Upland Pie



Upland Pie
I W £
I N GS H 00 I
Cletus Bianchi
s a self-professed homemade-pie expert, I believe
there are two kinds - good and excellent. The
difference between them depends largely on
the ingredients and the baker's touch. Fresh fruit; an extra
pinch of cinnamon; and flaky, slightly browned crusts
approach excellence, suitable for everything from appetizer
to an entire meal.
Leave out an ingredient or skimp on their quality, and
you just have pie. Opening a box and sliding a frozen disc
into an oven doesn't require love, passion, or experience.
True excellence comes from the hands of women with
names like Ruth or Mabel who pinch the crust just so,
select the best fruits, and then weave a flaky lattice over
the top. With enough experience and research, a discriminating glance at a cafe's pie shelf reveals whether you've
made the right stop - a neon Homemade Pies sign in the
parking lot aids in the decision!
As Kali and 1 accumulated years and miles on our
American Upland Slam quest, pie became the perfect analogy for our success. Whether the environment is GRP and
stubble, high desert sage and windmills, popple and firs, or
mesquite and cactus, upland pie requires the right blend of
ingredients. Food, cover, water - sounds like a pretty simple
recipe if you know what you're looking for.
Fortunately, recipes are found in cookbooks and a few of
those exist for upland hunters, written by folks like Ben O.
Williams and Gene Hill. I've already discussed the importance of research prior to taking a traveling wingshooting
trip, but it bears repeating: Do your homework prior to
launch; study up on the birds, their preferred habitat and
food sources; learn their habits and reactions to different
weather conditions. Take notes after each hunt to evaluate
your technique. Bird crops, empty or full, offer a wealth of
information. So do piles of droppings i n covey areas. You
just have to be observant... and curious. Ruth and Mabel
may have read a pie recipe once upon a time, but their signature pies come from experimentation and experience!
Sometimes your mojo (or preferably your research) leads
you to a place with quail crossing the road or chukars calling from a ridge - a neon Upland Pie sign. But usually we
roll up to a new area and must make a quick analysis of the
habitat potential, especially with limited dog power, party
size, or time. A few minutes of careful evaluation may result
-^•^ ' Iw-*;^ ^ r s i ' -
gun dog career. After shooting a number of quail over his
Brittanys, 1 was inspired to get my own dog. Now he and
Gisco take off on their own traveling wingshooting adventures every year.
As we enjoyed our steak in the motel restaurant, talking
dogs and hunting, 1 noticed a gentleman glaring at us. (My
blaze orange Texas Longhorn hat sometimes has that effect,
but usually just in Nebraska.) After his meal, he stomped
over to our table and asked what we were doing in town.
"Ghukar hunting" was not the answer he wanted, and he
snorted and stomped away, muttering about "damn Texans"
hunting his birds. While a bit concerned about the hunting
rig's tires, 1 felt confident we must be in the right area.
The next morning was as frosty as that fellow, but our
efforts east of town had only produced one covey of Huns.
Along the road, we met a WFG truck with a four-wheeler
in back and a Jack Russell terrier straddling the handlebars. The driver was a government predator hunter very
familiar with the area, and he said we were hunting too
low, that we should get up on Wild Horse Butte. And he
was right, because up high is where we finally found cheatgrass, a key ingredient for chukars. As we studied the grass
along the edge of the two-track, a chukar sentinel chuckled down at us. Bingo!
Loose rocks, steep drops into arroyos, cheatgrass, and
sagebrush - chukar pie! We found four coveys that crisp
clear morning. Kali's first chukar was also perhaps her
longest retrieve ever. 1 marked the bird down at about 50
yards, but she disappeared down the arroyo and over a
lower ridge, out of sight. 1 was furious as I stomped around
my mark, looking for feathers, whistling and yelling for
the dog. A few minutes later, Sam saw her reappear down
below, and as she got closer, I saw the bird in her mouth.
She dropped it, panting and smiling, while I gave her water
The recipe for success begins with lots of research
conducted in advance of the trip. Map books, land use
maps, state publications, plus a small library of upland
research guides are key ingredients to a successful
in a slice of heaven: "Food? Check. Cover? Check. Water?
Check. Let's give it a try, but not the entire section, just
that edge over there."
What A r e You D o i n g H e r e ?
