That alarm was set to go off at 3 a.m. However, at 1:45 a.m. my eyes rocketed open in anticipation of the day ahead. It was Saturday November 12th, and it was opening day of pheasant season in Colorado. It was the first opening day of my life and I was fired up. I had packed the truck the night before so a cup of coffee was the only thing I needed to grab as I headed out the door. Pride, my eight year old lab, made his way back to his bed, obviously unaware of the adventure about to unfold.
I pulled into my buddy Jim’s house at about 4 a.m. His engine was running and the truck’s headlights were pointing down the driveway. I loaded up and were off to the selected Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land in the northeast corner of the state. Discussions during our two and one half hour drive focused on crafting the elements of our morning strategy. Jim had selected a field that had proven to be productive for him in years past. If no other hunters were present, we would start in the eastern end of a grass field that bumped up against a cut corn field. The dogs would work the deep cover and we would walk the left and right seam hoping that escaping birds would flush to the edges of the draw.
The last ten miles of the drive slowed dramatically as a plethora of hunters in their own trucks lined the single lane road all heading to upland heaven. The sun had started to rise and we could hear the faint crack of gunshots as we past large stretches of prime land. I moved to the edge of the passenger seat as we took the final right to our field. We passed a group of hunters stalking the land adjacent to our spot. I stared enviously at them as they had already started their stalk.
Jim pulled off the dirt road and parked at the eastern end of the field. The wind was blowing at about fifteen miles per hour directly into our faces. We both jumped out of the car and started to get ready for action. Amazingly, I could actually hear the roosters cackling in the field. My breathing and actions quickened, so I had to consciously control myself in fear I would miss something essential to my intended success.
When I let Pride out of the car he started to twirl with anticipation. He smelled pheasant and was obviously ready to aggressively hit the field. With my Beretta A400 Xplor Light in hand, I looked at Pride and muttered the command, “hunt it up”. We all entered the field together, Jim and his dog Ella walking about fifty yards to my left. Without warning, pheasants started to suddenly appear about 60 yards in front of me. They flew right, left and of course away from the muzzle of my gun. I carefully watched Pride as he tried to corner roosters running in every different direction in the deep grass. It seemed that only hens got up next to me while the roosters took flight just outside of my range. As feelings of desperation overcame me, Pride abruptly stopped on point about 40 yards to my left. I made certain that Jim acknowledged my position and moved quickly to the spot. Unfortunately the bird started to move and Pride flushed him. I should have knocked him down with the first shell but my mount and swing were less than stellar. Shot number two exploded two feet behind the bird and then I made a mistake; as the pheasant moved from three o’clock to five o’clock I attempted a “Hail Mary” shot. With no shells remaining in the chamber of my Beretta, I uncoordinatedly reached into my vest for more Prairie Storm ammunition. As I tried to reload, Pride went on point again. Safety being my primary concern, I worked slowly to arm my weapon. Too late! The beautiful rooster took flight ten feet in front of me as I gripped an empty shotgun.
The field provided more action; Jim took down a fine bird on a long and effective shot. Thanks to Pride’s diligence, I had my opportunities, but was definitely suffering from pheasant fever (I was choking). We hunted that field for three hours then moved to other plots of public land. The dogs raised plenty of hens as we walked through miles dense cover, but the action slowed as we approached midday. Before we broke for lunch, we noticed a farmer on his John Deere combine cutting corn adjacent to the field that we were hunting. Each pass he made toward our field forced multiple pheasants into the air. We made the calculated decision to let the farmer finish his work so we could end the day on the bordering field.
I became increasingly anxious during lunch (I think I asked for the check as soon as we sat down). There were opportunities to execute and I was failing myself and my dog. After leaving the restaurant, Jim and I made our way down another dirt road, when suddenly two roosters flew over our truck moving from private to public land. We stopped and quickly got ready to roll. The temperature was now in the sixties and the wind was negligible. We walked hundreds of yards through dense cover with minimal action. Then, without warning, Pride made a hard stop and point about twenty yards to my left. The bushes were so think that I could not see what he was looking at. I moved slowly toward the dog. He jumped left as the bird was obviously running in that direction. Pride pushed the flush and the rooster took flight. My first shot was solid, but I felt it necessary to fire again in order to ensure the bird went down. Pride fetched my first Colorado wild rooster and brought him to my hand. There are certain things in life that provide profound emotions. At forty three, I have gained a new passion for wing hunting, and this moment was the culmination of almost three years of preparation.
To conclude opening day, Jim and I made our way back to the field where we had seen the farmer cutting his stalks of corn. I was relaxed as the pressure of shooting my first bird was behind me. The tactics we would utilize were obvious; walk toward the downed corn and force the birds into the open area. It did not take long for us to see an abundance of hens and roosters taking flight in all different directions. Two finely placed shots brought me to my pheasant limit (3).
The two and one half hour drive back to Parker had Jim and me reflecting on the day that had been. The experience touched my soul and I was thankful for the opportunity to fulfill a dream.
- Kansas taking advantage of its pheasant population (denverpost.com)
- Roast & Braised Pheasant with Port Jus (guyawford.wordpress.com)
- Newbies to Hunting: Pheasant (highbrowpaleo.wordpress.com)