Mouthful of Feathers contributions are as infrequent as rains in West Texas, but we are still here and still kicking. And occasionally writing when we get a chance between feathers and gunpowder. Our original writers like Tom Reed and Greg McReynolds are still out there and still sharing, but we’re also expanding the pool of writers. Some, like Jim Houston, will bring us back to the way it was and make us think about the way it is. Others will make us think about how it can be.
Horseman, hunter and adventurer Jim Houston spent a career in wildlife management with the Colorado Division of Wildlife before retiring to Montana in the mid-1990s. Now 84, he lives outside the town of Silver Star, Montana, where he has a good bird dog. He still gets out to hunt, fish, camp and explore around the West every chance he gets.
By Jim Houston
What increases a hunter’s chance of giving a positive impression when asking permission to hunt private land? I have hunted pheasants, quail and prairie grouse in the West since my youngster days. During those decades I have observed some pretty fair techniques and many that failed. Especially in recent years it has definitely been tougher.
A couple of long-term hunting partners who were pretty good talkers always insisted on my knocking on the door; I’ll assume my batting average wasn’t too bad. Here are a few styles I have used, presented in reverse order of success:
- Arrive at the farm early. A little after daylight sometimes works.
- Include all members of the hunting party when going to the door. This is the team approach.
- Make the contact away from the house. Catching the farmer miling cows or on his tractor sometimes works.
- Telephone in the evening before the hunt. Dinner time or during the local TV weather report should be avoided.
- Park your vehicle a respectful distance away from the doorstep.
- Clothes matter! Older garments showing some wear are best.
- My personal preference is to wear my oldest, stained Western hat.
- Use an older hunting vehicle if available.
This last suggestion demands an extreme explanation from years past and my most successful days of hunting pheasants on farms.
I had bought one of the very first Toyota Land Cruiser station wagons. They were at that time more affordable and Toyota dealers few and far between. The steering needed work and the nearest dealer happened to be in good pheasant country. I called for an appointment the day prior to a planned week of hunting. All went well at the dealership until my arrival to pick up my vehicle. The mechanic had disassembled all steering parts, found the problem, but had no replacement part in stock and in disassembly had irreparably damaged a bearing. Ordering parts would take days and my vehicle was not drivable. The dealer had no loaner for me.
I had previously worked a short time in this area and knew a big game outfitter who owed me a favor. This contact saved my hunt! The outfitter had a very well-used two-ton International stock truck. All I had to do was put a new battery in the truck and it started and ran fine. I hunted a week with my setter sitting up next to me and I was invited in to eat meals with several farmers and all invited me for more days of hunting. I can still hear the rattle of that old truck. It was the best hunting vehicle I ever drove.
Jim Houston, 84, lives in Silver Star, Montana, and is still knocking on doors for permission to hunt.