Hunting is difficult. For people who were not born into a hunting family, or had a mentor early in life, there are many challenges associated with taking up the sport. Despite the fact that I started hunting in my 40s, I have been able to learn quickly because of patient and thoughtful friends. It is now time to pay it forward.
DJ and I met freshmen year of high school, and became great friends. We don’t get to spend much time together as he lives in Florida with his family. Our lives have fundamentally changed over the last 35 years, but our bond has never lapsed. Over the last couple of years, DJ has expressed a real interest in hunting. To that point, I invited him to spend a few days with Echo and me pursuing birds in the eastern plains of Colorado.
Even the most veteran of upland hunters will tell you that it is hard to kill a pheasant. Wild roosters are wily, and they know how to avoid predators. No matter how stealthy you are, pheasants seem to detect your presence just seconds before you are able to raise your weapon. Not dissimilar to golf, if you’re slightly off the mark that day, poor shooting will undermine your success. If you factor in DJ’s novice shotgun skills, and the warm, windy conditions, the odds of him harvesting a cock during our trip was low.
The first field of the day proved to be exactly what we needed to start our hunt. The initial walk in area (WIA) had 10 birds hunkered down in the tumble weeds next to a corn field. Echo easily found them, but we did not get a shot at a rooster. Despite our failure to take a bird, DJ got to feel the excitement associated with flushing pheasants. Our adrenaline was pumping and I hoped we would have another encounter before the end of the day. As we approached the next WIA, we watched from a distance, three roosters eating gravel off the road. We hid the truck behind haybales that were adjacent to the field, and told Echo to hunt it up. She took advantage of a strong northwest wind as we approached the grass-covered irrigation equipment. It did not take long before Echo picked up the scent of the birds. I told DJ to position himself on the northern side of the cover. The first rooster busted from his position, and I shot him at 20 yards. More roosters followed, but DJ did not feel comfortable with his shooting options. With a bird in my pack we kept moving west, allowing Echo to venture in and out of the dense CRP. As we neared the end of the quarter section, Echo became birdy. Just as I told DJ to be ready, a rooster busted from his position on the northern side of the irrigation apparatus. The 20-mph wind hit the bird’s plumage, and he started to sail south. I heard DJ take a shot, and saw the load impact the rooster’s right side, sending the bird into a downward tumble. I hollered to the heavens as I knew DJ had just taken his first ever wild pheasant! Echo retrieved the downed rooster, and delivered it to DJ. I congratulated my friend as we both realized that our objective had been accomplished.
I was not a bird hunter when DJ and I met years ago. In fact, I did not pursue game until my early 40s. I was thrilled to share my passion for the uplands with my friend. I can confidently say that he will be back.