Posted by: Bob McMichael | November 30, 2009

Thanks & Giving

Leslie, Angus, Glenna and I spent Thanksgiving weekend with my brother and his family in Richland, Washington, about five hours northwest of Boise.

The prime motivation for the visit was to get Angus on some upland game birds – pheasant and/or quail. Glenna – our almost 10-year-old Brittany – was along for the ride, and unaware that she would not be partaking of the hunting experience. Despite possessing the most discerning and gifted nose for finding upland game birds I have ever seen, Glenna’s gift for chasing quickly out of range the birds she unearths in the vast slopes far exceeds her ability to find them. Thus, she’s destined for the couch or bac
k yard whenever I go hunting with anyone other than my own self.
Hearing that the F&G had released a new batch of pen-raised pheasant across the Columbia, we prepped early the night before and got a good early start on Thanksgiving day so we could get a jump on the other hunters we would no doubt encounter in the same area. Pulling into the parking spot at what Geoff thought would be the most productive area, we had a few minutes before shooting light to get buttoned up and out the door of his truck. One other zebra-striped pickup (no joke) preceded us in the parking area, but as we exited Geoff’s Silverado at least two other trucks pulled in right next to us. Geoff, Finn, Porter, I, and Donner (Geoff’s Brittany) and Angus headed down the trail ahead of our “competition,” and as the day’s light increasingly revealed itself to us, I began to understand the landscape.
And just as soon, shots rang out. It had been a while since I’d been in the field and I had more trouble than my brother and nephews figuring out which direction from which the shots issued. I followed and focused on making sure Angus – equipped with his trusty shock collar – didn’t mess up anything. I wanted to ensure Geoff found Angus at least tolerable.
Finn, Porter and I followed Geoff’s directions as to where we should go, based on where the shots came from and where the rest of the plentiful hunters seemed to be headed. Geoff regularly consulted his oldest son Finn – easily the most detail-oriented of all of us – as to where we might aim. Porter, 12 years old and not as keen as his brother and dad on getting up early for anything (including hunting), stayed near me as we headed into open habitat in search of pheasants that we hoped would be waiting for us to shoot them.
Angus, to my delight, seemed intent on mimicking Donner’s quartering, and – as long as he could see Donner and the rest of us – stayed out in front and in good range. Geoff seemed pleased with my little tri-color of no experience, and remarked on Angus’s similarity to his late tri-color Lou (named after Lou Reed). “She’s my wife and she’s my life” (a line about heroin).
We walked for probably an hour or more without finding a single bird, all the while hearing regular shots from across this expanse or that. Nothing. Ending up on a short, narrow peninsula suddenly a small covey of quail burst out and Finn and/or Geoff shot, nothing down. Dogs running akimbo. A single bird erupted here, another there, one or two shots. Nothing. Then quiet. Fog. Calm water. Trees missing most of their leaves. Bunch grass, undulating land. Every great once in a while some small cactus would appear, making me glad for my heavy-soled boots. All the while Angus never stopped moving left, right, back, forth. I was happy for him, and enjoying Thanksgiving so far.
We all stopped for a while in one spot along a little draw to allow a couple other hunters and their older yellow lab to hunt the draw, which took a fair amount of time and yielded no game. Angus whined. Donner looked intent on busting something soon. Finally it was clear.
Heading back toward the truck, moments after Geoff remarked that it was almost unbelievable that we hadn’t seen anything, a cock pheasant burst from within a few feet of Finn’s foot and Geoff knocked it down within a second. So we got one bird.
The rest of the way back to the truck we all had a renewed hope of another “unexpected” bird popping up, but nothing did. We drove the hour back to the house, got a quick bite to eat and some lead shells, and headed to another spot in search of quail. I told Geoff we didn’t have to do this, but he seemed eager to get Angus on some real birds.
So we drove almost another hour to a spot near Benton City that was private land but which had become one of their favorite spots to hunt quail. Volcanic terrain with willows, Russian olive trees, and lots of grass and blackberry patches. And plenty of quail. We shot up a bunch of birds, and Angus got his fair share of smells. He never pointed anything, but was always in the mix and had plenty of good learning opportunities that I hope come in handy in the future. Having Donner to follow was certainly a benefit because that dog knows what he’s doing.
It was an exciting place to hunt because Geoff and Finn knew where the birds were and because their hangouts were these islands of trees and shrubs that we would kind of surround, and the birds would pop out from any side in any direction, at what appeared to my rusty shotgunning skills to be light speed. I shot one or two quail I found hiding on branches, and then felt disgusted with myself for “sluicing” them. I missed several shots at flying birds, but so did Geoff and Finn (although they hit as many as they missed).
About the time to turn back to head for the truck and our massive meal (which I was getting readier and readier for), I heard – on the other side of the copse from me – a shot and then Finn: “Good dog, Angus!” I headed that direction and Finn appeared around the corner and calmly told me that Geoff shot a big pheasant rooster and that Angus beat Donner to it. It was the biggest pheasant I’d ever seen, about 32 inches from head to tail, a wild bird with gorgeous color and an impressively long barred dark brown tail. We took some photos of Geoff with the bird, and he wanted me to hold it with Angus in the shot, which made me feel a bit silly but what the hell. I was proud of my little puppa and glad he got a good sniff of pheasant to file away in that tiny brain of his.
We made it back to their house in time to provide not much help at all to April and Leslie with the big meal, and to hear their very entertaining stories about the 5k Turkey Trot race with Sarah Palin that ended up being no race at all for Ms. Palin – as is her wont – dropped out before finishing. The food was incredible and plentiful, and dessert was better than I expected (which really is saying something here). We took a walk after dinner – the traditional pre-pie attempt to do some digesting – and came across a nice herd of deer along the river than Angus wanted to chew to pieces.

