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.
Last week my good buddy Brad Fitzpatrick contacted me about taking some photos for another article he’s working on. Brad is a freelance journalist who has written articles for magazines such as: Gun World, Gun Digest, African Sporting Gazette, Sports Afield, and the list goes on…
My wife and I have taken photos for his articles before, but this particular shoot presented a unique challenge: photographing coonhounds on a hunt in complete darkness. Since racoons are nocturnal, the hunt takes place in the middle of the night. The dogs were English Coonhounds from Woodstock Kennels in London, KY.
My goal was to capture these coonhounds in action, but with a unique look. As Brad showed me, most photos of coonhounds at night are taken with a harsh, bright direct flash, leaving the background completely black. This is understandable because you can’t take studio lighting out on a coon hunt. I decided that in order to get any kind of unique shot, I would have to bring better lighting than simply a direct flash.
I packed three speedlite flashes: 580EX, 580EX II, and a 430EX. I set the 580EX II to “master” and the other two flashes to “slave”. The master was mounted to my camera, and the other two were held on either side of the subject(s). I set the light output ratio of the master:slave to 1:4 so my direct flash would just be fill light. High speed mode allowed me to shoot at 1/400 seconds, so the quick dogs would be sharp. When the master flash fires, it triggers the slave flashes via infared signal, similar to a TV remote control.
Even with a fairly simple plan in my head, the actual shoot was still quite a challenge. Once the dogs were loose, there was no stopping them! Once they had “tree’d a coon”, they would put their front legs up on the tree, and howl and bark at the animal they had trapped. My plan was to stand on a bucket (for the added height) and shoot down wide-angle on the barking dog. The problem was, the dogs would revolve around all sides of the tree, mostly on the opposite side of the tree as my bucket. Also, every time they revolve to a different position, my lovely assistants would have to change their positions to achieve the 3-point lighting scheme I described earlier.
The article will appear in Outdoor Life later this year, or at the beginning of 2011.