New Year’s Eve means two things at this point in my life; a vacation day and the eve of my oldest son’s birthday. Gone are the days of big parties, a few too many cocktails and staying up all night. To that point, I planned an early morning bird hunting trip to my favorite Walk in Areas in Eastern Colorado. My lofty goal was to have my limit by early afternoon, and be back in time for a celebratory family dinner. Jeremy, Kessler, Pride and I loaded up at five a.m. and hit the road.
Upon arriving at the first field at 8 a.m., we noticed tire tracks in the six inches of recently fallen snow. After closer inspection, it looked as though the hunter only covered the northern part of the long CRP field the prior day. We moved to the southern edge, and worked the dogs west. Our thirty minute walk produced one hen that was sitting tight on the edge of a large corn field. Disappointed that we did not see more birds, I made a phone call to a local rancher who allows me to hunt his property. Ron recently moved into a new home, but he still has access to the land he leased for years. He asked us not to hunt the northern switchgrass strips, as his cousins were coming out to hunt in January. After thanking him profusely, we hastily made our way to the prime area. Just to the north of the house, there is a one hundred and fifty yard shelterbelt that always has a few birds hiding within the junipers. Leaving Pride in his crate, Jeremy, Kessler and I pinched the tree row from the east and west. Weaving through the eight foot trees, we worked our way toward one another. As I focused on the cover to my left, I heard a bird get up behind me then a successive shot. The plan worked as Jeremy bagged the first rooster of the day.
Given the explicit direction of the rancher, we drove to the southern edge of the property and unloaded. The cover is pristine; deep grass abutting corn. Additionally, no one had hunted the land in over a month. Leaving Pride in the truck, Jeremy, Kessler and I worked our way west keeping about twenty five yards between us. Pheasant tracks became evident just off the county road. I anticipated birds were running to evade their pursuers. Without warning, dozens of pheasants started to flush wild. My first instinct was to sprint to the action, but experience told me to be patient. I was rewarded minutes later with a dozen birds jumping up within twenty five yards. I selected a lone rooster moving into the cornfield and fired three unsuccessful shots. Disappointed in my performance, I reloaded my Benelli Ethos and marched forward. Cursing at my inability to execute, I tried to focus on immediate improvement. Literally dozens of pheasants continued to get up about seventy five yards from our position. Jeremy and I commented on the incredible scene taking place in front of us. The bird population in Eastern Colorado is recovering, and it was now evident. About three quarters of the way into the field I stopped. A nervous hen flew into the cornfield followed by a lone rooster flying away to the west. A single HEVI-SHOT round took him down, and Kessler made the retrieve. With a bird in my Orvis Upland Sling Pack we worked our way to the far western edge of the field. Realizing that we were pushing birds, I picked up my pace in order to ensure that our prey would not escape into the adjacent cornfield. As I turned the corner, I saw a rooster sprinting back into the thick ironweed. I yelled to Jeremy as the pheasant took flight. He made a perfect swing, and downed the bird with one proficient shot.
We made a decision to walk back to the east, as we did not want to disturb the acreage close to headquarters. It did not take long before a rooster jumped out of the tall grass and took flight. My first shell missed to his left, but my follow up shot knocked the bird out of the air. We witnessed more pheasants taking flight, but none that encouraged a shot.
It was lunchtime, so we decided to visit friends in the area as we had Christmas gifts.