Pop Goes the Partridge

Hunting huns and chasing time.

Okay… gotta be straight from the get-go. I’m not a great wing shot. If the feds ever instituted a No Hunter Left Behind initiative, I’d be their poster child. On most days, I am a B student at best. The fact that I bagged a fair number of birds last season has more to do with tenacity than accuracy. A solid A for effort.

I don’t hunt on leased land, trophy ranches, or hunting preserves. Nine times out of ten, I’m relegated to Block Management. Don’t get me wrong: Block Management is an incredible amenity that Montanans should be proud of. But BMAs are usually not the primo habitats and they get hit hard by fellow hunters. The birds are there; you just have to tromp farther than you would on parcels managed strictly for wildlife.

The Hutterite colonies are among my favorite places to hunt. Regardless of success, you are guaranteed an interesting cross-cultural experience. As a guy who sometimes feels like he was born in the wrong century, I take comfort in people who wear suspenders and long dresses, bake delicious pies, and know how to pluck a goose. And, oh yes, the Hutterites sure love my dog Blitzen.

What can I say about Blitz? First, he’s a Munsterlander. Gesundheit, you politely respond. Thank you, but that’s his breed. They’re versatile hunting dogs that haven’t been turned into pudgy, yard-dwelling couch potatoes. He’s a sweetie at home, but in the field he transforms into a lean, mean, hunting machine. He locks into upland birds, waterfowl, rabbits, even deer. He’s too talented to be stuck with a middling shot like me, but despite an occasional smirk after I miss a bird, he accepts his fate and trundles on. When I do connect, he congratulates me with a brisk retrieve and a big smooch.

While versatile by breeding, he’s a champ on Hungarian partridge (aka, Huns)—my preferred quarry. I have become fond of these little birds, though they frustrate the hell out of me. They group up in coveys, but are small, swift, and adroit. You’d think that six or ten birds flushing at once would be an easy target. Not so. They elude my pellets more often than not, leaving me mystified as they disappear into the hinterlands. Add a stiff Montana wind, and they can be nearly impossible to hit.


Here’s the thing: they remind me of my childhood. I grew up in the age of Jack in the Boxes, and in Hun country, with a brutal wind flummoxing Blitzen’s point, I hark back to my youth, cranking that Jack in the Box, unsure when it would explode. I knew the pop was inevitable, but it would always take me by surprise.

Blitzen’s nose is twitching so I know the Huns are there. But with gale-force winds, he’s not exactly sure where they’re hunkered down. I move forward. The cranking continues. Blitz moves up and stiffens his point. The anticipation builds. I switch off the safety and shoulder my gun. Suddenly, POP go the Huns, startling me the same way that Jack in the Box did so long ago. I squeeze the trigger. Sometimes a bird drops. Sometimes not.

In a way, it doesn’t matter. For a brief moment, I’m a child again. No worries. No commitments—just me and that Jack in the Box. It holds me in its grip. It centers me and teaches that even at its most predictable, life is unpredictable. But I accept that and keep cranking. Sooner or later, when Jack, or a Hun, once again takes me by surprise, I just smile in wonderment.