My love/hate relationship with chukars fueled my summer 2008 research. Wyoming was the surprise winner for
our first destination. Trust me: Wyoming Game & Fish's
emphasis on big game hunting makes finding upland information as difficult as finding the actual birds. It was almost
like the birds were a big secret, which just whetted my
appetite more.
After months of research and some truly beautiful
travel through the Wind River canyon. Kali and 1 settled
in Thermopolis, with Sam Safir and his French Brittany,
Gisco, as companions. Sam is an old friend from San
Antonio and was one of my mentors during my early
I H [
Research Tools/Websifes
asea its empnasis on upland nunting
;t trip in 2008. This link has season and
public access information - gf.state.wy.us/web20iy
BLM maps for all of Wyoming - plicmapcenter.org/
Thermopolis - Days Inn (dog-friendly) by the Hot
Springs includes Safari Club restaurant with huge taxidermy display, plus mule deer outside the window.
Thermopolis - Roundtop Mountain Motel (dogfriendly), comfortable cabins.
Thermopolis Cafe and Pumpernicks have great food.
BLM maps and numerous national forest maps ;
General public access informationfwpiis.mt.gov/content/getltem.aspx?id=293T9
Block Management information for all regions
changes annually - fwp.mt.gov/hunting/hunterAccess/
Travel Note - the Bakken Shale area of MT/ND makes it nearly
impossible to find lodging, so reservations are recommended.
Web portal for public access, including PLOT S acreage - gf.nd.gov/maps
Belfield, North Dakota, is now covered up by oil-shale
development, so lodging may only be found in Dickinson.
The area between Belfield and Bowman and north of
Beach still holds good populations of pheasant and
favorite motel is the Edge of Town - highly
ended. Every hunting/fishing shop has licenses
and maps for the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest.
Other public land access options - dnr.wi.gov/topic/lands/
and apologized profusely. Best guess is nearly a half-mile
and 200 feet of elevation to get that bird.
Kali also had her first encounter with sage grouse that
day. She'd never seen a bird as big as her, but it smelled
right. The season was closed, but I don't think she minded
watching those birds fly away.
All of the ingredients had come together for a great chukar hunt i n Wyoming, including that critical tip from the
WFG guy we took time to visit. Our new friend wasn't at the
restaurant, so we couldn't share our success story with h i m
and tell him how many of his birds we harvested before we
moved on to Montana.
Couldn't tell a gun dog story without some reference
to rodent encounters, and Kali had several across the
Montana plains. Her first prairie dog town was relatively
small, tucked into the corner of a GRP field by a creek.
As she quartered her way into the wind, she tried to ignore
the scent; she'd learned Dad didn't shoot the rodents she'd
pointed i n the past.
One brash fellow popped out of his burrow 10 yards from
Kali and began barking at her. Kali skid to a stop and stared
in amazement. The mental image of those two dogs, nearly
nose-to-nose, one barking angrily, the other in stunned
silence, wouldn't be a very good magazine cover, but it still
makes me chuckle. When he ducked back into his hole.
Kali bounded after him, and as I yelled at her, a rooster
pheasant flushed 50 yards away! Oh well...
Kali found numerous pheasants on PLOTS land north of
Gulbertson, but she also met her first porcupine. 1 could tell
it probably wasn't a bird by the way she worked, and when
the quills flared up out of the knee-deep grass, Kali nearly
jumped into my game bag. No damage done; just a valuable
teaching moment.
The upland pie i n the area was perfect for pheasants and
Huns, but we still hadn't gotten close enough to sharptails,
our real target. Lodging was an issue due to the Bakken
Shale workers, so we moved from eastern Montana to southwest North Dakota for a new flag and some new ingredients.
Dawn Patrol
While South Dakota rightfully receives the most acclaim
for pheasant concentrations, the bird numbers around
Belfield, North Dakota, were overwhelming. All of the scent
made the dogs frantic, and I stopped counting points for my
journal. Roosters on round bales everywhere we looked!
But still no sharptails, and I suspected the grass fields we
hunted were too small.
The next morning as we headed south from Belfield with
just a salmon-colored glow on the horizon, I watched a
covey of sharpies fly across the highway and land on a
grassy knoll. Sam was driving, so I quickly marked the hill
on my map and determined it was a Walk-In area. When we
During a brief visit to the Little Bighorn Battlefield
National Monument, this resident sharpie at the Custer National
Cemetery was the only one that hadn't flushed wild. Kali
held a beautiful point through the windshield.
