As you might have read on Friday, a certain blog editor and a hunting buddy traveled to north central Kansas for the opening weekend of prairie chicken hunting. For the uninitiated, prairie chickens are the quintessential native upland game bird of the prairies. They roamed the central part of the United States long before the more gaudy, noisy, and ubiquitous pheasant was brought to our shores from China.
Prairie chickens inhabit vast expanses of rolling grasslands, mostly in Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. As such, pursuing them requires a comfortable pair of hunting boots, rangy but disciplined bird dogs, and a healthy dose of optimism. This season, we carried the Astro GPS Dog Tracking System with us as well -- which proved itself invaluable in more than one way.
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Saturday morning started out with a wet surprise. The morning greeted us with 48-degree temperatures accompanied by a fairly substantial downpour. For a minute, we considered waiting out the rain at the warm-and-dry Super 8, but after firing up our GPSMAP 378 with XM/WX Weather, we soon realized the showers would be moving out of the area within an hour or so. Undeterred, we set out into the prairie, accompanied by two very capable Setters and a German Shorthair -- all three sporting the Astro.
The system performed well -- it was fun to tick off your dog's range to your buddy: "Sage is at 325 yards... 362 yards... 460 yards..." The Covey Counter feature was also very helpful, serving as an electronic diary of where and when you encountered birds, and whether or not that encounter put a chicken in the game bag.
As it was, the perfect habitat conditions resulted in finding plenty of birds, and we both went back to the Super 8 tired but happy by early afternoon -- back in time to watch some college football and take a much-deserved nap.
The next morning, the menacing rain was replaced by thick, thick fog. Using the Astro, we were able to mark our truck and continue hunting without worrying about an eventual return to civilization. It was another successful day afield, despite a near-miss with a skunk and a direct hit with an electric fence. The chickens were a bit jumpier than they were on opening day (probably due to the fog) but the trip marked a very promising beginning to the 2007 upland season.