Opening weekend of the 2012-2013 upland game season did not inspire an overwhelming degree of confidence. There were truckloads of hunters, diminished cover and rare sightings of elusive pheasants. That said, I covet the pursuit, and I don’t need guarantees to inspire me.
November 25, 2012 was my third day in the field. It is two hundred and twenty one miles from my driveway in Parker, Colorado to my favorite walk-in-area in Phillips County. To that point, it is necessary to pack the Ram 1500 the night before, and get motivated early the next morning. At 4:45 am I grabbed my coffee, threw on my Cabela’s Activ-Lite™ Upland Jacket and loaded Pride into his special seat in the cab.
The ride was pleasantly uneventful with no precipitation, and a temperature around freezing. As we moved into bird country, it became difficult to maintain the speed limit. Every time I envisioned a flushing rooster, my right foot would get heavy. Moving off pavement and onto a country road signified that we were closing in on my prime hunting spot. The area is completely different than last year. Hundreds of yards of deep CRP abutting freshly cut corn have been replaced by a conglomeration of shin-high grass, sage and tumbleweeds. In addition, the corn was harvested months before, so the prime food source was scarce.
One gun and a dog can only cover so much territory, so our strategy would be to run the edge of the field and push to a corner. There is a steep berm at the end of the field where pheasants sometimes gather. Pride and I briskly walked the five hundred yards without any action. I purposely slowed him down as we neared the ground’s edge. As Pride made his way into the canal, a cotton tail bolted from under a log. He actually gave chase until the rabbit scooted into an exposed pipe. We continued our move north, and the cover began to thicken. I became more acutely focused as action was anticipated. Pride’s gait was expanding as he started to witness flushing birds at the end of the field. Two hens followed by two roosters popped up at about one hundred and twenty yards. My pace remained steady as I was hoping there were pheasants holding tight. The tactic worked, as a hen bolted ten yards to my left, followed by a rooster ten yards in front of her. One Prairie Storm shell from my Beretta A400 XPLOR Light immediately knocked the bird down to the ground. Pride made a quick retrieve, and brought the elegant animal back to my feet. I had already reached into my Badlands Birdvest to obtain another shell, which was subsequently inserted into the chamber. Ten additional steps to the northwest produced three more flushes. A rooster got up and flew low and fast to my rear. Shot number one missed behind, shot number two grazed some feathers and shot number three folded the pheasant in half. My heart was racing as I realized that my limit could come less than one hour into the day. On full alert, I marched forward, scanning the cover for any movement. When I realized that we were done, I loaded the game into my pack and headed back to the truck.
A feeling of calm overcame me as I realized that the long daytrip would not be remembered as a journey of missed opportunities. It is easy to get down on yourself when you don’t execute; I was proud of what we just accomplished.
After taking some pictures and watering Pride, we made our way to other areas that have produced for me in the past. In the middle of a large CRP field, we bumped into another hunter and his dog. They had yet to see a bird, but were happy to hear of our success. We quickly separated, and continued the search for our limit. It was 10:30 a.m. and the day was getting warmer. Pride is nine years old, and when the temperature hits fifty degrees, he slows down. Consequently, I decided to visit a rancher, who allowed me to hunt his property two weeks before. His only request of me was that I never return with a troop of hunters. As a show of thanks, I picked up a case of beer for him. My wife recognized their generosity by baking their family a batch of her delicious coconut cookies. The rancher was off on a coyote hunt when I arrived at the property. His son and I talked for a while before deciding to walk their CRP together. He told me that pheasants sometimes gather near the cow pen in order to dine on some of the extra feed. As we walked east, pheasants started to explode from the waist-high grass. Most were escaping into the cut corn fields across the road, but a few flew deeper into the cover. At about 25 yards, one bird made a fatal mistake. The rooster turned towards the west, vigorously flying alongside a lone hen. His speed distinguished himself, and my third shell found its mark, toppling the big male to the ground. Pride was in the truck resting, so the rancher’s son brought his dog into the field to assist us in locating the downed bird. We celebrated a bit before making our way back to their house.
After thanking the family, I navigated to the highway, and headed home. A number of phone calls were placed to friends who would appreciate our accomplishment. November 25, 2012 will always be remembered as a perfect day.
|Truck||2011 Ram 1500||Despite an unexpected blown tire on the last trip, the one year old truck operates nicely. I will add 10 ply Hankook tires early in 2013.|
|Shotgun||Beretta A400 XPLOR Light with Kick Off (12 gauge)||The shotgun is perfect for me because I am confident when I mount it. I added a modified Trulock choke that provides additional confidence. The Kick Off technology absolutely softens the gun’s recoil. While I like the look of a classic O/U, the extra shell of the semiautomatic has been useful.|
|Shells||Federal Premium Prairie Storm||Prairie Storm is expensive ammo, but worth its price when your opportunities are few and far between. If you are going to invest the time and money in everything else, don’t cheap out on the final connection to the bird.|
|Jacket||Cabela’s Activ-Lite™ Upland Jacket||The jacket cuts the wind very well. This shell can be worn with layers and provide real warmth. The fabric has yet to get hung up on any nasty brush.|
|Shirt||Columbia Men’s Upland Freezer™ Long Sleeve Shirt||This shirt is very comfortable and has the right amount of blaze. The material is breathable, and can be worn as a layer or exposed on warmer days. Unfortunately, the collar is unusually tight, as the shirt barley fits over my head.|
|Pants||Columbia Men’s Full Flight Chukar™ Pant||These are awesome upland pants. Fits great around the waist and holds up well to cover. If worn with long underwear, you can hunt in cold temperatures without issue.|
|Pack||Badlands Birdvest||Great functionality all over this pack. The magnetic shell holders provide quick and easy access to ammo. A hydration bladder is effortlessly accessed, and perfect for long walks in arid conditions. There is plenty of room to store additional terminal equipment. The bird bag will hold your limit. Elastic shell holders need to be tightened as a 12 gauge shells fall out easily. I would add a deeper mesh pocket in order to hold a water bottle (for the dog).|
|Boots||Men’s Irish Setter® King Toe Upland Boots||These are amazing upland boots. I never had time to break them in and it did not matter. The boots felt great after walking three miles.|
|Dog Food||Pro Plan Performance Formula||Pride seems to love it. His energy level has been great since we started him on it 6 months ago.|