Our initial trek to Eastern Colorado did not produce positive results. Cover was thin and birds were scare. We witnessed only a half a dozen birds (one rooster) situated in both walk-in-areas (WIA) and prime private land. The hunting chat rooms underscored the challenges associated with the 2013-2014 upland season. Some people found birds, but most struggled. Not unlike past years, crowds diminish after the first couple of weeks. To that point, I set up our men’s three day hunting trip for the third weekend of the season.
Four of us headed out to Northeast Colorado on Friday morning. My favorite field has CRP that abuts freshly cut corn on three of the four sides. As we neared what I would deem the most productive section of land, I split the group so we could begin to pinch the most dense cover. Deep snow drifts made it difficult for the dogs to get to the bottom of the draw. Otis and Pride ran quickly through the hundred yards of prime territory, and the hunters moved into advantageous positions. Unfortunately, there was not a bird present. I sent a quick text to a rancher friend of mine, and asked him if we could hunt his property. He responded positively so we headed north to his house.
While we were enjoying a vacation day, my friend was hard at work. I asked him if he needed assistance. He refused, acknowledging our desire to hunt, as well as his need to get an important project accomplished. I convinced him that the hunting could wait, and that we would like to help. The rancher explained that his cows needed to be moved to a new pasture. We set up an electric fence, emptied and moved water troughs, and then we took the cows from one field to another. Dave, Jeff, Bob and I actually had a good time completing our tasks. The time was 3:15 pm, and we had about ninety minutes of hunting time available.
Just to the north of the residence there is a bit of CRP that extends through a fifty yard tree line. I told Dave and Jeff to enter the eastern part of the field quietly, and we would start our walk from the west. As Bob and I drove by the tree row, we spotted two roosters walking into the tall grass. Soon after piling out, Pride became immediately birdy and darted ahead of us. As we approached the trees, a hen jumped in front of Jeff. I yelled to be ready as there were at least two colored birds in our presence. Pride took a sharp left and moved toward the fence line, so I shouldered my Beretta in hopes that the running bird would rise. The roosters did eventually take flight; just sixty yards out of our range.
I took the group into the adjacent CRP strips and formulated a plan. Dave, Jeff and Otis would sneak to the east and begin to slowly walk to Bob and me. As the four hunters came within twenty yards of one another I asked everyone to pause. As we stood motionless, deciding on our next move, a rooster busted from the deep cover. He flew west then banked a hard left moving toward the south. Shots rang out as the mortally wounded bird glided seventy five yards before plummeting to earth. Our dogs marked the downed bird and headed to fetch him. The first bird of the trip was in the bag, and the last bit of the day’s sun settled in the west.
Day two was cold (nine degrees) and had us patrolling uncharted territory; northwest Nebraska. Navigating the maps we eventually found the available CRP fields, but there was no sign of birds. Four hours of hunting, and no opportunities had us heading back into town for some lunch. We asked the locals for any recommendations, but mum was the word of the day. As we were leaving, a friendly waitress suggested we try some areas just north of our position. The first CRP field looked similar to the others, but had some unique structure abutting it. We piled out quietly, and surrounded the area. Otis darted up the center, obviously excited by something. I started to run behind him as my instincts indicated potential action. Without warning, a hen followed by a large number of pheasants, flushed from the tall grass. I selected the first rooster and fired. Unscathed he banked a hard left and moved away from my position. Fortunately, a second rooster jumped up, and a single HEVI-Shot Pheasant shell downed him immediately. Birds were still exploding from their position at the edge of the cover, but no rooster was close enough for another shot.
The next WIA seemed to be untouched as the snow had no visible markings around it. As we slowed down next to the field, a dozen birds exploded from the pit adjacent to the road. The guys piled out of the trucks, and moved through the ditch in order to obtain a solid, legal shooting position. More birds poured out, and headed away from the road. I heard some shots but I stayed in the truck. Despite the furious action, no pheasants were taken from the field. We hunted multiple public areas the rest of the day, but were only able to push up a single hen.
Day three’s plan would be to visit a few familiar Colorado fields, and hunt them until about ten am. The first WIA is lined with rocky mountain junipers as well as plum trees. The area had been hunted in previous days as there were boot tracks everywhere. We marched the dogs into the wind, and bumped a coyote toward the end of the tree line. Realizing that the predator would have moved any birds out of that area, we headed back to the trucks. Our next field was minutes away, and had a few mounds of spilled corn around the contiguous road. We managed to jump one hen on our walk west. The wind was blowing from the south at twenty MPH, so we pointed the dogs into the wind and continued the hike. Otis started to weave quickly on the field’s western edge. I decided it was best to hasten my pace and keep up with him. The fifty yard run culminated with two hens flying out of the corner of the field. Otis’ young nose was on and he was not stopping. For the first time on the trip, pheasant tracks marked the two-day old snow. I watched Bob on my left as Pride was getting birdy in front of him. Otis rocketed east then took a hard right, and moved a rooster out of his concealed position. Bob and I fired at once, and the bird tumbled to the ground. We decided to continue our hike toward the east; a mistake, given hindsight. Almost immediately, Otis and Pride started to sprint after evading birds, and we attempted to keep up. As we neared the center of the field we witnessed two sets of four pheasants fly across the road. Admittedly, I make a tactical error. I should have worked back to the road, and blocked for Jeff, Dave and Bob. We piled into the trucks, and headed to our final field of the day. Another forty five minute walk resulted in Pride taking me to the edge of a cornfield where he startled a hen hunkered down in the adjacent ditch.
After a big breakfast, we make our way back to Parker. Despite the conditions, the second trip was really enjoyable. I have great friends that stay positive and hunt hard. While the bird sightings were rare, we managed to execute a few times when opportunities were presented. There are eight weeks left in the season. We will look for a significant weather change then head back east to give it another go.