Fall creeps up on you: there is a difference in the quality of the sunlight, not just its duration; no matter how hot the day, it cools off quickly in the evening, and the mornings are plain chilly, with heavy dew. The rig’s air conditioner runs in the afternoon; the heater the next morning.
Here and there aspen alchemy is turning green into gold; the fall wild asters are blooming. Suddenly, some of us sniff gunpowder in the air.
In much of Central Alberta’s west country, the ruffed grouse season opened Sept. 1, the rest on the 15th. In the prime uplands out east and south, Hungarian partridge also opened on the 15th.
Provincial Hunting Day is Saturday, Sept. 26, when many hunters will be planning an outing for some water fowling morning and evening, and Huns in mid-day, always watching and hoping for insights on this year’s pheasant crop and if it is likely to be worth going out there again when that season opens Oct. 15th.
Actually, going down to pheasant country and hunting Huns with a dog is the only reliable way in the past decade at least for Albertans to get a reading on pheasant futures.
Without much difficulty I can tell you that in South Dakota, where they harvested 1.9 million pheasants last season, this summer’s pheasant roadside survey was the fourth highest in 45 years and 13 per cent above the 10-year average.
Hunters in Kansas took 900,000 pheasants in 2007 and surveys indicate this season will be better than in 2008. This year’s pheasant counts in Nebraska were up in all regions.
But in Alberta? Nobody knows anything for sure.
It has been decades since any accurate surveys and counts have been done of the annual pheasant harvest and no systematic summer roadside surveys or spring crowing counts have been done since about the mid-seventies. I no longer remember how long it has been since we have had an Alberta Fish and Wildlife biologist specializing in upland game birds and their management.
You just cannot manage any wildlife population properly without the science, the numbers, yet we continue to charge a premium licence fee in Alberta for those of us who prefer to chase wild pheasants rather than execute planted hatchery birds at $20 a head.
Yet, hope springs eternal when there is that hint of gunpowder in the air. Phone calls are made to landowners and pheasant hunters resident in pheasant country for their observations on this year’s crop. But, better still, some of us will go down there, hunt some Huns and let the experts — our dogs — tell us tell us if there are pheasants around.
Some — too few — will get in some late-summer, early-fall wing shooting practice using clay pigeon targets. Some hunters will head for the local trap and skeet club for a few rounds, others will go somewhere they can safely shoot with a supply of blaze orange clay pigeons and one of those old hand traps, or the ones you pound into the ground and a buddy to throw the targets or pull the string.
Over the years I have done all of the above and still own the launching machines named, but they have been dormant since I discovered and obtained a better way several years ago.
So, when a friend recently expressed the desire to “snap some caps,” “maybe bust some birds,” out we went, loaded up a part box of clay pigeons and the launching device of my current preference: the Trius 1 Step Clay Target Trap.
This compact, light device sits steadily and firmly on the ground and no buddy is needed, because a lone shooter can perform the whole operation by himself. The clay pigeon is simply placed in a clip on the launching arm and the shooter both cocks the arm and launches the target simply by stepping on a pedal. The shooter then “smokes” the flying blaze orange disc, if he can.
The upside is that you can practice without revealing to anyone what a lousy wing shot you are. The downside — if you are alone — is that you get to practice basically only the straight-away shots, although you can change the angle of flight up or down.
That is no problem for me, because I usually shoot at pheasants flying straight-away when I flush them from in front of Beau, my Brittany’s point. Ergo: most of the shots I miss are straight-aways.
With a buddy to tread the Trius’s pedal, the shooter can move aside, altering the angle, even practicing pure crossing shots (rare in pheasant hunting) if he wishes.
I had never seen this friend shoot before. He was not happy that he was not “smoking,” the pigeons, rendering them totally into dust, but I noted that he did not miss one straight-away all day.
I will consult with Beau, naturally, but we may just have found a new designated hitter for our pheasant hunt team.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.