Authors Note: I wanted so badly to get this post out in January, but then something happened while I was editing the post that needed to be addressed. I’ve detailed that in my other post, Do the Right Thing. Mistakes were made, and it’s something I’ll never forget.
As I sat in the parking lot of the church in Crook, Colorado I had nothing good to say or think. I had a confession to make, one that every man hates making on long trips like this. I was lost. My cell phone battery was about half charged, and I knew I wanted to save it to use OnX Maps to drop way points and track our hunt. My Gordon Setter Abbey looked at me bored from across the center console, she didn’t sign up for another whole day of driving to get to the hunting. I’d already been yelled at by a rancher, driven through a nearly whiteout snow storm, and eaten a breakfast of Pop Tarts and about a gallon of black coffee.
I’d been driving around for the better part of an hour looking for a large chunk of public land I’d saved off onto my GPS App on my phone. Actually, at this point I’d found the public land, but the Colorado Parks and Wildlife guidance for this area was to go to the Check-In station in town and record your whereabouts.
I looked at the map and saw that it looked like the county road I was on cut all the way through back to the town where the Check-In station was supposed to be. The road was already dirt and became narrower and narrower. I was used to the Walk In Access programs often having the roads to access the sections be dirt two tracks so I thought nothing of it when the road snaked between two farm buildings and off, following what I imagined was the river that hugged the property. I drove past a livestock corral slowly on my left hand side, trying not to kick up more dust than I already was, at which point I heard the yell “Yer tresspassin’!” Not wanting to be particularly confrontational I found a spot to turn around without turfing the guy’s pasture and realized that the “county road” I was on, did in fact go through this rancher’s pasture, and it was gated before it ever met back up with the highway as indicated on the map. The county had likely simply given up, and on Google Maps it appears as though it’s 4 disparate chunks. I drove north, finding some more signs for the property and eventually ended back up at the church parking lot. I’d snapped a picture of the map of where the check-in station was, but there was no address, no coordinates. I was angry at this point, and decided to take one last pass down the road and there it was… on the opposite side of the road where I’d thought. The scale of the map didn’t do much to help me.
40° 49′ 56.10″ NThe GPS coordinates to the check in station you’re more likely than me to find on your first pass.
102° 48′ 14.41″ W
When I finally found the check in station, embarrassingly on the other side of the road from where I was looking for it I stopped to find it completely empty of life. Little green and red cards, ready to tell my story to a CPW Ranger I found that it was an unmanned outpost. Being that it was a Friday I looked at the wall where people checked in, knowing I wanted to work both the fields and river to find some wild birds with my dog I chose a good looking spot from the well marked satellite map, filled out my card, placed it on the wall and was on my way.
I’d come here on a tip that there would be some wild pheasants and quail on this particular spit of public land I’d driven almost three hours to what may as well have been Nebraska. Truthfully, I knew that this was one of my last available Fridays in the 2018/19 hunting season and this would be my last season without greater responsibility to my family. Our first child was due in June, and I just wasn’t sure what that would do to my ability to get into the field. After spending two weeks in Pueblo, Colorado hunting the reservoir to try and find some scaled quail I was hungry for success and wanted to run Abbey before my seasons closed. So we struck out Northeast. Way northeast.
We rolled down the dirt road slowly watching our dust rooster tail in the rear view mirror as the numbers climbed to our spot. It looked like there was some habitat improvement going on, with some of the food plots being bulldozed over for some cover crops towards the end of the road. Despite there still being some red cards on the wall to indicate hunters still on stand, they likely didn’t check out — and we passed no cars at all. While we were getting ready we heard the call of some distant ducks followed by the artillery barrage of the waterfowlers calling them in. We suited up and set out into the field.
It was an hour before we saw our first bird, a wild flush of a hen pheasant. We zig-zagged the food plot putting Abbey’s nose into the wind as best as possible. As much as I wanted success to augment the lack of big game in my freezer this season, this was mostly to practice handling Abbey on wild birds. I’d heard birds but we simply couldn’t make them move in the field at first, so once we felt like we’d done it justice we switched to the river side.
The river side of the road had several pothole ponds that looked like they might be productive. After all, this was the type of habitat I routinely busted birds in Northwestern Pennsylvania. I was overly cautious, knowing that I could only shoot roosters in this state, and with my bad eyes and tendency to over-analyze bird flights in this new area with so many upland critters the odds seemed stacked against me. No matter though, despite it being 30F and in a near whiteout back in Denver, out past Sterling, CO was 44 degrees and overcast. Weather would be coming, but not until long after Abbey and I had packed it up for the day.
We walked several miles through the mixed forest and pothole ponds without seeing anything more than a starling. Then as Abbey cast off in another direction, an explosion of wing beats happened at my ten o’clock as I was watching Abbey work at my three. Eight pheasants had decided enough was enough and took to the wing as I watched them, flying into the field where we’d just came. I wanted to take my first Colorado pheasant over my dog, and with roosters and hens flying quite close together I just didn’t trust myself not to wing one so I could kill another.
We trudged some more without bumping more birds until we started walking towards the truck, with pothole ponds surrounded by dry grass and glazed with ice over to my right and a lip created by a bulldozer creating the roadbed some years before I walked the lip and let Abbey cast in a figure eight around me. She loped and sniffed, pausing every now and then to stand on the ice from the pond, agitated that she could not get a drink. Suddenly birdy my usually docile gordon was beginning to wag her tail back and forth like the Vu meter on an old stereo playing AC/DC. Abbey went full Thunderstruck as she began to point bobwhites. The first flush was unexpected and I wasn’t even looking in the right direction, they flushed back into the fields where we’d just come. I assumed the Elmer Fudd position and slowly crept down the lip, a ditch on one side of me barely moist but still green amongst the otherwise brown and dry property we’d trudged through. Was it really so stereotypical? Would we find ditch chickens and quail in the ditch feeding? We continued on for several more yards before Abbey went on point again. Three quail burst from the grass as I neared and I knocked one down into the dirt road. Abbey loped over and stood next to it without putting it into her mouth. The other two quail flew safely off to the left behind a tree.
I bagged the bird and moved on, heading towards the truck legs tired but feeling validated for so much action in just a few hours. I knew I’d have to get heading home if I wanted to make home before my wife got back from work, on another day I’d have simply walked to the truck to take empty shells from my vest and discuss the game plan moving forward with Abbey.
As we packed up to leave I slow rolled through the property, hoping to see some wild roosters come to the dirt road for some pebbles. We said goodbye and got to the county road. It was at that point that I realized if we’d just stayed on the highway there was an exit for I-76 not a few miles away. During the drive back Abbey sunk into a loud slumber in the seat beside me as the weather turned from overcast to rain, and then finally to the snow we’d left hours and hours ago.
This season had been a long and frenetic trip through the mountains, deserts, and uplands of Colorado with a focus on lacking focus. I wanted to make the most of my small game season so I wanted it all. I wanted to see as much of my new home state as I possibly could, as if it was going to be locked up in a few short months. Surely it would, my coworkers assured me that the “lower” 5,200ft elevation of Denver saw far less snow than the mountains, I knew that my haunts would require chains and snowshoes fairly soon to get to where I’d so freely explored in September and October. I’d gone to Pueblo looking for Scaled Quail, out East to Sterling, Crook, and Stratton for bobs and pheasants. I’d put on miles and miles but finally had success. Next year I’ll be armed with the knowledge I gained and recorded this year, so hopefully the pups and I can dive right in. The quest for birds is really never quite over, some respites from the action are just longer than others.