Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mike’s Great Adventure - 2013

After Action Report: Mike’s Great Adventure -­ 2013 (written by the group attended)
Dates: 12-­‐16 October 2013

Location: Rolling Plains Adventures, Sterling, ND Swamp mates in Attendance:        
Wayne and Mike Parent
Bob Palombo
Bruce Ross

Seems the Parent boys got caught in Chicago traffic on their way from Virginia, and had to delay their ETA several times prior to a 7pm arrival at Bruce’s in Wisconsin on 11 October. But when they arrived, there were warm smiles all around, and a dinner of brisket. After dinner, ignoring the siren call of the beds, we sorted out whether to bring one or two dogs (decision: two), and what would fit in Bruce’s truck based on that decision (how many mojo’s does a group really need anyway???). Gifts were exchanged that would feature in the coming hunts (Devil’s Backbone Brewery hunting hats and Bruce’s homemade call lanyards).  

The next morning, Callie started the ride with us in the cab of the
truck because of her track record of being a good travel companion—

Tar started in the crate in the bed of the truck. Tar did get some time in the cab, only to be relegated back to "the black hole" due to her anxious whining (in spite of, or perhaps because of, her desire to sit in Wayne’s lap during the drive.) Lesson learned: No whimpering at the beginning of a trip or you’ll be kept in the dark the rest of the way.

The drive was mostly uneventful, except Wayne’s curious detour through a suburb of Minneapolis, and his circuitous route to Cabela’s in Rogers, Minnesota (to procure some thermoses). Neither of these maneuvers served to reduce drive time, but it was the shortest and most

focused trip into Cabela’s I have experienced. Lesson learned: Don’t allow Wayne or Mike to drive in congested locations if time is of the essence—and neither is a particularly astute navigator, and both are easily distracted.

Arrival at RPA was a warm reunion of friends—connecting with Bob "Let Me Show You My Scar" Palombo there and the RPA crowds of Jeremy, Ashley, and Jay Doan. We were given the first floor rooms at RPA’s "new" lodge (recently renovated old Sears Roebuck family homestead). Accommodations were great and the lodge is really well done. (And thanks Bob, for giving Bruce the bottom bunk). However,
it seemed to offend Bob that someone may actually be sitting on his
toilet (beyond the members of his group), since the bathroom was
readily accessible to other lodge guests. Lesson learned: Bring your own "Private" signs to the

RPA lodge to temporarily post if you’re anxious about sharing your bathroom.
Day 1: Set up in layout blinds on the shore of one of Jeremy’s newly created ponds. Birds whizzed overhead before shooting hour, building anticipation in the group who were setting out decoys. Of course, this did not include Bob as he had failed to bring his waders. But he did offer several good observations about the precise positioning of several decoys that were much appreciated by the men doing the actual work. Some recollections:

Wayne: An amazing shot over his shoulder, followed by six clean misses. It should here be first noted that if a bird (or birds) came within shooting distance of Wayne and Mike’s locations, vollies of no fewer than 5 shots could be counted on. Mike was sporting a brand new auto-­‐loader—and he seldom let an opportunity to empty it pass him by. This was often followed by "Hey, can you toss me another box of ammo?" This shooting pattern may also be somewhat connected to Jeremy’s commentary from the central blind. Lesson learned: (1) If you are hunting with Mike, bring plenty of ammo, and (2) If you are easily embarrassed by your shooting, don’t take Jeremy on your hunts (Note:
Jeremy believes this may have led to his
impeachment as our Guide later in the
There were several long retrieves by
Callie—and a non-­‐retrieve for Wayne’s initial BWT in the cover behind his layout blind. He ultimately had to collect it himself after Jeremy and Bruce failed to find it, and after the dog seemed unable to raise any scent. Tar took a very long blind
cast for a wounded bird that paddled away to the far side of the pond—but the retrieve was forsaken after the bird was out of sight several hundreds of yards away on the very far side of the pond.
Despite the inconsistent shooting, BW and GW Teal, shovelers, mallards and pintails
were seen and collected that morning on a nice hunt that should have resulted in limits all around but which, suffice to say, did not materialize. Still, we enjoyed the morning immensely and seemed to do as well or
better than the other groups-­‐-­‐it was a great start to Mike’s Great Adventure, and we looked forward to what the afternoon would bring.
After lunch, Jeremy set us up on the World’s Longest Sunflower Field and for some reason, didn’t come with us… The walking, long as it was, was relatively easy, but for 45 minutes, we saw no roosters -­‐
-­‐ maybe a few sharptails that were probably out of range, even if we had identified them in time… but then again, maybe they were hens. As we approached Mile

Marker 3, the field took a 90-­‐degree bend in a swale. To the eyes of the experienced pheasant hunters in the group, this was a natural place to position a blocker, and Mike was sent to assume the position. This may have been a mistake, as this was Mike’s very first pheasant hunt and he adopted a position that was close enough to force the birds to flight, but not close enough to shoot any of the 40 or so roosters which came out at the field’s end.

