Somehow I seem to be fonder of my home town than many people I know are of theirs.
Any excuse at all is good enough for a road trip to Brooks. This time my Brittany, Beau, said we just had to go where we usually hunt upland game to “cover” Provincial Hunting Day, Sept. 26.
The day, according to Sustainable Resource Development Minister, Hon. Ted Morton, in his Minister’s Message in the 2009 Alberta Guide to Hunting Regulations, “is an excellent opportunity for all hunters to share their enthusiasm for our hunting tradition . . . (it is) also a great opportunity to recruit youth hunters, which is why we will continue the upland game bird initiative for youth hunters on this special day.”
We could not recruit anyone, young or old, to join us on a short trip aimed at maybe missing a few Hungarian partridges and Beau counting pheasants for us, Huns being the only upland game open for hunting and pheasant season not opening until Oct. 15.
One of the highlights of these trips is lunch at Chicken on the Way in Cluny, just south of the Trans Canada, for what several friends I have taken there call the best fried chicken they have ever eaten, not to mention the corn fritters. Unfortunately, we arrived too early for the noon opening and the attractions of tiny Cluny will not kill an hour, so we forged on to Brooks. The fish and chips at O’Shea’s Eatery and Ale House in Brooks are consistent and perhaps the best in Alberta, including restaurants that specialize in seafood; certainly the tartar sauce they serve with it is the best.
We spent Friday afternoon in country we know well and have hunted many times over the years, north and east of Brooks. Favoured coverts looked better than they did last season, and Beau checked them out thoroughly without his stub of a tail even once whirling like a propeller, his signal that there are birds around.
It was cooler than it had been for weeks down here, but it was still plainly too hot for following a dog ranging out there trying to find an upland game bird to point, and eventually Beau was panting and wearing his tongue like a red scarf. So we headed back to the hay yard so he could have a swim in the stock pond and gulp mouthfuls of its organic and emetic water.
The rancher needed a break from the never-ending marathon that is haying down here. We were joined by a frequent visitor from B.C. and sat chatting of old Brooks mutual friends and far more fishing than hunting.
The rancher had been seeing no Huns whatever, but a few pheasants were starting to show up, many of the young roosters just starting to show colour.
The second long, cold, wet spring in a row has probably again greatly lowered nesting success.
That said, there are three weather conditions in hunting season that always give me days of zero sightings of Huns and pheasants: high winds, rain and unseasonable high heat.
We may never have experienced a quieter Friday night in my old home town. There were few vehicles in the Tel Star Motel’s lot, no oilfield service vehicles and, surprisingly, no other hunters’ rigs. Recession? Who knows? Joey’s Only and Pizza Hut are gone, and so is the Thai Garden Buffet. No matter: China Delight still serves a good bowl of Hot and Sour Soup and Gus’ Steak & Pizza House still offers a superb Nooner pizza. Then, too late for this trip, I noticed a new restaurant, the Wasana, Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese in Sunnylea, beside a store that bills itself “on the right side of the tracks.”
Provincial Hunting Day was bright, sunny and even hotter than the day before, what I call a meadowlark day because they were singing fit to break my heart and the only birds for Beau to flash point, flush and chase briefly. Even the most never-fail small covert I know, in the Tilley area, failed to produce anything. Only twice all day did we hear far-off bursts of gunfire.
On the way home we stopped by our favorite corner of the vast Eastern Irrigation District lands near Rosemary where Beau finally did get hot on the long trail of what was obviously a running pheasant through cover so thick and thorny that I could not follow. If there was a flush, I didn’t hear it.
Chicken on the Way was open for an early dinner. The genial owner joined me for a break at one of his picnic tables and confirmed it was indeed Chicken on the Way in Edmonton that we U of A students feasted on late at night back in the late 1950s.
Road trips to the old home town take a man back in more ways than one.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.