I had been looking forward to this trip for months, so I was supremely disappointed when I started to have flu-like symptoms the day before our early morning departure. But there was no turning back! I had non-refundable tickets, and no desire to sit out of this adventure. I had never been to Idaho, but I’d heard my friend Brad talk about it on numerous occasions. An “undiscovered bird hunting paradise,” he described it. I anticipated mountains full of wild birds never before hunted, and I wasn’t about to let a sore throat stop me. As promised, it was much more than walking through a field of liberated birds!
After landing in Boise, we began the scenic drive north on Highway 55. I had never before seen terrain quite like that – I felt like I was on some other planet! The mountains looked like they had a light brown coat of fur!
As we continued north, we made a much-appreciated pit stop at Gold Fork Hot Springs near McCall. It was incredibly relaxing and rejuvenating to just float in the naturally hot water flowing from the mountainside. It probably helped soothe my illness too.
We arrived in Riggins just in time to catch the Boise State game at the Seven Devils Saloon – quite an experience in itself. After witnessing their boisterous victory, we turned in for the night at the very comfortable Salmon Rapids Lodge overlooking the Salmon River, and enjoyed the extra 2 hours we gained by being on mountain time.
For the day of the hunt, Brad invited his friend Tom from Boise to come up with his dogs – two beautiful Gordon Setters. I have never seen calmer, more obedient dogs than these. The best thing about these dogs was that they were more than tools to Tom. They still had that sense of companionship that is abandoned with most hunting dogs, but their performance in the field was still superior to most dogs we’ve hunted with. Their beautiful dark coats stood out wonderfully against the brown grass. Between the dogs and the setting, I have never had an easier photo shoot of a hunt! Everywhere I turned there was a gorgeous landscape for me to capture – full of texture and depth.
We were hunting for Chukar partridge, Pheasant, or California Quail. Mainly we focused on Chukar, which was a tricky hunt, and very physically demanding! Thankfully, they drove us near the top of the mountain so we could walk mostly downhill – but it was still no stroll in the park! Imagine walking for miles along a 45 degree pitch – that’s hard on the joints. Besides that, there were places that didn’t have much solid footing, but just bare rocks faces lightly dusted with pebbles. The tricky part about hunting these birds is that the cover is pretty light. Once the dog points, the bird won’t stay put for long since it’s not very well hidden. Often the birds would flush while I was trying not to slide hundreds of feet to my death, which makes it tough to aim. Up on the mountain the Chukars would fly down, which is an unnatural motion for a bird hunter who is used to tracking a bird flying up.
They weren’t kidding about it being loaded with birds. We saw coveys of 30-50 birds flushing. If only we could hit them! Oddly enough, I bagged the only Chukar of the day. Brad found and collected an unexpected Ruffed Grouse along with several California Quail at the foot of the mountain.
Though we only hunted one day, my legs have never been sorer in my life! With the sun starting to set behind the mountains, we staged some photos with Pete the Gordon Setter beside his prize. Tom commanded, “Sit Pete!” but also made the comment “I’ve never taught them to sit.” But Pete was smart enough and obedient enough to catch on to what his master was requesting. He was even able to fulfill my requests to “scoot him a little closer to the birds.”
Such a memorable experience! I am so thankful that I get the opportunity to explore God’s amazing creation. Idaho was unlike any place I have ever been. I would love to go back (and I probably will), but I’m even more excited to discover other corners of this incredible world.
Brad and I took a trip down to Providence, KY to test out the CZ Upland Ultralight that he’s writing an article about. Testing the shotgun however was only 1 of many purposes of our trip, not excluding simply having fun with some guns, although I didn’t shoot much since I needed to focus on the photography (I sometimes tend to get carried away with the shooting and forget to take photos). Brad is also hoping to write another article about Winghaven Lodge, and we discovered some more opportunities
along the way. Brad invited Andrew and Katie from Must Have Outdoors to come and test some Browning and Winchester shotguns for their show (which will also give Winghaven some more much-deserved exposure). We both got to try out the new Browning Maxus 12ga semi-auto, and Brad was thinking about the possibility of writing a review about it, so I took plenty of photos of it too.
But the most intriguing part of the weekend was meeting a gentleman by the name of George Gans. George is a regular at Woodhaven, and is a friend of Russell, the owner. We met George when we arrived on Friday night, and it didn’t long before it was revealed that he brought not only a Purdey shotgun, but also a Holland & Holland – both of which are high-dollar, hand-crafted firearms made to order in London, England. George actually carried the Purdey when we went afield the next day. In some ways George actually reminded me of “the most interesting man in the world” from the Dos Equis (XX) commercials. Not that he walked around with a harem of women, but he had a seemingly endless repository of stories to keep us entertained all day.
George was fun to talk with while walking through the fields, and he was also very generous in sharing his toys. To my amazement (and Brad’s) he actually let brad shoot a bird with his Purdey! Brad was tickled to death, and I was glad to take pictures. Brad definitely looks better with a Purdey. Brad shot his bird like the pro that he is, and George was glad to share the joy.
After lunch, George was gracious enough to lend me his Holland & Holland for a photo shoot. Brad is also doing an article on Kentucky bird hunting, which will talk about other Kentucky traditions such as bourbon. Winghaven was the perfect place to stage this shot because of their vast selection of fine bourbons. Having the Holland & Holland really made this photo. Nothing says shooting tradition like a hand-crafted double barrel shotgun.