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Don't tell the guy at the cafe in Thermopolis I told you,
but Wild Horse Butte still held chukar during a later
trip with my friend Emil Crow. The upland pie holds up
through bitter winters and blistering summers, supporting a strong resident population of birds.
] Mafcn
Breed of Dog(s)^
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returned a few hours later after more pheasant points, we
faced a iy2-mile hike to that hill, but I was determined.
Kali was gassed and just trotting along with me, not really
hunting when we finally reached the hilltop and headed
for a swale to the west into the prairie wind. Then Kali got
birdy. I paused a moment to watch her quartering, calling
upon her genetics and her experience as she worked the
scent cone i n that ocean of grass, ignoring her exhaustion.
Then I realized she was slowing and trailing - and nearly
one hundred yards away!
I ran as fast as grass, fatigue, and safety would allow,
watching her creep slower and then lock into her panthercrouch point. I stopped a few yards short and hadn't
gulped a second breath before the sharpie launched, darting and woka-woka-woka-ing
away. The rest of the covey
flushed at the report, but I didn't care - the first bird had
dropped, and Kali and I collapsed i n the grass to drink
water and celebrate.
As we lay panting i n the grass, I got a close-up view of the
sharptail pie ingredients. Little grasshoppers were jumping
around, there were some seeds left on the stalks, and even
some green shoots under the blanket of prairie grass. We
were over a mile from any road, but even i n the little swale,
we had a commanding view of the entire area. All parts of
the sharptail recipe and another sweet slice of success.
At breakfast that morningv, we met some fellow traveling wingshooters from Kentucky. If their hunting rig wasn't
a dead giveaway, their blaze orange caps and conversation
were. Our adjoining tables were soon combined over eggs,
bacon, and coffee as we gave up details of dogs, travels, and
goals. They were on their way to Oregon for chukars, and
we were headed to Minnesota next for ruffed grouse. Both
plans changed before the bill was paid.
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back for the dings and scratches on my old side-by-side,
plus bandages, we might be even.
Out of laziness, or perhaps inspiration. Kali and I followed
an ATV trail that wandered back to the hunting rig. She
locked up at the base of a huge fir, and a covey of five grouse
beat out of there. Fortunately, I have two barrels, and Kali
was finally able to put her first forest grouse in her mouth.
She hates posing for photo ops, but it provided the
opportunity to study the ingredients for a ruffed grouse
pie. There were still little berries under that ancient old fir,
and I imagine it provided shelter in bad weather as well.
The popple - aspen - nearby would be on the birds' winter
"budding menu." It was all there.
Sam and Cisco had also scored that morning, so we
were happy to head for home with four new state flags on
the rig's bumper and three new species in Kali's nose. Kali
adjusted seamlessly from high desert to plains to forest and
was getting better at honoring the various scent cones. I
had mastered the travel part and was getting a better handle on the habitat ingredients.
We had slices of the quail, prairie grouse, and forest
grouse upland pies, but we hadn't completed a slam
on any of them. Our appetite was whetted, but
it was time to focus on one genus, and Ben
O. Williams' Hunting the Quails of North
America would be our cookbook.
Kali pauses to evaluate one of Montana's Region 3
Block Management Areas. Had she seen birds in the
canyon, she would have jumped right in; but three days
of chukar hunting in Wyoming had her hankering
level ground.
Even though they hunted with Enghsh setters, I
saved them several hundred miles by sending them to
Thermopolis for chukars. "Wyoming?" they said. "Yes, but
don't tell them the Texans sent you!" In return, they recommended Parks Falls, Wisconsin, for "easy" grouse shooting. That was better than any lead I had in Minnesota, so
we spent a day on the road, resting tired legs and dogs.
When a town of 2,500 proclaims itself the Ruffed Grouse
Capital of the World, you feel like you've made the right
decision. The Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest is
northwest of Park Falls and just as the Kentucky hunters
had indicated, any of the areas around forest roads 161-168
were prime habitat and full of grouse and woodcock. They
stretched the truth a bit on the "easy" part, however.
Thick, tangled, boggy, and full of ticks, it was a grouse
hunter's dream. I may owe the Forest Service some money
for the trees that ate my patterns that day, but taking credit

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