The Call of the Sandhill

    Guest Posts on County 10 are provided by contributors and the opinions, thoughts, and comments within are their own and may not necessarily reflect those of County 10.

    One of the things I miss most in the fall and winter are the clouds of migrating Canada geese churning up the sky as they head south for the winter. If you haven’t noticed, those flocks of hundreds, sometimes thousands of geese that filled our skies in the 1970s and 80s aren’t there in the same abundance as they once were.

    Without angering the extremists, I don’t care if you’re a climate change denier, or a disciple of climate change, save that for the politicians. The geese just aren’t there as they once were.


    More spend the winters here in Fremont County than they once did. Ask the guides who used to work the incoming flocks in Mexico and Central America, and they’ll tell you the numbers are down.

    The sound of geese calling from a thousand feet or higher above you was magical. The sound carries for miles and there was no question that they were headed south at high speed. I often followed huge “V’s” of geese as they flew from the northern to the southern horizon.

    It was the sound of oncoming winter, every bit as visceral as the chill wind that swept down on you with the setting sun after a warm afternoon during “Indian Summer.”

    Last week I spent three evenings and one pre-dawn morning hunting for a whitetail buck.


    I was successful early Sunday morning, but that was just a little gravy on an outstanding hunting experience.

    Hunters know the joys of the hunt, they are often superior to the harvesting of game, it’s the road, not the destination in this case.

    If you understand the joy of playing a game, whether you win or not, you have an inkling of what a good hunt means.


    The first two evenings we waited for the whitetail bucks to emerge from hiding as the sun began to set.

    Every wild animal has feeding habits, and while the does and fans were all over the field during daylight, the secretive bucks wait until the very last minute in the oncoming twilight to emerge from hiding. That means you’ve got from five to 10 minutes to locate a buck, range the target, and focus on him in your rifle scope during the rapidly dwindling light. It’s not easy.

    My guides, my son Brian and our mutual friend Trapper Bradshaw are experienced guides who decided to take the old man (me) out for a whitetail hunt.


    They come not only with vast experience, but with a wide variety of scopes, blinds, tripods, and high-quality optics. They are the best, and you can ask all those wounded veterans they’ve taken on successful elk hunts if you doubt it.

    Wednesday night we spotted deer a long way across an open field, but what we really noticed were clouds of squawking, cackling Sandhill cranes as they went to water for the night after feeding on stubble fields of corn, barley, and oats across the valley.

    These huge birds are perhaps the noisiest of all species and have no problem letting you know they are there. A few of them flew just a couple of yards above our heads.

    The polar opposite of these gregarious giants was a silent harrier that almost landed on Brian as we hid in a ditch waiting for a buck to join the gals and kids feeding in the open field.

    As we scanned the far horizon, I caught sight of the harrier as it almost landed on Brian a few yards away from me. Unphased by our close proximity, the raptor continued to fly slow and low before dropping in a dive to take an unsuspecting field mouse.

    It was a thrill to watch one of nature’s greatest hunters, on par with the Great Horned Owl for aerial predatory supremacy, doing what it was designed to do.

    People from the coasts often speak of wolves and grizzlies as the greatest predators in our fair state, and they are quite adept at culling deer and killing cattle, but the best predators are those that are rarely seen, the cougar, bobcat, and ferret.

    One predator that is much easier to spot, and is the most versatile of them all came into view Thursday evening.

    An almost white coyote was frolicking, (can coyotes frolic?) near a mixed group of muley and whitetail does. He spooked the whitetails but the mule deer ignored the wild dog.

    The coyote was taking field mice, just as the harrier had, only at lower altitudes. The coyote walked slowly, then crouched into an attack pose, and jumped three to four feet in the air before trapping a mouse with its paws, and quickly snapping up the furry snack.

    It was as much fun as sighting those wary bucks.

    In the midst of scanning the grass, Russian Olives, and sagebrush bordering the field ringneck pheasant roosters were bouncing around in mock fights We spotted nine different birds as they did their primordial dance.

    In the distance, over the din of the cranes, we could spot, and then hear semi-trucks, pulling heavy trailers up an incline and also the noise that comes from knobby tires on pickup trucks rumbling on the pavement.

    Mix all these visual and auditory delights with the feel of a late autumn evening as the sun dips behind the mountains and your senses are almost overwhelmed.

    The chill is nearly instantaneous when the sun sets. A drop of 15 degrees in as many minutes can send shivers down your back even though the temperature isn’t that cold. It’s the sudden change, not the amount of mercury dropping in the thermometer that brings on this sensation.

    I’ve experienced this before at the end of a long day working outside, but when it hits you while hunting, it is much more intense.

    It is the essence of why we live where we do. You can’t experience this in most of America any longer. It was once common from Maine to the Colorado River, but civilization has taken it away.

    All the concrete and asphalt is considered an example of progress, but at the end of the day, I’ll take the call of the Sandhill over a strip mall or another fast food franchise every time.


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