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.