Guide to Idaho preview
Idaho's Fields of Dreams
boy growing up on a farm in Illinois, I waited for fall hunting season
with more anticipation than even Christmas.
In the 1960s duck hunting
wasn't particularly good at the eastern edge of the Mississippi flyway
so I rarely hunted ducks. Pheasants flushed through my imagination and
pushed girls, rock music and even sports into the background when the trees
bared and corn stalks turned golden. When the season opened in November
my Dad and Grandfather would make one ceremonial walk through our farm's
fields. Then I would spend the rest of the month and on through December
patrolling every cornfield within walking distance.
Sometimes I could coax
our gun-shy family Weimaraner to follow me through the multiflora roses
along the fence lines. But usually it was just me and my Stevens .410 bolt
I was able to press the rare, unwitting rooster to rise rather than run,
I missed more than I hit. But when I successfully overcame my shock and
the effects of adrenaline, I can remember few feelings more satisfying.
My mother always treated me like a returning hero when I brought home a
ringneck, sending me into the basement with a big pot of boiling water
so I could pluck the bird. Nothing ever tasted so good as the fried fowl
I had taken off the land.
once the new year came, the season ended and I was forced to wait in suffering
for the next November. I found solace in the pages of Field and Stream
and Outdoor Life reading about faraway, mystical places with names like
Seven Devils and River-of-No-Return. That sportsman's paradise, Idaho,
seemed so distant and enchanting and so unlike the flat farm country where
writers even had a romantic names, Ted Trueblood, told me of strange and
alluring birds like sage grouse, sharptails, chukar partridge and mountain
quail. Clyde Ormond, a Rigby, Idaho, high school principal, explained
the basic skills of big game hunting. Elmer Keith, Salmon City's Old West
outfitter and gun inventor made me want to carry a big gun in the woods
and Jack O'Connor of Lewiston, nurtured my love of double-barreled shotguns.
I finally arrived in Idaho
in 1985, after detouring through Wisconsin, where I picked up a fair wingshooting
eye kicking through swamps for ruffed grouse and woodcock. I soon learned
that sage grouse were indeed mystical birds that explode from the
desert like coveys of gray, black and white chickens.
blue grouse of southern Idaho were numerous, but unsophisticated, well,
dumb actually. They taught me a new meaning of kicking up birds, literally,
in their tail feathers. Ducks and geese were everywhere filling the rivers
and ponds of this arid land as no where I had ever seen in the Midwest.
The pheasants, unfortunately, were for the most part ghosts, relegated
to put-and-take hunts at the state's wildlife management areas. As elsewhere,
years of clean farming practices and changes in predator population dynamics
had reduced the range and numbers of the bird that first lured me into
the sport of hunting.
of all I found I no longer had to wait until late-fall to take to the field.
grouse season opens the last weekend in August, when wild flowers still
linger in the higher elevations. Dove hunters also get a short, early start
before sage grouse and sharptail season opens in mid-September. Early goose
seasons in the Southeast precede the regular early waterfowl opening in
October and the leaves have hardly turned yet.
most hunters are chasing elk and deer, the local ducks make for fine sport
at the dozens of public hunting areas across this huge state. Then pheasant
and partridge opens in late-October and the more seasonal upland season
keeps weekends busy into the early weeks of January. In 1997, California
quail numbers were so high that the Idaho Department of Fish and Game offered
a special two-week winter season in January.
But bird hunters aren't
done yet. The introduction of turkeys has brought spring hunting to thousands
of hunters who like me turned into skiers, steelheaders and fly fishers.
natural wonders tend to pound at the observer like a rock opera turned
on high volume.
is hard to find in a landscape that begins in the bottom of deep, narrow
canyons, where rivers grind their way through bedrock, carrying even big
boulders downstream during the spring runoff. Where big shouldered mountains
rise up 12,000 feet, sculpted by glaciers and the elements while they don
snowy capes. It's a land that grabs your attention like a gun shot and
holds it like a circus tent evangelist.
grow up here lured mostly to the mountains and canyons after big game.
Elk, that grow big and wander through Idaho's wilderness back country attract
most of the out-of-state hunters that have been lucky enough to discover
its awesome open spaces.
those willing to look beyond nature's clamorous vision will find a place
where small events still matter. It is not only a wild world of untamed
passionate uproar. In Idaho there are still places where silence reigns.
is the desolate, wide-open sagebrush desert of Owyhee County, where man,
boy and dog can walk for miles, or even drive, for that matter, without
seeing another human. He might see a few dozen sage grouse, quail or partridge,
depending on where he chooses to trek.
also is the thick conifer forested swamps of north Idaho, where ruffed
grouse can be found as wary as any of their lake country cousins.
also is a pastoral Idaho, where grassy drainage ditches divide farm fields
of corn, sugar beets, onion, wheat and yes, potatoes. These are the
home of upland game. Pheasants, partridge and quail. These often exotic
newcomers to Idaho seem more at home on the South Dakota prairie,
an Illinois cornfield or the lush valleys of California.
like the human inhabitants who have transformed the desert into farms and
towns, these aliens have adapted. Pheasant numbers have improved in the
1990s and with additional habitat protection may once again return to a
shadow of their former grace.
this land where water decides fecundity is both home and rest-stop to waves
of waterfowl. It is hard to imagine there are other states which wield
more productive waters and fields for duck and goose shooting.
nation where hunting appears to be disappearing, hunter numbers in Idaho
are rising. This is no fluke. Idaho is what America was.
it is not an island. Like most of the country, the changes man has wrought
have taken their toll on the state's upland birds. Mountain quail have
nearly disappeared. Sage grouse numbers have plummeted.
Retallic and I wrote this book not only to help hunters to find the many
wingshooting opportunities that Idaho offers. The birds and the land we
share with them need more stewards. Hunters have traditionally been and
remain among the most reliable conservationists. We want this great sport
to be available to our grandchildren and our grandchildren's grandchildren.
birds and waterfowl are the fat of the land that we all can share as long
as Idaho is healthy from the tops of its craggy peaks to the bottom of
its deep river canyons.
Rocky Barker, Boise,