I’ve started a tradition in the last couple of years – a “last chance” pheasant hunt. Sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Eve I head out to one of my favorite haunts to give my dog one last good run, to satisfy my
passion NEED for pheasant hunting (after Dec 31, no pheasants for 10 1/2 months!), and most importantly to get outside, get some fresh air, and burn off a few holiday calories.
Every time I think that I know something for sure, mother nature outsmarts me. Case in point – while the temperature is relatively warm this winter I thought pheasants may still be holing up in dense thermal cover along the edge of a small reservoir. I planned my approach, hoping to block the pheasants between a berm and myself and get a shot as they broke cover. The gig was over before it started – one rooster was standing sentinel and flew off while I was still too far away. I quickly ran over there in the hopes that there might be a straggler or two – nothing! About that time my dog took off in the other direction – straight through the cover that I thought would be holding the birds and up the side of a steep grassy coulee. I sprinted after him. Once we got up on the top of the hill, dozens of pheasants exploded out of cover that so low that it would be difficult to hide a baseball in. All this action was 100 yards away from where I thought they would be. Close just wasn’t close enough! I learned something this year – in the 2 degree C weather, the pheasants were out in miminal cover foraging, not tucked up warm in a cattail bed or tall grass.
I was able to connect with a couple of birds that day. For many, this is the currency by which the hunt is evaluated as successful or not. After thinking about it, I realized that is not really what defines the hunt for me. Sure, taking home birds is a bonus on a great day in the field. But after mulling over what makes a pheasant hunt “successful” for me, I realized that the thrill for me comes from:
1) Seeing my dog work – to see the rush that my dog gets finding, tracking, or retrieving pheasants is a reward like no other. Like a good report card from school – seeing your dog work and seeing the hours of training in action is priceless. For my dog, I’m sure sniffing releases endorphins because he is flying high for the entire time he is in the field. I hope that he got his fill ’cause our serious training starts again in 4-5 months from now and that can be a long time to ‘live’ on bumpers (although he would never admit that)!
2) I love to find new spots – Finding a “hidden” spot that no-one else knows about on opening day, or that little patch of thermal cover that is sure to hold birds during the late season. Figuring out the environmental cues that pheasants are responding to. Getting a shot at that wily old rooster that escaped the mayhem of opening weekend, that has out-smarted dog and hunter alike.
3) Getting outside – there are many excuses and things that need to be done at home, but when you give yourself the mental break of getting outside, that is a success, whether you bring home a bird or not.
One last point – a little secret that I will share with you (don’t tell anyone else though), in the last days of the season there is almost no one else around – I think everyone else has long since hung up there gear and put away their shotgun for the season. The only pheasant hunting many people are doing is in good stories around the dinner table. The late season is a chance for the hard core wingshooter to strut their stuff – and take advantage of those late season pheasants.
Read more on late season pheasant hunting:
Mark Herwig’s “Why Don’t You Hunt Late Season Roosters?“