It’ll be at least another year before I can scratch this itch again, so for those like me who pine to chase bird dogs and pheasants…read, remember, and enjoy!
I will share without shame that this column is often motivated by my own sense of aging and lost time…time for the things that I’ve enjoyed doing most in my 63 years of being upright and ambulatory.
And, I share without shame that I write today for guys like Kenneth Adams, who recently wrote, “I really enjoy your pheasant stories because I used to hunt myself. It was so much fun. But I cannot walk anymore and now my enjoyment comes from reading about it, and remembering the last good days of my dogs, my sons, and hunting together. Keep up the good work.”
Lord help us, Kenneth. And let me write.
Your words “last good days” lodged in my brain like a hangover headache; because I don’t ever want to take for granted that I’m able to hunt myself, even one more time. So, with sincere appreciation for our mutual experiences, I’m pleased to share the “last good day” of 2015, another year recently departed.
As you know, those who read these stories, I try to get to the North Dakota/Montana border at least once a year to hunt with friends Pat Jewett, Jerry Moenning, Ronnie Straiting, and my son Matt…late in December. It’s cold. Most of the “easy” hunters are long since bunkered at home. And the birds are tough and heavily feathered. The dumb ones are long since in someone’s freezer.
Although, it’s very risky to go so late because you could get caught in a snowstorm and be there for two weeks. But not this year, as the weather was perfect – just enough snow for atmosphere, temperature in the 30s, sunshine, and of course…wind.
The wind always blows on the plains and for months after my return I can always feel its sting and buffeting in my mind. When you’re actually there your eyes water and it’s hard to walk, physically and emotionally, when you’re tired and you know you’re three miles from the truck.
But my mind also holds the picture of the last walk on our last day, four miles west of Thunderhawk, North Dakota, through prairie grass and CRP land adjacent to a thousand acre field of picked black sunflower seeds. Pheasants love those seeds, and with plenty of food and cover, it’s a gunner’s dream come true to slowly pick your way through the blue stem and foxtail, expecting that booming flush and rush of adrenaline that is the essence of pheasant hunting.
For the first two days of our hunt the wind had literally made it hard to walk, or even stand – 30 miles per hour with gusts much higher as a front passed through, dumping a couple inches of fresh, powdery snow. Shooting was great. Hitting what you shot at was another thing. Wild birds flying downwind requires leads unheard at the average shooting preserve.
But day three was as calm as you please – easy walking, easier shooting, and the urge to make that one last cast through the cover a memorable one.
The pictures don’t lie, and we always take lots of pictures. Matt stuck one of those portable movie cameras over his stocking cap, trying to capture a flush and shot on video, for sharing on Facebook, I suppose. Anything to one-up his old man for the perfect image.
Birds flew, but too often in the wrong direction. Not for shooting Berettas and Brownings, of course. We were getting our birds.
But they flew uncooperatively for my Nikon…time, after time, after time.
We came to the point of needing one last bird for the day’s limit. And it’s never the same without the drama of actually shooting a bird. Staged photos aren’t that memorable. And in fact, they’re pretty damned forgettable. But Jerry’s Labrador got very birdy, circling, back and forth, trying to pin down an obvious running rooster.
I kept adjusting my angle to the dog and Matt, trying to keep a good sunlight angle and the camera in good focus range. And suddenly…it happened.
A squawking cockbird boomed from the weeds and turned my way, perfect for the gun and Nikon alike, if Matt didn’t wait too long to shoot. He’s quick on the trigger, that boy. The benefits of being young, with good hand-eye coordination. He made the shot, yes, but not before I captured what was to be the last good image of pheasant hunting for 2015.
I hope you enjoy it, Kenneth, with my compliments and wishes for many happy returns of your own memories. You know, they say a picture is worth at least a thousand words? I say…many, many more than that.
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