George is a neat guy. I hope our paths cross again some day.
This past weekend we actually got to stay at home and do some work around the house. I wanted to get a jump on planting some grass in the back yard, so we went up to Southern States to pick out some tough grass (we got Kentucky 31).
It happens to be “Chick Days” at Southern States (and Tractor Supply Company) so they had a trough full of little fluffy chicks. They also had a trough of ducklings! Super cute… So tonight we decided that we would get 2 ducklings. They are a type of mallard, but my wife was hoping for a white duck. So we stopped by Tractor Supply Company where they sell pekin ducks, which are white, and picked up a third. So the pekin duckling is my wife’s LuLu, while the mallards (Darla and Ducky – named by my niece) are for me. We’re not actually sure of the gender yet, so that should be a fun surprise.
This was kindof an impulsive decision, but apparently ducks are pretty low-maintenance. They’re fairly self-sufficient as long as you make sure there’s food and a bunch of water somewhere.
When we got them home, we set up the heat lamp. It makes a nice soft light (since it’s so close), so I decided to take some photos with my Tiffen macro +4 lens attachment. I think the macro really emphasizes their cute/fluffy-ness. This is going to be fun!
“This is the perfect backdrop,” said my good ol’ buddy Brad as we descended towards the Bangor International Airport. We had been planning this trip to Maine since spring, and it was to be my very first hunting experience with my new Browning BPS shotgun. Actually, it would be a lot of firsts for me: first time hunting birds and rabbits, first time hunting on this HEMISPHERE even, first time to set foot in Maine, and first time to eat duck for dinner. The hilly landscape in Maine was covered in vibrant fall foliage, and we had a great view from the jet.
In the midwest you really don’t hear much about Maine. Other New England states get a lot more attention. I feel ignorant for saying this, but I didn’t even realize there was any “wilderness” at all on the East Coast. Every time I’ve been out east it has been to crowded places like New York City, Washington D.C., etc., but Maine is the most heavily forested US state. It’s 90% trees! So it’s understandable that it has some great hunting grounds too.
Brad was writing an article about hunting grouse and hare in Maine, and I came to take photos for it. But I think I did more hunting than shooting, if you know what I mean.
We arrived at the Northern Pride Lodge on Friday afternoon around 3 – just enough time for a short grouse hunt. Our guide Wayne found a suitable spot. I don’t think I was mentally prepared for just how dense the trees really were. When I looked at the edge of the forest I thought, “I can’t fit in there!” but I looked over and my companions were already inside, so I closed up and plunged in. It was really hard to weave through the poplars and deciduous tamarack trees with a big heavy gun and a big heavy camera. Besides the density of the plant life, the ground was also very rough. Big rocks, tree stumps, fallen trees, and even streams all laid under a thick, fluffy bed of moss. At one point I stepped through the moss into a stream. As I walked, my shoe came off and my next socked step was into ANOTHER stream. Wayne graciously offered to carry my camera which I gladly accepted.
Being without my camera I realized that now, instead of following the action and taking photos, I WAS the action. How do I take photos of that? In sporting magazines I see a lot of photos with hunters and their dead animals, but not a lot of photos of the actual hunt. This is where I try to be different with Brad’s articles. I don’t think many journalists get to have a photographer follow them around while they hunt. But since I was hunting too, I couldn’t get a lot of those action shots.
On Saturday morning we were ready to hunt some snowshoe hares. Wayne roused the five beagles, and we headed back into the woods. The dogs chased bunnies around the woods all morning, and after hiking all throughout a 1.5-mile radius I hadn’t gotten a single glimpse of a rabbit. Finally, at about 2:00 in the afternoon I saw one hop over the brush. The next hop was met with a well-timed BANG! I eagerly approached my first-ever rabbit, but the dogs were more eager than I. Before we knew it, all five dogs were divvying up the quarry. Eventually we were able to harness all the dogs, and gather the parts of the rabbit. After 6 hours of hunting, and only one rabbit, the hunting party couldn’t help but laugh with resignation. Brad wasn’t laughing though. He was very concerned because we really needed a photo of a rabbit, otherwise he couldn’t sell the article! He was able to hold all the pieces together though, and I got a photo that worked with very little Photoshop clean-up. I saved a foot.
We ate a very late, very delicious lunch. The dogs were completely worn out after their long run, so a continuation of the rabbit hunt was out of the question. We spent the rest of the afternoon hunting more ruffed grouse.
By Saturday night, I had bagged two ruffed grouse and one snowshoe hare. The sun was setting over the picturesque mountains as we headed back to the lodge. Miraculously, my lens was without a scratch, which is more than I can say for my Browning BPS.
Today my boss pointed out to me that a robin had made its little bird’s nest on the door to our train (a non-working train that’s just for show). And I’m not talking up high on the door, but in the window sill, right by the knob! What this bird was thinking, I dunno. To me, this seemed like a rare opportunity to take photos of the inside of a bird’s nest without having to climb a tree.
I am so amazed by birds’ ability to put together these sturdy little nests. Especially since they have no hands! I do have hands, but I still don’t think I could make a nest as perfectly as these tiny fellas! It looks so cozy in there… I want to curl up with them.