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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Feast or Famine - 2009 Bird Hunting In South Eastern Alberta

If you're an upland bird hunter, and the kind that employs a combination of road-hunting and bush-pushing tactics, you know what it's like.  One day you are running into game at every turn and other days, you can drive around the prairies and walk 25 miles with nothing but an endless supply of Skoal Bandits and Radney Foster songs to keep yourself from going insane.  Well folks, 'ol Knox has had many of both kinds of days this year.

My hunting season began October 1st - a little later than usual, as my day job interfered with my side career as an outdoorsman, oenophile, and music lover.  The prey were the flighty Hungarian Partridge and the maddeningly erratic Sharp-Tailed Grouse (as one landowner told me - "the sharptails are where you find them").  For years we've been hunting along the Alberta side of the Alberta-Saskatchewan border and while sometimes our bag has overflown and other times has been a little less full, we have always managed to do quite well.  This is most often due to an abundance of Huns, accentuated by the odd batch of Sharptails thrown in for good measure.  This year though, was different.  Something happened to the Huns this year as there were very, very few of them.  It wasn't just an absence of Huns in our prime spots, but a seemingly global absence of the birds that was most unusual.  How few birds am I talking about? We ran into 4 coveys in 4 days whereas in years past, there would be a covey or two in virtually every stand of cover that we pushed through.  What did this mean for our bird count? It meant that while we ran into the usual number of Sharptails, our Hun count was very limited, making for a disappointing year for this facet of my annual hunt.  What happened to the huns? Landowners that I spoke to were of the view that a cold, wet snap in May might have frozen the hatch or the chicks and caused the problem, which they all recognized existed.  

The slow hunts made the selection of post-hunting red wine even more important.  This year I chose wisely in selecting the 2007 Ridge Geyserville (Zinfandel Blend).  Not exactly going out on a limb, as this wine has been a standout for years, but the 2007 bottling really is a cut-above even the best Geyserville offerings that Paul Draper and the gang have released.  A well-structured wine with a balanced fruit blast that seemed to lend itself well to a stand of caragana trees East of Oyen, Alberta.

Moving on, pheasant season has been far more lucrative for Knox and his hunting posse.  While the Brooks Pheasant Hatchery hasn't been releasing birds for years (excepting those that escape or remain from various private, permit shoots in the Brooks area that the privatized hatchery now supplies and that you can bump into from time to time), there is a viable natural bird population.  This means that while pheasant hunting in Southern Alberta isn't what it once was and probably never will be again (due to the cancellation of the government/taxpayer-sponsored pheasant release program -- which I understand -- and given the Eastern Irrigation District's policy aimed at transforming all cover-laden irrigation ditches into underground plastic pipes and leaving nothing but dirt and a new barwire fence in their place -- for which they win habitat conservation awards), a guy can still get out there with his friends and family, chase a few birds and have fun.  Your bag won't be as full as it used to be, but you'll have just as much fun.  That has again been the case this year and I hope will continue to be this weekend when I am out there once again.

On the pheasant trips, we enjoyed sunset samplings of a 2005 Spencer-Roloson Palaterra, a Rhone-style syrah blend sourced from old vines that delivers an earthy, yet accessible shot, and a 2005 Braida Barbera d'Asti Bricco dell'Uccellone from Italy, that while admittedly pricey, is worthy every nickel as a delivery vehicle for a gentle brute of a wine that while it is no wallflower, delivers it's punches with a velvet glove. 

So, it has been a mixed year for Alberta bird hunting that just seems to fit with the current state of the world.  Yet, so long as old Knox can wander the prairies, enjoy some tobacco products, some music, some comradery and a good glass of wine or two, he is one happy man.

Posted by Knox Harrington on November 12, 2009 | Permalink


To quote a wiser man than myself: Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes the bar...well, he eats you.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-11-12 11:00:43 AM

I too dabbled in pacifism, Mahmoud...not in 'Nam of course.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-11-12 11:15:16 AM

Nobody is taking offence here, Mahmoud. I singled you out because you were the first the comment after me. Nothing personal.

And Knox will be the last person to take personal offence to an anti-hunting comment. He'll disagree with you though, of course.

If you eat meat but don't kill animals, you're taking advantage of the great capitalist concept of division of labour that makes us all richer.

Do you eat meat?

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-11-12 12:59:38 PM

I took my son out hunting for grouse last weekend. We got a few and had a great time. An added bonus is that he understands where meat served on the table comes from.

I also got the chance to get my 9 week old German Shorthaired Pointer out into the field for a romp...

Posted by: Dave | 2009-11-12 2:41:34 PM

"Ya, great dad you are, now where is knox, apparently he the Champion????

Posted by: Lightning Rod of Controversy | 2009-11-12 2:55:36 PM

We feel for your suffering, but take heart because they do have medical help for your affliction. There is also a support group called "peta".
Did you know that carrots scream when you violently rip them out of the ground while the innocent baby carrots watch in horror ? Oh, the humanity,.....damned vegans.

Posted by: peterj | 2009-11-13 6:18:19 PM

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