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Greg Wilson of Selah enjoys a break from hunting on a beautiful fall morning in Eastern Montana with black Labs Sage and Bailey. (Photo courtesy Rob Phillips)

Some folks might think it is crazy to drive 900 miles to hunt for pheasants. But that is what Greg Wilson and I did a couple weeks ago. We loaded up two eager black Labrador retrievers, and headed east.

Yes, there are pheasants in Washington. There are even a few pheasants here in the Yakima Valley. But there are not nearly as many pheasants around here as there are in far Eastern Montana. Which is why we drove 14 hours to hunt for a few days.

Now, I’ve certainly shot enough pheasants to last a lifetime, so these trips are not so much about bagging a limit or two of birds. These trips are now more about the dogs. And about the adventure.

My black Lab Bailey LOVES to hunt birds. So does Greg’s Lab Sage. So, to give them a chance to hunt miles of brush lines and cattail patches where plenty of birds live, it is definitely worth the drive. The dogs saw, smelled, tracked, flushed, and retrieved more pheasants in a few days in Montana, then they will all year around here.

Because the area we hunt is so remote, there are very few hunters after the first week of the season. It is like having a very productive hunting spot all to ourselves. That, too, makes the hours of windshield time worth it.

Broken up over two days of driving, the rooster road trip becomes a bit more manageable. Watching for wildlife, and meeting people along the way also helps with the road-weariness.

At one rest area our Labs caught the attention of a guy driving a large truck with a big box on the back. The young man jumped out of his truck, which had a sign on the side that said “Not for Hire,” and started asking us questions about our pooches. When I looked in the cab of his big truck, he had a nice-looking Lab inside.

Come to find out, the guy was basically traveling the country with his dog. He told us the bigger-than-normal truck cab was all decked out with a kitchen, shower and bed and he was on the last leg of a journey that had taken him from his home in Wisconsin, to New York, down the East Coast to Florida, back across the lower U.S., then up the West Coast. He had left Gig Harbor early that morning.

Not to get too pushy, I asked what he was delivering and found out that he was on a buying spree. He was buying four-wheelers and side-by-side ORV’s and planned to take them home to spruce up and sell.

He informed us that a decade or so ago he had purchased a thousand of dollars-worth of Bit Coins. He didn’t say how many coins the thousand dollars had gotten him in those early days of the crypto currency, but he had sold the coins for $56,000 each. That should buy some truck fuel and more than a couple four-wheelers.

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We met some friendly farmers while out hunting, and it was so nice to know that they actually enjoyed having us on their land. It helped that we had some freshly-smoked salmon to offer as a small thank you for letting us hunt.

After our last day of hunting Greg and I ventured out to find a decent place to eat and ended up at a “night club.” A night club in rural Eastern Montana is a bit different than a night club in Las Vegas. Unless you were really searching, you’d never see this Montana night club. There were no fancy lights or neon signs, no live band or dancing girls, this night club was just a rough-looking small building, in need of paint and some weed-pulling. On the inside, it couldn’t have been more appealing. Especially to a couple of hungry hunters.

The proprietor, who was also the cook, was a 60-something, grey-haired lady, who ticked off her inventory of steaks the second we sat down at the bar.

“Only one rib eye left,” she said pointing a spatula at us. “And only two New York strips.”

The food was great, served hot and fast, and it was the perfect end to a really nice day.

Every passing year our out-of-state hunting trips are turning into more than just hunting. We don’t push the dogs as hard, which gives our aging legs a break, too. Even with the more casual attitude, on this trip we still found plenty of birds, and the dogs had all kinds of opportunities to do what they love to do most.

Coming and going we saw literally hundreds of deer throughout the plains of Eastern Montana. We saw antelope and coyotes and sharp-tailed grouse. We saw all kinds of waterfowl and everything from sparrow hawks to eagles.

Hours and hours of driving allows plenty of time to share stories ... both new and old. While the tired dogs snored contentedly in the back of the truck on the trip home, we relived the past few days, meeting some great people, watching the dogs work, and even making a good shot or two on a cackling rooster.

Yes, dogs and people were definitely tired after the long road trip. But, if there ever was such a thing, it definitely was a good tired.

Rob Phillips is an award-winning freelance outdoor writer who has written the Northwest Sportsman column for over 30 years. He can be reached at rob1@spdandg.com.

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