Still, we now knew there were shootable birds in the area, and worked a field of switch grass, pushing pheasants until Bruce finally brought one to bag. Then Mike dropped his first wild rooster with a nice shot and retrieve. Here it should be noted

that Mike took the shot in spite of Bruce’s cry of "Hen!". [Bruce later confessed that any bird at which he does not have a clean shot is a "Hen!"]

It became clear to us that the birds were hiding in the tree rows bordering the fields, and we concentrated our attentions there. It was a wonderful hunt, leapfrogging blockers and pushers down the row, watching the dogs investigate the downfalls and thicker areas of the hedgerows, and regular shots at birds. This was also Callie’s first wild bird hunt, and she accelerated along the learning curve in these hours, beginning to learn and emulate Tar’s methodical, windshield wiper hunting style. Bruce was quite proud of the dogs at the end of the day—and he was just pontificating to "always trust the dog’s nose" when the two dogs broke left—to

an area of virtually no cover beyond the 6 inch high wheat stubble—and a here-­‐to-­‐fore invisible

rooster erupted. Although Bruce nearly dropped his gun from the ready position it had assumed on his shoulder, three guns barked out and the bird dropped. Wayne later wounded a rooster that tried to evade capture by sitting in a badger hole, but he brought it to bag just the same. Back at the truck, a particularly loquacious rooster responded to Bruce’s call, but took off just out of

Mike’s range… Everyone got at least one bird that afternoon, with a total of 6 collected. Another

good hunt.

Day 2 dawned grey with a consistent light rain, and found us perched—in layouts—on the bank of a large cow pasture pond: Some good flights of teal, pintails, gadwalls, and mallards; The possibility of a small flight of geese; the "Layout blind chills"; a really long-­‐distance retrieve for Callie; and some of the worst shooting seen in the state of North Dakota since, well… the last time we were there. Lesson learned for most everyone: On wet days, put your collar up and your waders on the inside of your jacket. And if one of your buddies fails to bring his waders, offer him your spare set of waterproof pants BEFORE the hunt. Lesson learned for Bob: Always bring your waders.

After scuffling for first access to the dryer back at the lodge, and although Jeremy attempted to discourage pheasant hunting due to the foul weather ("… the birds hunker down and don’t fly, the dogs don’t get scent, and besides, what great weather to duck hunt!"), Bruce postulated a keenness to chase pheasants that was sufficiently compelling that even Wet Bob was willing. But not before providing a specification to Jeremy to put us in a pheasant field that included mowed cover-­‐-­‐at least the walking paths-­‐-­‐under a roof. Wayne noted that Bruce had already made the decision to hunt pheasants that afternoon, but was giving the rest of the troupe an opportunity to make it their own idea.

Jeremy did his best to match Wet Bob’s specification (but the roof was at best notional, and could be mistaken for low, scudding clouds). And in spite of the rain, we actually had a good hunt, seeing a fair number of birds, and being once again reminded-­‐-­‐in arrears-­‐-­‐that a good place to station a blocker is where the birds are ostensibly being pushed to, and so much the better if the blocker is placed in position prior to the actual eruption of birds.

There was an illuminating anecdote at that particular juncture (i.e., the moment of bird eruption) just as Wayne was lying on his belly crawling under a fence. Always safety conscious, Wayne had handed his gun off to Bruce prior to beginning to crawl. So Bruce found himself with an excess of firepower at the precise moment when the roosters decided they had had enough dilly-­‐dallying afoot. Bruce later recounted his mental weighing of possibilities in those micro-­‐ seconds—he could:
(1) Watch impotently as the roosters flew away. However, he reasoned, he really wanted to show Jeremy that there were birds to be had, even on a day like that, so he rummaged deeper for a more effective response option. (2) Throw Wayne’s over-­‐under into the mud/water and take the birds with his
own gun. This option was discarded as unkind to a fine gun that really hadn’t done Bruce any wrong, and besides, Bruce was holding his own gun awkwardly in his left hand and a sound shot was unlikely. (3) Throw his own gun into the water, shouldering, then firing Wayne’s gun.
Since Bruce hadn’t brought a gun cleaning kit, and anyway, it was Wayne who
was out of position, why should his own gun end up mucked? Bruce moved on to option four;
(4) Since he had Wayne’s gun in his right hand, grasped around the pistol grip,
and since he was generally pointed in the right direction, maybe he could just shoulder Wayne’s gun and fire one-­‐handed? He reasoned such a maneuver would help him better empathize for our one-­‐limbed warriors returning from the field of battle and maybe, just maybe, he would connect with one of the now fleeing cockbirds. What a story that would be! This clearly seemed to be the best option, so Bruce leaned into the rising gun, found the safety (only a little fumbling) and pulled the trigger. Alas, the only result was the flatulent cackle of an escaping rooster. Lesson learned: Practice firing one-­‐handed at the trap range PRIOR to hunting with Wayne.

