You can wait on the Buckeyes-Clemson game any way you want. Here’s how we choose to do it, and maintain a bit of Big Ten priority in the process.
Iowa City, Iowa…From where I awoke Monday morning you could almost hit a two iron shot into Kinnick Stadium, on the University of Iowa campus.
But there’ll be no football in Kinnick this week, or for the University of Iowa, either, for that matter. Their appearance in the Music City Bowl with the University of Missouri on Wednesday has been canceled, due to Covid concerns with the Missouri roster.
But I don’t come to Iowa for football during the holidays. For years I’ve come here with friends for the pheasant hunting in Johnson and Washington counties, after the locals and the amateurs get their fill of better weather and easy hunting in October and November.
“I’d like to go out there with you sometime and try it,” said friend Kreg Huffer, a committed shotgunner and chiropractor from Jackson Center.
“It could be dicey,” I cautioned back in September, when we planned this week’s trip. “You go out there expecting to spend a couple of days and you might spend a week if the weather turns bad.”
“I’m in,” he assured.
The focal point when I plan holiday hunting is Ryan Giannini’s Highland Hunting Lodge (https://highlandhunting.com), outside Iowa City in Riverside, Iowa. Giannini operates about 1,500 acres of prime Iowa pheasant habitat – rolling hills, prairie grass, and corn and sorghum strips – one of the best places I’ve found in a lifetime of chasing the always-dangerous and elusive ringneck.
A comfortable seven-hour drive delivered us right on time to the comfortable Highland Lodge, of route 218, in Riverside, and as we checked in late Sunday afternoon there were flurries in the air. By the time the sun had set there were two inches of snow on the ground.
And the forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday was even more Iowa-like – four to eight inches of snow and high winds.
“Wouldn’t be a bad idea to get out and hunt while you can,” said Giannini Monday morning. “We got a storm coming in. We could be on the edge of it, or we could be right in the middle of it.”
When I delivered the forecast to Huffer he simply pulled on his Carhartts and grabbed his shotgun. No words were necessary.
We jumped in the truck and followed guide Butch Reid to a strip of bluestem grass and bottom ground about five miles south of the lodge. A creek bisects that ground with a shelter belt of trees right through the heart of it. Reid is a veteran with the Highland operation, and his confident smile told us that we were about to make the most of the limited time we had to hunt.
Kreg Huffer proved quickly that he’s not only one of the area’s best chiropractors, but equally adept with his old Browning Auto 5 shotgun as well. Reid’s German Shorthairs went on point within five minutes of walking into the field, and Huffer dumped the day’s first Iowa rooster with a single shot.
“The doctor is in,” I said to Butch as his Shorthair, Rudy, delivered the bird at his beckoning.
Pheasants are savvy birds, and they have a sense of bad weather the same as humans. And they were targeting the food plots of corn and sorghum, feeding in advance of the coming storm and bad weather.
To those interested in the future of Iowa hunting the prospects are bright. A series of bad weather years and the demise of the state’s CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) ground has produced a sharp decline in Iowa bird numbers since 2010. But presently, both habitat and pheasants are on the increase as a committed effort by both outdoorsmen and landowners. If there’s suitable habitat there’ll soon be birds, the biologists with groups like Pheasants Forever say. The proof is in the hunting.
The dogs pointed predictably, and Huffer’s retriever Winston stayed busy bringing birds to hand. Within three hours we each had a limit of roosters and the satisfaction of having beaten the odds…at least according to the local news. The arrival of snow and blizzard conditions had been pushed back until late in the afternoon, according to the local CBS affiliate.
“I think we can get in another morning hunt,” said Huffer when I asked about getting out while the getting was good. “At least that’s what I’m thinking.”
Spoken like a true hunter, or a least one smitten with the holiday spirit – the same spirit that I’ve had for the past twenty years. I’d written about Ryan Giannini and Highland Hunting for Sporting Classics Magazine back in the early days of its operation. And the experience, like Iowa’s habitat and hunting future, has only gotten better.
With a bit of luck we’ll be back in the friendlier weather confines of the Miami Valley before the weather arrives and things get shut in here.
If we’re unlucky you can’t beat the amenities, or the hospitality. No football, no problem. We’re at least warm and well-fed.
And in case of the worst possible scenario…the doctor is in.