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Thread: Ptarmigan Comic Relief

  1. #1
    Member TMCKEE's Avatar
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    Default Ptarmigan Comic Relief

    Okay, so I've been reluctant to post this story but I find my experience to funny to keep to myself.

    Before I get into the story I need to give you a little background...I'm a new guy to AK (thanks Uncle Sam!), I've been here less than a month and a half. I grew up hunting quail in the deserts of Arizona, and really looked forward to hunting birds up here. I do have a dog that according to breed should hunt, unfortunately he's had no training to support any of that breeding. In preparation I read Mr. McCann's book cover to cover (thank you Sir for an outstanding book). Also important to know, is that prior to this hunt the amount of time I've spent on snowshoes can be counted in minutes.

    I live in Palmer, and with a wife who is expecting any moment I couldn't get to far away, so I chose Hatcher Pass for some Ptarmigan. I loaded up the dog, some snacks and appropriate gear and took off (before my wife changed her ever-lovin' pregnant mind). I started off on a ski trail so that I could get the requisite 1/4 mile from the road, and thought once I'd paced that off I'd strap on the snow shoes and venture off into likely territory. Okay, I walk about a mile or so before I find any "likely territory" (what do I know...I'm new at this remember), I then snow shoe up and start slogging up...I made it a wopping 100 yrds before losing a shoe and post holeing up to my a@#. My dog, (Gauge) is having an equally tough time, so he'd just been following me rather than doing any real hunting; and at this point he's just staring at me with a look of wonder. His instincts didn't prepare him for this. I realized that I have no business on snow shoes around this point, and dug myself out and headed back to the ski trail. I figure this trip is a wash and I'll just do some exploring and hike a ways up the trail and see what there is to see. As I get a little further up the trail I see tracks all over the place (similar to those in Mr. McCann's photos), but Gauge just walks on by as if there's nothing there. I have no choice but to trust his nose...and I have no interest at this point in further exploratory missions with snow shoes. I was reaching my turn around time and started back down the trail. All is going well when we are just about to the place where I left the trail on the way up and Gauge flushes a pure white Ptarmigan from some alders about four feet to the right of the trail. Gauge, who doesn't know the difference between a point and a squat tried to run down the bird as it flushed. Of course this is dangerous for the dog, in the event that the person hunting over him is in any way prepared for a shot at the fleeing bird. Gauge was safe. I tried to mark the bird as it landed, all the while carelessly strapping on snowshoes. I should have been more aware of the dangers of not getting those straps tight in this loose snow, I was within sight of the spot I had dug myself out of less than an hour before. Now having snow shoes on Gauge and I began a frantic pursuit of this single Ptarmy as if our lives depended on it. Gauge took his not so proper place right behind me in the trail I was cutting. The bird led us back through the alders where it had originally flushed from and back across the trail I had been following the whole day. Once I was able to extract myself from the alders and gain my composure I moved to the last place I marked the bird, which was behind a large snow mound allowing me to approach and prepare for a shot. Okay, that sounded good in theory, but when I came around to where I thought the bird was it flushed from my left which was the last place I suspected. I was able to get a shot off before the bird disappeared behind a maze of tree trunk and limbs. I was still in pursuit and had about zero confidence in the shot I just made. By the way Gauge is still standing right behind me (I need a number for a good trainer who will work for cheap). I continue in pursuit of the bird and dropped down toward a stream, my adrenaline is pumping and I'm not really paying attention to what I'm doing, and right about the time I get to a point where I can see where my shot pattern hit the snow, I fall through what I can only describe as a willow supported snow bridge. My left leg (snow shoe still on) is up around my ear, my right is sunk (no snow shoe), some where in this split second process I see the pure white ptarmigan hunched down two feet from my shot pattern in the snow. I can see she's alive but I can't tell if she's injured. At this point my dog actually stepped on my shoulder, as if asking me, "are you going to shoot that bird or what?" She finally decided that she'd seen enough and flushed, giving me the opportunity to take the most awkward and unsteady shot I've ever taken. Some how it worked, and I was able to take my first beautiful whitetailed ptarmigan.

    That single breast in my freezer is looking lonely, I really look forward to finding more. If for no other reason, I'll keep taking Gauge for the comic relief he adds.

    Thanks to Jim McCann, for all the information he shared in his book.

  2. #2
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    Thanks TMCKEE, that was a fun story. Welcome to Alaska.

    Ralph

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    Looking back on my hunting life, it appears I spend most of my time afield all alone...with my dogs. I don't do it necessarily by choice, it just turns out that way. Sometimes being alone is a good thing, like when I really want to take in every aspect of a hunt in good country behind good dogs, all the while staying very focused like a good predator should.

    But there are those other times I sure wish I had someone around to help me get my aging butt up out of crotch deep snow while I hang on to an expensive side by side with one hand, and flail about and try to swim one armed through cold snow, all the while sinking deeper into said snow! I mean I've had times all alone up in the high country when I thought I could possibly drown my Irish self and no one would find me till some berry picker came upon a fine, but now rusted 16 gauge lying next to a pile of arthritic bare bones.

    But of the guys I do occasionally drag out there to hunt with me, I don't trust a one of them to not let me suffer madly in my sinking, grunting acts of desparation in really deep snow as they snap copious photographic images of my plight to later use against me on Mr. Gore's internet for all the world to see and to laugh about.

    TMCKEE I feel your pain. I both love and hate snowshoes. I think half of my current back pain comes from fights nearly to the death...with myself...on snowshoes...in dangerously deep snow. And interior snow is very dry and terrible for snowshoeing.

