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.
A few weeks ago we visited our friends in Ohio. We happened to have some of our photo equipment with us, so Brad recommended that we take a few photos of this CZ shotgun for an article he is writing about it. I’m always interested in shotguns, so I was excited. When I picked up this particular gun, I was shocked at how incredibly light it was. The “Upland Ultralight” weighs only 6 lbs! It was a pretty good fit for me too. I wanted to take some photos of it, but I also wanted to shoot the thing!
Being winter and rainy, there wasn’t a great place outdoors to take photos of it, and the backdrops we brought were only good for a little girl (who we were planing to photograph the next day). So we found a white sheet to put it in front of. I wanted to hurry the photo shoot because I wanted to have enough time to shoot some clays with it.
When I download the photos to the computer, I was very unhappy about the result. The Upland Ultralight is somewhat of a no-frills shotgun, so to have it in front of a plain background was a huge mistake. I could not in good conscience submit those photos for Brad’s article. So this past weekend, I drove back up and brought some good backdrops etc., and we did it right.
I think I learned my lesson about doing things half-way. I never want to let myself down like that again!
“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 I am a proud new owner of a Browning BPS 12 gauge pump shotgun. I’ve been wanting to get a shotgun for a couple years now, but it had just in the back of my mind. It wasn’t an impulse buy, but this weekend seemed like the perfect time to get it. My wife was hosting a baby shower at our house, so we had some friends come in from out of town. The guys were planning to go shooting while the women-folk had the party. One of those guys was my good friend Brad Fitzpatrick. Brad is a genius when it comes to firearms. I figured he could help me make a smart buy before we went out to shoot clay pigeons in the afternoon.
So this morning Brad and I hopped in the car, picked up or friend Dan, and headed up to Evans Firearms in Lexington, KY. I knew that I wanted a pump action, and I wanted a nice wood stock. After we looked around a bit we noticed that Evans actually has a pretty great selection of used shotguns. First I asked to see one of the Remingtons, and the guy handed me an 870. I like how they eject the shell out of the side, but the only wood finish I like from Remington is on the Wingmasters. They didn’t have any used, and they’re probably a bit out of my price range anyway. Then I asked to see the Browning. I hadn’t noticed before, but when he pulled it from the rack I saw that it had a really neat inlay design on either side. On the left are two pheasants, and on the right are three ducks. Very pretty. After being reassured by Brad that it was indeed a great gun, I decided to buy it.
We took it home and disassembled it to clean it. Brad looked down the barrel and, I believe his words were, “This is literally the most disgusting barrel I have ever seen.” But we cleaned out the dust and grime, and it sparkled like new. Brad guessed that its first owner had never fired it.
When we went out in the afternoon to shoot I really fell in love with it. It’s a lot more fun to shoot with your own gun instead of borrowing one. And I’ve never shot better! This will be a fun new hobby.