Hunting’s Field Of Dreams THOUGHTS OF BUCKS AND BIRDS…AND ANTELOPE

It’s an early September morning and I’m sitting in Antelope Alley. My hunting buddy Ron named this broad saddle in … Continued

It’s an early September morning and I’m sitting in Antelope Alley. My hunting buddy Ron named this broad saddle in a long hillside after he spent the better part of two mornings glassing rutting pronghorn bucks cruising through here like the Secret of Life lay on the other side. Of course, being not only rookies but also slow learners, we ignored the Alley and roved the prairie, hoping to spot a buck, slip in on him and erect a decoy.

The bucks, of course, had other ideas. So after two days of chasing these gazelles through Dakota sage and cactus and bone-dry grass, we remembered the Alley.

We’ve sat for five solid hours and seen exactly three ragged horses, a cock pheasant and a distant jet. At one point Ron awoke from a nap, snapped to attention, and raised his bow. I thought I’d missed an approaching buck…until I realized my partner was drawing down on our decoys.

THE MIND WANDERS

So the action’s been slow. That’s okay, too. It’s not like I’m working, and I actually have time to dream about where I’d like to be if I wasn’t making like a sagebrush. Naturally, the first place I think of is back home in Minnesota, where the ruffed grouse and woodcock seasons will open mid-month. There’s this chunk of the Superior National Forest just north of Duluth where me and my goofy golden spent a weekend chasing ruffs and timberdoodles. That dog never did accept the taste of a woodcock in his mouth, though I gave him plenty of opportunity.

In neighboring Wisconsin, I’d love to be sitting over a lush alfalfa field in Buffalo County with a bow in my hand. Some of the year’s finest bucks are taken in the first two weeks of the archery season in this perennial trophy producer, as whitetails concentrate on hitting the last late-summer fields and the first fallen acorns. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has been the site of a unique and long-running blast-and-cast fantasy; I’d start the trip with a stop at the St. Mary’s River, where an annual run of pink salmon would quell my desire to visit Alaska for a while. Then I’d head toward the western U.P. with a bear tag and try to bust one of the big bruins roaming in Gogebic, Iron or Ontonagon counties.

Another September event I’ve missed over the last few years is the early season for giant Canada geese. Several Midwestern states host early seasons, but I’m told the shooting in northeastern Indiana’s Steuben, La Grange and Noble counties can be hot and heavy. Limits are liberal and you don’t have to freeze your backside for a goose dinner. Honkers aren’t the only early-season action for waterfowlers, either. Both Iowa and Illinois host September duck seasons where gorgeous teal and wood ducks make up most of the bag.

WANTING TO WING-SHOOT

As a Wisconsin native and longtime resident of both Iowa and Minnesota, I have the dubious distinction of having lived in three Midwestern states that didn’t have a mourning dove season while I lived there. But for sportsmen in states like Ohio, September means dove hunting, and a close friend has a fantastic shoot on a grain field near Middlefield. Another bird I haven’t chased is the sharptail, which offers some great early-season gunning in Nebraska. Again, I’m relying on a trusted source here, who tells me there’s some primo hunting on public areas in the north-central part of the state like the McKelvie National Forest near Valentine.

As long as I’m beating myself up, I’ll switch to fall fishing. I adore muskies, and I’ve got enough friends in Missouri that I could certainly wrangle an invite to chase toothy fish in a spot like Hazel Creek Lake, where the per-hour effort to boat a muskie is far less than in more traditional states.

Back to reality. As soon as Ron and I are finished with these infuriating pronghorns, we’re turning our attention to the mule deer bucks living in North Dakota’s Little Missouri National Grasslands. Like Antelope Alley, the Badlands is difficult country for a hunter hoping to get within bow range of his game. Still, the bucks I’ve seen in those craggy hills keep me coming back. But I’m still in antelope mode, and in fact I’m pretty sure I just heard the sharp bark of an approaching buck…or was that just Ron waking up from another nap?

For more regional information, go to www.outdoorlife.com/regional