Sunday, September 11, 2011

Not much time left for high-country brookies

On the day before the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, we headed for the high country in search of late-summer brook trout. This is the best time of the year for mountain lakes. The mosquitoes are gone, and so are the summer crowds. And the brook trout are turning their bright fall-spawning colors.
The lake was slow in the morning, but when the wind picked up a bit and put a chop on the water, the fishing turned on. At one point, I must have landed nearly a dozen fish on a dozen casts.
Sam fared well, too, and put on a clinic on how to release brook trout, as evidenced in the above video.
With fall rapidly approaching, there won't be much time left for high-country brook trout. It's only a matter of time before the mountains get their first coating of snow.
But for now, the high country is the place to be.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Make that a double, barkeep

For an upland bird hunter, making a double on grouse is the equivalent of hitting a homerun, kicking a 50-yard fieldgoal, or scoring a menage a trois.

It happens, but not very often.

Skill, of course, is involved, but so is luck. Both elements merged for me this morning on a blue-grouse outing.

Blue grouse have a knack for quickly disappearing into trees, so doubles are rare. Today, though, two blues flew out of the bottom of a side canyon with nothing between me and them but blue sky.

I kept my cheek pressed to the gunstock, swung smoothly through the shot, and two blues were on the ground. I picked up the closer one while Xena made a nice retrieve on the farther bird.

A little later she put up another bird (or maybe more) but I only heard it flush in the trees and never saw it. That's more typically the case with blues.

While a double is special, I've made enough that I don't remember many of them. However, my two triples are etched in deep memory. Both were on prairie birds with no trees to get in the way.

In 1984, my 9-month-old English setter Georgia went on point in the middle of a huge flock of sage grouse. About 20 birds rose at once, and I just kept pumping my Model 12 blam, blam, blam until three sage grouse were in the dirt. (Note: the limit was three back then.)

The next triple was two years ago when Xena went on point and three sharptailed grouse came up. The Model 12 gave a repeat performance, and I notched my second triple.

A lot of hunters use nothing but a double barrel shotgun. Unless they hit two birds with one shot (which can happen), they are limited to only the possibility of a double.

I'll take a triple whenever I can get one.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Beetle-killed trees hamper search for new water

An old cabin on the trail to the lake
View from the west end of the lake.

In case you haven't heard, beetles have killed millions of pine trees in the Rocky Mountains. The devastation can be seen in most national forests of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. Mountainsides often have more dead, red lodgepole pines than live, green trees.
The beetle-killed forests aren't pretty but have made for easy firewood gathering in recent years. This weekend, though, I got a taste of the future of hiking in our new forests, and it wasn't good.
On a hike to a lake that I had never been to, I had to climb over and around numerous trees that had fallen across the trail. At times, the detour around trees was so long that I had a little trouble finding the trail again.
Most of the popular trails in our local national forest are pretty well maintained for downed trees, but a trail crew hadn't been on this route for a while.
The situation will only worsen as more dead trees fall from high winds, heavy snow or their roots rotting out. On windy days, it might be a good idea to just stay out of the forest.
As for the lake, it was a small body of water set in a high alpine ridge. A few fish rose, but I only managed to catch one brook trout. I ran into a bowhunter with a decent six-point bull he downed that morning. The weather was sunny and cool, a harbinger of fall days to come.
The trees, though, are what I will remember most about this particular hike.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Ain't no party like a chitlin' party

Dana Fuchs gets up close and personal.

Chubby Carrier brought his zydeco sound.

Notes from the first night of the Snowy Range Music Festival in Laramie, Wyo.
Best band: Chubby Carrier brought down the house with his zydeco sound. As one of his songs said, "Ain't no party like a chitlin' party."
The audience: Definitely an AARP crowd. First show ever that I sat next to a retired guy. (You rock, Pete, you old hippie!)
Best song: Neville Brothers doing "Drift Away." Great song (originally by Dobie Gray) performed by a great singer (Aaron Neville).
Best beer: Borracho, a Mexican brew I hadn't tried before. Reminded me of Fat Tire but better.
Best bartenders: At the Bailey's stand. Where did they get these women? An escort service in Denver?
Best female artist: Dana Fuchs by default. She was the only one. And she was hot.
Best boobs: I don't want to touch this one but I need it as a lead-in to my next category. Did I mention Dana Fuchs was hot?
Best man boobs: No contest - Aaron Neville. Dude, you used to be ripped in a prison sort of way. But now gravity is having its way with you. Get rid of those tight T-shirts!
Best food: Fish and chips from Norman's food cart.
Tomorrow night's headliner is Michael Franti and Spearhead. Should draw a younger crowd and could turn into an herb fest.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Blue grouse hunting: Not getting any easier

My dog turned 9 last month, and I become a 60-year-old in a few months. Neither of us are spring chickens any more.

I've been hunting blue grouse for nearly 30 years, and it's never been easy. Blues live in the mountains and hunting them requires a lot of walking up, down and back up again. But the alpine country they inhabit keeps drawing me back every season, whether I find grouse or not.

Such was the case this morning, opening day of the 2011 upland bird season. I hit the same spot as last year because it's relatively close to town, has a cold creek flowing at the bottom of the canyon, and sometimes even holds a few birds.

The grouse were there this morning. Xena pointed a covey of young birds and I managed to scratch one down. She made a spirited retrieve of the wounded bird, and the new season was off to a successful start for both of us.

I noticed my dog wasn't ranging as far away from me as usual. She seemed to be a step or two slower than in the past, like a veteran NFL receiver who still has a nose for the goal line, but just takes a bit longer reaching it.

I also noticed my surgically repaired knee ached, along with my lower back that's been sore since a backpacking trip three weeks ago.

We took a lot of breaks, climbing down to the creek bottom so Xena could drink the icy water and lie in it to cool down on the hot day. I filled up my hat with the refreshing liquid and poured it over my head. Then we headed back uphill.

This will be an interesting season hunting with an old dog. Xena will get baby aspirin after each hunt to try to keep her aches and pains in check. I'll take Aleve for the same reason.

We won't set any speed records this fall, but hopefully we each have learned enough tricks from many years of hunting together to put a few more birds in the game pouch.