, five more flaps and a long glide.  It’s tough to get close to prairie grouse this time of year.  Along the way, roosters flushed wild into a “bowl” of grass at the center of the section.  I looked at Andy with concern.  He read my mind, “don’t worry Bob.  This place is loaded with pheasants and they are doing exactly what I want them to do.” 
 
What Andy wanted and what the pheasants continued to do was fly into the section’s center bowl of grass as we circled it.  Before we reached that bowl, Josh opened the day with a straightaway rooster falling to the Browning Citori 725 that a lucky new member is going to win after tomorrow’s Rooster Road Trip concludes. 
 
That’s when Andy’s “Sadie” and Jared’s “Jaxon” went to work.  Sadie dug Josh’s bird out of the grass and delivered it to hand.  As we made our way into the bottom of the bowl, Jaxon slammed into a point before a rooster erupted toward the sky.  Jared crash-landed it with the Browning Sweet Sixteen he’s been shouldering this trip.  Then it was Sadie’s turn again.  After an extended water break, Andy snapped us into action with “Sadie’s on point right there.” We approached a clump of grass where a rooster had been holding tight as a jar of fifteen-year old pickles.  And finally, after a series of misses the last two days, I rediscovered the art, science, and physics of wingshooting.  The morning proceeded with Jared swinging the hottest stick on the team and earning a Nebraska limit of roosters as we reached the bottom of the bowl. 
 
With photos, video, and five roosters in our game vests, we walked out of the field laughing together.  That’s part of Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever too – fun and friendship.  On Saturday night in Oklahoma, we attended the Homesteaders Quail Forever chapter banquet where we connected with old friends, social media acquaintances, and created new friendships.
 
Ask any Pheasants Forever or Quail Forever chapter volunteer and they’ll list “friendships” in the top three responses for why they’ve made a commitment to conservation. This includes people who share a passion for dogs, birds, hunting and habitat, as well as those who share a vision for a future of quality habitat, abundant wildlife, public lands, clean water, and a new generation of hunter-conservationists. Volunteering with Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever is certainly about habitat and birds, but it’s also about people. 
 
And along the way, you’ll add some new buddies with bird dogs, like Andy Houser, to your circle of friends.  And let’s be honest, we could all use more friends like that.
 
- Bob St.Pierre, Rooster Road Trip 2016
 
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Bob St.Pierre is Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s Vice President of Marketing.  Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre and listen to Bob and Billy Hildebrand every Saturday morning on FAN Outdoors radio on KFAN FM100.3.