In spite of the comedy played out by Wayne and Bruce, both Mike and Bob collected a bird. Bruce handed the gun back to a sodden Wayne, with only one shell remaining in the gun. Fortunately, we were only half way thru our hunting adventure at RPA, so Wayne still had a couple of shells with which to reload. More opportunities, but no birds collected on the walk back to the truck…
The evening hunt found us knee deep in a series of sloughs, with Mike, Bruce and Callie to the north and Bob and Wayne (with Tar) out of sight to the south, only a few paces off the mud ruts that now passed for a road. There were indeed a lot of ducks
trading back and forth, with some early
shooting in the south, but later—and more effective—shooting in the north. Wayne was impressed—concerned?—with Tar’s ability/willingness to stand for hours, chest deep in the cold water, peering about for birds, without whine and without loss of focus. This could not be said for Bob, who—has this already been mentioned?— had failed to bring his waders. And Bruce

was impressed with Mike’s ability to cycle shells through his auto-­‐loader. However, Mike did bring down a towering mallard drake –a "three curl bird". See picture of Mike above, asking for more shells.

Day three found us back at the same set of sloughs we had hunted the evening prior, but further north. Bob "I See No Need for Waders" Palombo took up a position in the boat that carried our gear, and offered navigational guidance as we pushed the boat to the cattails. It’s good to have such a strong a leader in our group. He might have offered some tips to Mike about wading as well because Mike quickly found himself closely exploring the bottom of the
slough—but he mostly dried out by the end of the hunt. Lesson Learned: If you weigh more than it says you weigh on your Law Enforcement ID card, stay close to the leader’s boat to keep your head above water. However, it is also possible that the leader may inadvertently overload his boat, making it unstable and prone to shipping

water—in which case stay far enough away that the leader can’t grab you for support as the boat

begins to slip beneath the waves. See picture at left with Bob striking his best "George Washington crossing the Delaware" leadership pose., and above, at a moment of rare balance in the boat.

We were once again reminded how difficult it is to ID waterfowl before sunrise, even though you can shoot thirty minutes before that time. Was it mentioned there were a lot of coots in the area? When dawn did arrive, it found a grey drizzly morning, with the bird work characterized by high flying, very large groups of birds with occasional smaller, lower flights of birds that would look at the
decoys, and maybe offer a shot. Nevertheless,
we shot ourselves down to the final three shells. Realizing
that staying longer wouldn’t necessarily increase our bag,
but merely deplete us of shells and delay our lunches, we left with those three shells (and a few birds). Lesson learned: If your shooting has been consistently amiss, don’t presume your last few shells will find their mark, especially if lunch is ready. [See picture to left showing group at lunch]

After a really good lunch (every meal was terrific!), we set out for pheasants in a memory-­‐ filled field of grasses, trees, scrub and sunflowers—we had hunted this field that Jeremy usually reserves for bowhunting on our previous trip and after realizing what a great hunt we had had there before, were really excited about working it. Initially focusing on the treelines, Callie pushed a bird in front of Bruce, who dropped it cleanly, which Callie then delivered to hand—a

nice memory of her developing pheasant acumen, shown in the picture below. The shooting was

sporadic after that, but with the dogs working strongly until one or two or three—or maybe all four—of the hunters tired and found themselves laying down in a sunflower field… from then on, Tar took a more leisurely pace as it was clear the hunters

were not serious about this hunt. A few missed shots, a few hit birds, and by the close of the afternoon, the

hunters and dogs were left sated but exhausted.

Other remembrances…
The NLCS /ALCS championships
playoffs—Bob missing the BoSox Grand Slam come-­‐from-­‐behind… The dog’s enjoyment of the spareribs and carrots that they found conveniently stored outside the lodge …
Which held more mud? The inside
or the outside of Bruce’s truck…
Non-­‐hunter clients at a hunting
More frozen birds than could be fit in the cooler…
Jeremy’s towel found inside in the truck, and accusations of cases of RPA toilet paper also stashed in the
back of the truck…

It had been 4 years since we were last at RPA, and there were some changes, but Jeremy, Ashley, Jay and Jerry claimed to recall our earlier trip with some fondness—and we certainly enjoyed seeing them again. Lesson learned: Don’t go so long between visits to RPA. Or so long between reunions of great friends. Or bringing new folks into the Great Friends category. Or….

The subsequent three-­‐hunt visit to the NePee Nauk Club in Wisconsin is the subject of a separate, and classified, annex to this After Action Report. But the picture below provides some

sense of the event.