Tag Archives: Viszlas

A Hunter’s Journal, Part 3

14 Nov

Sunday, Nov. 9 through Tuesday, Nov. 11

Balmy and breezy, high in the 60s to howling gale, high in the 20s

Every year in commemoration of Armistice Day, Lisa Farrell Schwarz’s birthday or just the plain love of bird hunting, the Farrell/Schwarz partnership celebrates The Great Pheasant Hunt. It’s a 5-6 hour drive from my home in Southeast Iowa to Jim Farrell’s homestead at Camp Jiggle View in the village of Wahpeton on the shore of Iowa’s Lake Okoboji.

I arrived in the dark and found Jim readying the Bachelor Officers’ Quarters for the arrival of his son, Jon; his son-in-law, Dave; and Jon’s friends Dan and Caleb. We had a quiet time over coffee, catching up before Jon, Caleb and Dan arrived. They had been hunting in Danforth, some hour southwest of Okoboji.

Dave Schwarz arrived later after visiting his folks in Spencer. As we laughed and talked about the exciting events of the day, we were aware that the weather forecast for the rest of our hunt was not as inviting. Dave and I had planned a morning duck hunt for Wednesday, but after reviewing the forecast, we decided against it.

“I had a limit (three roosters) by 11:30 this morning,” Dave said with glee. “It’s been a long time since that’s happened.” The total take for the day was five, and each bird elicited a story from several points of view. The stars of the show were, naturally, the “Three Pointer Sisters”: the Vizsla, Buhda; and the German Shorthairs, Storm and Ruby.”

“Good dog work bordering on the heroic,” Jon summarized.

As we found our ways to bed none of us were really prepared for what we’d endure for the next two days, but because of modern improvements in weather forecasting, communications and outdoor apparel, it would be nothing like the Armistice Day Storm of 1940, but the similarities were haunting…

Abridged from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Armistice Day Blizzard (or the Armistice Day Storm) took place in the Midwest November 11 and 12 1940. The intense early-season storm cut a 1,000-mile-wide swath from Kansas to Michigan.

The morning of 11 November 1940 brought with it unseasonably high temperatures. By early afternoon temperatures had warmed into the lower to middle 60s over most of the affected region. Conditions quickly deteriorated. Temperatures dropped sharply, wind picked up, and rain and sleet and then snow began to fall.

 The result was a raging blizzard that would last into the next day. Snowfalls of up to 27 inches, winds of 50 to 80 mph, 20-foot snow drifts and 50-degree temperature drops were common in the path of the storm. In Minnesota, 27 inches of snow fell at Collegeville, and the Twin Cities recorded 16 inches.

A total of 145 deaths were blamed on the storm.

Along the Mississippi River several hundred duck hunters had taken time off from work and school to take advantage of the ideal hunting conditions. Weather forecasters had not predicted the severity of the oncoming storm, and as a result many of the hunters were not dressed for cold weather. When the storm began many hunters took shelter on small islands in the Mississippi River, and the 50 mph winds and 5-foot waves overcame their encampments. Some became stranded on the islands and then froze to death in the single-digit temperatures that moved in. Others tried to make it to shore and drowned. Duck hunters constituted about half of the 49 deaths in Minnesota. 13 people died in Illinois, 13 in Wisconsin, and 4 in Michigan.

Prior to this event, all of the weather forecasts for the region originated in Chicago. After the failure to provide an accurate forecast for this blizzard, forecasting responsibilities were expanded to include 24-hour coverage and more forecasting offices were created, yielding more accurate local forecasts.

Nobody died in our party, but our 40-degree temperature drop was breath taking; the 16-inches of snow in St. Cloud, MN must have had older folks reminiscing. Let me try to describe the experience of hunting pheasants in 20-degree temperatures and north winds of 10 to 20 mph gusting to 30-35: Exhilarating.

Once your cheeks went numb, you couldn’t feel the tears freezing on them, and the walk wasn’t that bad. The dogs seemed impervious to the elements. They hunted their hearts out daily, showing no signs of fatigue from the constant effort other than a torn pad here and a runny eye there – the usual wear and tear of their profession. And they found birds.

They pointed birds and two hens even sat still in front of the dogs long enough so that we got to walk in and flush them. The roosters? Not so much.

“I really thought they had that one,” Jon exclaimed as we clustered around the trucks after Dave and I had watched the three girls point, brace, hold, chase, point again, brace again, and on and on for some 20 minutes before their quarry simply disappeared. “They had that bird for some 600 yards before he snuck out for good,” Jon concluded.

Walking in the wind with a blaze orange stocking cap pulled down to the eyebrows and over the ears puts a hunter in a seeming bubble of unintelligible noise. Hunters often hear the flush of a bird before they see it, and such hearing was out of the question. The sound of the dogs’ bells toning as they move are a beloved part of the hunt, but when they were downwind of you, they were as soundless as when they were on point.

The 5-foot-tall blue stem grass that covers so much of that plains habitat danced madly under the influence of the gale, whipping and slashing at my glasses. I watched hunters on either side to make sure that we were in line, a critical safety measure, and when I turned my head to look at the guy on my left the guy on my right disappeared from my consciousness because of the wind.

In my gale influenced cocoon of silence I thought about that infamous Armistice Day storm that I’d read about and wondered at all my life, and felt happy to have solid ground under my feet and friends at my side.

And then I went back to humming that song that wouldn’t leave my mind, Gordon Lightfoot’s haunting first line, “The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down, of the Big Lake they call Gitche Gumee; The lake, it is said, never gives up its dead when the skies of November turn gloomy…”

God, I love to hunt…

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