Two of my best days afield were with Lonnie Meyer: cabinet-maker, Emu rancher, German Wirehair point dog enthusiast and Montana bird hunter of Manhattan, Montana. Square headed, thick-set, this kind man was raised on a central Minnesota farm. His engaging, loquacious wife Lori explained, “He never did well in school because he was always focused on the family farm.”
Life changed for Lonnie though when he discovered Montana on a deer hunt. He returned, got a job on a farm and fell in love the Montana mountains. Lonnie became truly grounded when he met and fell in love with a local Dutch farm girl, Lori, and married. They are proud of their three grown children several of who live nearby and work in the family business.
Along with a custom cabinet shop, Lonnie runs a menagerie of sorts on his property with ducks, geese, pigeons, pheasants, quail, horses, sometimes Emu, and most importantly five German Wirehair Pointers who live to hunt local birds.
I was visiting Lonnie after stopping to visit my son in Billings Montana. This was my second stop of a three-month Sabbatical from my position as President/Head of Menaul School, a small independent day/boarding school in Albuquerque New Mexico with my three partners, Tex and Chaco, my energetic French Brittany Spaniels and Hi Ho Silver, my 2005 26-foot Airstream, my home away from home. I am visiting great dog trainers across the US to find out what makes them tick and chasing wild birds along the way.
My Wyoming friend, Jim King’s daughter is married to Lonnie and Lorie’s son. Jim connected us when I told him I was looking for dog trainers. I drove to Lonnie’s place from Billings on a sunny mid-September fall afternoon. Lonnie and I sat on his porch in the sun eating pears and apples from their kids’ Washington orchard. Jim had told me that Lonnie was laconic and spoke little. I soon discovered as long as the topics are dogs, hunting and the land, Lonnie was downright loquacious. We chatted about those topics and I knew in a few minutes that Lonnie was a man to be trusted implicitly and that we had a common bond around bird dogs, hunting and faith.
Lonnie walked these foothill fields with grace and joy accompanied by his excellent German Wirehairs.
Eventually Lonnie asked if I would rather watch him train his dogs or hunt wild Sharpies and Huns. Without hesitation, I chose the unexpected but completely welcome chance to chase wild birds with our dogs. After purchasing a license, we headed out to a local farm. As soon as hunting was mentioned, Logan, Lonnie and Lorie’s 22-year-old son showed up. He helped dad manage the hunt and used the OnX Hunt app to help find the best fields. Logan was a thoughtful thinner version of Lonnie, soft-spoken, and full of energy to hunt and work the dogs. As we pulled near the field we intended to hunt we saw the best possible sign–a covey of Huns scattering from a thick hedgerow. This grain and alfalfa ranch was set in the foothills of the Spanish Peaks. The land was hilly, developed farm land with grassy shelter belts, dry creeks, and harvested wheat fields. The views were spectacular as we looked down into the Gallitin Valley below and 10 thousand-foot mountaintops above us. He ran two dogs at a time and I brought Tex and Chaco out to see how they would handle these birds. Lonnie’s dogs were all business and after my pup, Chaco, blew through the first covey of Huns, we just followed them. Huns, unlike many game birds often land within a quarter-mile where they are first flushed. Sometimes if flushed multiple times, they fly shorter and shorter distances unlike a pheasant who would fly two miles on a second flush.
The second flush put birds within range of my 28-gauge Citori O/U, and though it did not fall right away Jordan saw it go down and Keysha, Logan’s wise old girl made an amazing find in deep cover after we kept telling her to come on. We followed this broken up covey and earned some additional shots. Lonnie made a good shot on a crossing bird which after a 15-minute search was still alive until Tex pointed and retrieved it to hand. Heading back to trucks on these tilted fields 4 Huns flushed and I shot a clean double. Tex retrieved them proudly and I groused gleefully, “boys, I just shot my first Montana double.” I may have jinxed myself because I found few birds in my next 6 days of Montana bird hunting
Duck, Duck, Hun! My devoted French Brittany,Tex, and I celebrate our first Huns in Montana
Over the next day and a half, we chased our big running dogs and several coveys over a variety of up and down country. We perspired profusely hiking up brushy coulees and down steep ledges but persistence paid off with dozens of shootable birds.
The second day my oldest son Lindsey III and his three-year-old French Brittany, Monte, (named after III’s favorite book The Count of Monte Cristo) joined us. It was a warm day and we saw only one covey, but we managed 3 birds.
The rewards of this trip were multiple. It was the first time I intentionally hunted Hungarian Partridge and had any luck. Second, I got to spend time with Ronnie, Lorie and Logan as they invited me to stay overnight at their home between hunts with them instead of driving back to Billings which was two hours each way. Plus, they fed me like a king, so it was a good thing I was walking eight miles a day
Third, it is always it is a joy to be in the field with my son. He is now out walking me, and I suppose he will out shoot me soon. Most of all I will remember hunting with humble men who shared a love for wild birds, pointing dogs, and the chance to walk softly on God’s glorious creation as our ancestors have for millennium.