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Rookie

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.

Video – Our Pheasant Hunt in Eastern, Colorado

Our Last Hunt?

Pride is on the back nine of his hunting life.  He is over ten years old, and has recently demonstrated signs of slowing down in the field.  Despite keeping him in good condition, the grind associated with hunting wild birds pushes him to his physical limits.  At day’s end, he is beyond exhausted, and the body aches are obvious. 

The 2013 – 2014 upland season in eastern, Colorado has been challenging.  The bird population is significantly down from just two years ago.  That said you’re not going to experience success sitting on your couch.  In addition, given Pride’s advanced age, who knows how many trips are left for us?  So when the alarm went off at 3:40 am, I was motivated to make my way two and a half hours east to my favorite grounds in Phillips County.

During my drive, I checked the forecast for the day ahead.  Forty degrees and a steady fifty mile per hour northwest wind were not ideal hunting conditions. 

As I approached our first field, the excitement started to build.  The area is a favorite of mine, but had yet to produce this season.  We made the forty minute walk, but never saw a single sign of a pheasant.  I texted my rancher friend and asked if we could hunt his land.  With permission granted, Pride and I drove the five miles to the property.  The strong winds made our strategy clear; point Pride into the wind and see if we could surprise some birds.  I directed Pride to a series of trees that line the north side of the land.  It did not take long for him to get birdy.  The first hen jumped up about ten yards in front of us, followed by three more ladies.  While we did not find our intended target, the action did get the blood pumping. 

We made our way across the road where the CRP is thick.  A large cornfield neighbors the tall grass, so I decided we would bisect the land and hunt the relevant corners.  As we made our way west toward the corn, I gripped my Beretta a bit tighter as I thought we could see some action.  Pride started to move with purpose as we walked the berm separating the CRP from the corn.  As his pace quickened, I worked myself into position.  The rooster exploded about fifteen yards in front of me, and immediately absorbed the power of the wind.  Although he was close, I was not prepared for the absolute speed, and missed on my first two shots.  HEVI-Shot shell number three clipped his right wing, and the pheasant tumbled to the ground. 

Pride and I enjoyed a water break before making our way to a Walk in Area (WIA) just to our east.  The field has great cover, and feed is accessible on all four sides.  The ferocious wind kicked up significant dust storms, and that made the pursuit challenging.   About half way down the tree line, Pride changed direction, and bounded to my right.  A hen made her way through the tumbleweeds, and stood motionless for about five seconds before flying into the cornfield.  A few “no bird” calls had us back on course marching west.  Pride started to quickly cover ground, signaling birds were on the move.  As I picked up my pace, two hens exploded less than ten yards away from me.  Consciously, I slowed down with the hope that a rooster was being coy.   Within seconds of making the decision to decelerate, a rooster busted from his concealed position just out of my range.  After one futile shot, the colorful bird caught a massive tailwind, and accelerated into the mid-afternoon sun.  Immediately, I second guessed my strategy.

I took Pride southeast in order to better position us to hunt the last corner of the CRP.  During our walk I noticed that my dog was favoring his left rear leg.  I removed some sandburs from his paws, but he continued to limp.  As we approached the corner of the field, Pride started to get birdy.  He circled the field’s edge for almost five minutes before a hen took off into the adjacent cornfield.  Realizing that Pride was either injured or drained, I decided to head back to the truck.

On our way home, I wondered if this could have been our last hunt together.  The bond that Pride and I have developed over the last three and one half years is strong.  Hopefully we have more adventures ahead.    

Video: Pride doing what he does best.

 

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