The next morning we got up to go duck hunting across the river from their house but it was raining pretty good so we went back to bed. A couple hours later Geoff and Finn decided it wouldn’t hurt to give it a shot, so they got Porter and me out of bed (Donner was the only dog to go on this trip) and we got the decoys set and into the blind about 9:30. Porter was happy because he didn’t have to get up early. We had a decent outing and got a good selection of mallards and widgeon before calling it a day and heading back for the hot tub in preparation to go wine tasting.

Which was very cool, especially since we had the opportunity to get into a bad argument at Fidelitas winery with the Republican proprietors but managed to turn it into a sort of bi-partisan bonding experience. I started the whole thing by making a Sarah Palin crack, assuming that anyone operating a hip-looking winery such as Fidelitas (or any winery at all for that matter) would have to be a Democrat. Not so here, and boy were they proud of not being Democrats. Anyway, it was fun.
Then we had dinner at Anthony’s, a tony seafood place, which had gone downhill since the last time I ate there (two years ago). Our waitress was somewhat annoying and reminded me of a non-humorous female resurrection of W. C. Fields.
The next day Geoff, Finn and I got up at 0-dark-thirty to get one more crack at the ducks. We set everything up with 15 minutes until shooting light, when a boat motored up to our decoys. Geoff flashed his headlamp at them to make sure they knew we were here. They shouted, “We see you, but we’re hunting here anyway!” I had no idea what they were going to do. Then they shouted, “We’ll be back later with coffee and doughnuts, DICK HEADS!” I guess getting up early and having the decoys set and the blind ready before shooting light – when the ducks fly around in the biggest numbers – made us dick heads.
Porter was thrilled when we got back to see that, for all of our effort and early rising, we got but one duck between us. “Ha ha – suckers!” he said, and off he went on his bike to his friend’s house, no doubt to change the course of the sun across the winter sky.


  1. Loved your thanksgiving report!

  2. I need ‘moderation’!?

    • They just want me to have the opportunity to delete “inappropriate” comments, such as: “This sucks,” or, “Get a job!”

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