Limits Too Quick

by Steve Smith

You turn away from the truck and cut the dog loose. She streaks toward the horizon, which is a long way off because this is the Ft. Pierre National Grasslands, and it’s the opening day of prairie grouse season. You drop a pair of shells into your over-under and start what could be an all-day walk looking for sharptails and chickens. But maybe it won’t be all day because already, a hundred yards ahead of you, Lizzy slams into a point, holding as you hustle closer, close enough for a shot, you hope.

Finally, you’re in gun range, and you move in with your heart in your throat. This is what you came all the way from South Carolina for, this mid-September classic field hunt. Then up they come, must be 20 or more. You drop one going away, then swing on a crosser. Centered. Your years of hunting quail have taught you to automatically reload quickly, and you no more than shut the gun when two tail-enders flush side-by-side. You drop the one on the right. You have your three-bird limit in hand when Lizzy fetches the last bird, a prairie chicken. Wow – a limit in under 10 minutes!

Yeah…a limit…in under 10 minutes…but now what? There’s nothing else open for a wingshooter except the rest of your day. What should you do?

I have stood in my tracks and shot a limit of South Dakota ringnecks a half-hour into the hunt, and another time in 20 minutes. The second day of Michigan’s season, my pointer Riley stuck two woodcock for me – my personal limit because for my wife and me, three are too many for appetizers and not enough for a meal. It took 12 minutes – and I’d driven 56 miles to do it in a cover that has never held a single grouse in the years I’ve hunted it.

In a lot of places, it doesn’t matter if you limit out early because there’s other game available. If you do well on Kansas pheasants, there’s always the bobwhites and vice versa; same in Nebraska. In South Dakota later in the fall, if you kill a limit of pheasants early, you can chase the prairie grouse. In Montana it’s Huns and sharptails. My experience with the woodcock notwithstanding, most of the time if I shoot two woodcock, I look for grouse. Or, if it’s a flight, I’ll work the dog. But that’s not always a good idea. If you shoot your ringneck limit early, it’s best to get out of there and not disturb the birds further. Same with disturbing coveys of quail.

What you do is up to you. But I strongly suggest that you avoid a casino on tribal lands in the West… trust me.

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