    I used to work out every day. Most days I ran for 3 to 8 miles. Used the stairclimber regularly, and generally stayed in great shape, yet deep snow and snowshoes and desparate attempts to close the distance on those winter-white ptarmigan have - I think - nearly killed me! I'm no longer as tough so I think I may be moving toward becoming a rock ptarmigan specialist or something 'cause I tend to seek the wind blown and bare slopes where rock ptarmigan are more likely to be found, and I tend to leave the willow ptarmigan and the deep valleys and chin deep snow to the bug eyed chest heaving red faced heart pounding young guys wearing only one snowshoe!

    Welcome to Alaska! And thanks for the kind words about my humble book. I'm currently enjoying doing the research for another book, and another...

    Warm regards,

    Jim

  4. #4
    Member Burke's Avatar
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    Default fun story

    As Jim inferred, this wont be your last time in peculiar shooting positions if you continue to pursue the winter's beautiful plumage of the white road (snow) runner!
    The next time you go out, you will say to yourself, "Self, I aint gonna git inta that kinda mess agin", but trust me you will. I have....

    I am not trying to be pushy, but you mentioned a cheap trainer...you could be your own trainer by joining one of the local novice/beginner dog training classes. You can get a good start on what is a fantastic, albeit addicting, hobby.
    If you have either a pointing breed or a spaniel type dog, you could look into the Arctic Bird Dog Association's classes.
    If you have a lab, there are acouple local clubs that have classes that can be very helpful.
    If you had a lab and wanted to train strictly for flushing upland birds, the ABDA Spaniel class would be beneficial.
    The classes are also a good way to connect with like minded folks.

    If you are interested in the Arctic Bird Dog classes, let me know.
    Last edited by Burke; 02-04-2010 at 21:41. Reason: add note

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    Default Gauge will get smarter

    I guarantee at some point he'll figure out that the best place to walk is on the tails of your snowshoes. And he won't do it when you expect it, on the level, or in shallow snow. You'll find yourself tangled beyond belief and your dog will be quite proud of himself. Golly, how do I know? Have fun out there.

  6. #6
    Member TMCKEE's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Burke View Post
    I am not trying to be pushy, but you mentioned a cheap trainer...you could be your own trainer by joining one of the local novice/beginner dog training classes. You can get a good start on what is a fantastic, albeit addicting, hobby.
    If you have either a pointing breed or a spaniel type dog, you could look into the Arctic Bird Dog Association's classes.
    If you have a lab, there are acouple local clubs that have classes that can be very helpful.
    If you had a lab and wanted to train strictly for flushing upland birds, the ABDA Spaniel class would be beneficial.
    The classes are also a good way to connect with like minded folks.

    If you are interested in the Arctic Bird Dog classes, let me know.

    Burke - Although I mentioned it in sort of a tongue-in-cheek manner I appreciate your advice. Before moving up here I had come across a NAVHDA chapter that's in the area and was considering getting involved there, but I'd probably meet with whatever clubs are around and see what they're about.

    I guess I should have mentioned Gauge is a ten month old Viszla. If I can figure out how to attach a picture I'll throw one on here.

    I'm glad to hear that these antics of mine are not just for the novice. Although I feel I have a propensity for bungling around when chasing birds...I have many memories of doglessly chasing Gambel's qauil in Arizona often leading to many similarly laughable stories-though instead of snow shoes and snow the culprits would be cacti, javelina and rattlesnakes (and the all to frequent free range cattle), but those are all together another story.

    TMCKEE

  7. #7
    Member byrd_hntr's Avatar
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    Default Good story

    Welcome to AK. Come on up to Fairbanks. We have no snow! I took my snowmachine out last weekend and drove it around on the rocks.

    On a side note I have a good friend that hunts on Mountaineering Skis. If they weren't so darn expensive I might try it too.

    Ive spent many a grueling mile with a shorthair on the back of my snowshoes. But its all worth it in the end. Be safe out there.
    I'm going to ctrl-alt-delete you so hard your mama's computer is going to reboot.

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    Default TMCKEE Switched Spots

    Look's like we switched spots, I just moved to Arizona from Alaska and had the last weekend chasing gambels last weekend. A lot of free range cattle in the thick stuff. I haven't had any snake experiences yet. I'll be chasing some javi in the next week. Good luck in Alaska it is a blast, I can't wait to get back.

  9. #9
    Member AKDoug's Avatar
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    Hear ya' go byrd http://www.sierratradingpost.com/p/3...ntry-Skis.html probably one of the best all purpose skis made. Way faster than snowshoes
    Bunny Boots and Bearcats: Utility Sled Mayhem

  10. #10
    Member byrd_hntr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AKDoug View Post
    Hear ya' go byrd http://www.sierratradingpost.com/p/3...ntry-Skis.html probably one of the best all purpose skis made. Way faster than snowshoes
    Skis are cheap! its the darn boots and bindings that will break the bank!
    I'm going to ctrl-alt-delete you so hard your mama's computer is going to reboot.

  11. #11
    Member TMCKEE's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by byrd_hntr View Post
    Skis are cheap! its the darn boots and bindings that will break the bank!
    Thanks for the suggestion, I'm getting a little better on the snowshoes. I had some good luck today and got a nice willow ptarmigan. I just need to do a little better picking my routes and paying attention to where I'm going...not to mention teach my dog where he can and can't go.

  12. #12

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    that was really a great read. im glad you shared with us!

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