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Volume XVII, Issue 46 ~ November 12 - November 18, 2009

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Fish Are Biting

The big wintertime stripers are starting to show, and they are hungry. Light tackle jigging, bait fishing and trolling parachutes and umbrella rigs are all working well. The usual Eastern and Western Shore structures at the mouths of the estuaries and around the Bay Bridge are producing fish up to 38 inches. Down south, trollers are getting fat winter fish up to 45 inches. It’s going to get cold soon; get out while you can.

photo by Cathleen Conway Miller

Floyd Thompson and Bud Jones of Glen Burnie pulled four nice rockfish out of the water north of the Bay Bridge. The pair headed out from Sandy Point State Park before dawn and had their limit by 7:15.

A Double Bonanza in South Dakota

Birds filled the skies and our bags

It was late afternoon when we finally moved onto the sunflower plot. An average crop field for South Dakota, it measured a mile wide and a mile deep. Our party of five bird hunters — Mike Kelly, Charlie Nieman, Steve Calkins, Paul Ater and myself — spaced ourselves about 150 yards apart. Despite our hunter orange caps and vest patches, we were barely noticeable in the vast, dark brown expanse.

Taking to knee a dozen rows in, we faced a short rise in the terrain. It formed a long, flat horizon against the cloudless, deep blue sky. On the other side of the ridge, the terrain dropped gradually away into an enormous, rolling panorama of prairie grassland.

That undulating landscape seemed featureless until I noticed suggestions of drainage breaks, cuts, coulees and draws running across the face of its otherwise gentle contours. Those depressions — nearly concealed by tall, lush, tan colored mixed prairie grasses and brush — were the key to our quest.

They are sanctuaries to the sharp-tailed grouse. An elusive and beautiful game bird, the sharp-tail is a medium-sized prairie grouse with buff plumage on its breast and flanks, thickly marked by dark brown and black chevrons across its back and wings. It often announces its presence both on the ground and in the air with melodious clucks and coos.

Its legs are feathered all the way to the toes, giving it the local alias snowshoe grouse. A strong flyer, this game bird will move a mile or more to feed just before sunrise and later in the afternoon before retiring to roost.

Birds Filled the Skies

We did not have long to wait. The first covey appeared in the distance above the horizon, moving to my left. They were flying with short, powerful bursts of wing strokes followed by sweeping glides. These elusive birds cover a lot of ground fast, and this group was upon us almost before we were ready.

Gunfire echoed as the birds, ignoring the disturbance, sailed calmly over the shooters and settled into invisibility in the sunflowers. Another covey passed, and then came a lull. With only a few birds down and the sun getting lower, I wondered if we would get an opportunity.

I needn’t have been concerned. Within 15 minutes, more groups of swiftly moving grouse dotted the horizon. A covey of a dozen birds slid low across the ridgeline and then were suddenly overhead.

With no time to think I rose, thumbing the safety of my 20-gauge, swinging, shooting then shooting again. In a shower of feathers, two plump birds fell as the rest hurtled on to the interior of the field.

Then I looked back to the ridgeline and had to pause. Scores of coveys, hundreds and hundreds of birds filled the sky, queuing up to sail over the ridgeline. And they kept coming.

We all scored full limits in the time it takes to tell it. Even so, as we gathered up to leave, the birds continued to weave over us in breathtaking numbers.

Blessed with Abundance

The brief hunt was icing on an already rich cake. Earlier that day we’d had a superb hunt for ring-necked pheasants in the lower, corn-planted farmlands.

Limiting out on both species in one day is uncommon, even in South Dakota. The populations of ring-necks and sharp-tails are as high as they’ve been in the last 50 years.

Our hosts for our sixth year at this bird hunter’s wonderland were Frank and Bob Smith of Gettysburg, South Dakota, ( Although we’ve consistently had great hunts with Frank and Bob in the Lake Oahe area, this was by far the best. We’ve got our reservations made and fingers crossed the birds will still be there when we return next year.

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