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GETTYSBURG, S.D. — Joy was sure she had the rooster locked up. John Lindgren's Llewellin setter held a rock-solid point, her nose riveted on a patch of brush in this gully along the Missouri River in South Dakota. But — no. Now the 6½-year-old setter was on the move again, down along the ravine until — whoa — right there, boss. This wasn't her first ringneck rodeo.
I have an old friend I want to tell you about. Actually, he's a fairly new friend, but he's an older man — even older than I am. I'm sure he wouldn't consider himself old. "Old" is always about 12 years older than we are, no matter what our age.
Ultimately, Duluth's Gail Francis couldn't think of any good reasons not to hike across America. The year was 2012. She had a good job as an analyst working on climate change issues. She had done some other long-distance backpacking, including one seven-week stint on the Appalachian Trail. At 39, she was thinking of walking the Pacific Crest Trail, which traverses blistering desert country and high mountain peaks as it winds from the Mexican border to the Canadian border through California, Oregon and Washington.
DULUTH — When a nine-point buck came walking toward Leif Birnbaum's deer stand last Sunday, Oct. 15, the Duluth bowhunter took a good look at him. "He was a nice deer," Birnbaum said, "but I was waiting for something a little bigger." Something bigger — way bigger — showed up about an hour later. Birnbaum shot a 10-point buck that field-dressed at 260 pounds.
NORTHWEST OF ISLAND LAKE, Minn. — Phil Johnson was up near his hunting shack northwest of Island Lake one day when he came across an older man sitting in his pickup along the road. Johnson, of Esko, Minnesota, is an amiable guy. He stopped to say hello. The man in the truck had been hunting, too, he told Johnson. Johnson noticed an old black Lab lying on the seat beside the man. It had been his son's dog, the man told Johnson, but his son had moved away and — well, the old man had ended up with the dog.
I received the text early one morning this past week. It came from a buddy of mine who was out west — North Dakota — hunting. His texts are characteristically terse. So was this one. The text included a photo of his black Lab, facing directly away from him, sitting perfectly still in the cover of prairie grasses. The text said: "It's all about the Wait." What my friend and his Lab were waiting for on that Dakota dawn were sandhill cranes, he told me later. They had field-hunted for ducks and geese a day or so earlier, with success.
NORTHWEST OF ISLAND LAKE, Minn. — Phil Johnson had shot the woodcock over his young Brittany's point, and he had seen the bird go down in the popples up ahead. This was several years ago, when Sophie, the Brittany, was about a year old. Johnson of Esko, Minnesota, is a longtime grouse and woodcock hunter, and he knew that some dogs just don't like the taste of a woodcock in their mouths. He wasn't sure whether Sophie would retrieve it.
The closest I ever got to Vietnam was a make-believe village in a grove of trees outside Fort Sill, Okla. It was 1970, and I was a jeep driver for a captain during my training as an artilleryman. Many nights, I'd drive him to "Vietnam Village," a supposed representation of an Army command post in the jungle of Vietnam. It was mostly darkened pathways among the thickets, lit only by red safety lights.
DULUTH — Minnesota's bear harvest is down from last year, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. But some bear guides and hunters are reporting plenty of success. The state's bear season opened Sept. 1. Rob Parrott's longtime bear-hunting friend, Lawrence Taylor, came up from Austin, Texas, to hunt again this fall. That makes 14 years. Parrott lives in Saginaw.
As pheasant and duck hunters prepare for their upcoming seasons, they'll do so knowing that their success depends in part on policies hashed out in the nation's capital. Specifically, the federal Farm Bill's conservation provisions have a direct correlation to the number of birds on the ground — or on the water. The amount of private land enrolled in the bill's Conservation Reserve Program, a staple of the Farm Bill, correlates strongly with duck and pheasant numbers, especially in Upper Midwest states such as Minnesota, the Dakotas and Montana.