It was nine months and two days since I last raised my Beretta A400 Xplor Light at a wild Colorado pheasant. That single shot found its mark, and closed a remarkable season for Pride and me. During the three hour drive home, I fondly remembered our adventures, and wished the season could continue. We had hunted hard, and enjoyed every minute in the field together.In May, I booked three motel rooms out east as some good friends wanted to join me on the initial foray into upland paradise. The reports over the summer and into the fall were not positive. The 2012 drought that had struck the Great Plaines had decimated both wheat and corn crops. Landowners were suffering financially, and bird populations were not strong. I read that the majority of pheasant chicks did not survive the multiple days of one hundred + degree heat.
Despite the forecast, the trip to the Eastern, Colorado was still met with great anticipation. Honestly and somewhat embarrassingly, I started packing my Dodge Ram 1500, one week before the trip was to begin. I even constructed a detailed hunting checklist to ensure I did not forget anything during the preparation process.
Greg, Pride and I left at about seven am on Friday, November 9th. We would take the two and one half hour journey to Phillips County in order to complete some necessary scouting. I wanted to know if my favorite Walk-In Access (WIA) fields could be hunted. As we entered bird country, and made our way down the initial country road, I noticed that my left rear tire was deflating quickly. We pulled over at the closest open space to see the damage. Greg took Pride for a quick walk so he could do his business. Just as I got the local auto repair shop on the telephone, Pride darted toward the road and flushed ten or twelve birds. The immediate signs of life mitigated the overwhelming anger felt from the blown tire. Greg changed the tire, and we drove to town in order to determine my options. We spent one hour at the shop, and told them we would be back at the end of the day to pay the repair bill. As we continued the exploration process, we noticed that many of the WIAs had virtually zero cover. Two additional hours of driving presented similar circumstances in alternative fields. Honestly, I was starting to succumb to a bit of sportsman’s depression. With about one hour of sunlight left in the day, we moved southeast towards town. Without warning bunches of roosters started to make their way from the cut corn to whatever cover they could find. The sight of greater than thirty birds buoyed our spirits, and produced some much needed confidence.
The alarm was set for 4:15 am as our objective was to get to a prime field one hour before our fellow hunters. Opening day is a competitive situation for everyone who does not have access to private land. To that point, it was necessary to get in an advantageous position before shots could be fired. The morning was cold, and a blanket of thick fog prohibited a rapid ride to the grounds. Despite our lack of vision, the Garmin GPS took us right to the intended target. Unfortunately, there were already five trucks pulled over, and the hunters had already started their march. Without hesitation, I radioed to my buddies that we would make our way to our backup field. It was a fifteen minute drive that we compressed to ten minutes given the circumstances. The good news was there was only a single hunter on the north end of the field, so we moved two thousand yards south and unloaded. Four dogs, six guns and sparse cover; if there were pheasants in the field, we should find them.
Greg, Pride and I took the right side, and the other hunters dispersed evenly to our left. It did not take long to begin witnessing flushing birds. Four roosters took flight between eighty and one hundred yards away from our blocking line. As our paced quickened, Pride started to get hot. His tail moved feverishly, and he began to dart from side to side. I told myself to be patient, and not run after him as I felt the bird would double back, giving me an easier shot. I was wrong; a big rooster jumped at the edge of the field and moved swiftly away from us. Any attempt at taking the bird would have been a careless act, so I did not fire. The crew moved to the end of the field, and I made a decision to take Pride down into a draw to determine if the bunched up tumble weeds would produce some action. At the bottom of the draw, Pride got hot again. He actually stopped on a hard point about twelve yards from me. As the bird got up, I watched it fly twenty five feet to the west before pulling the trigger. One shot of Prairie Storm FS Lead took the bird down immediately. Pride made a flawless retrieve, and I loaded the young bird in my Badlands Birdvest. This was the first time I had used this piece of equipment; I was impressed with the comfort, versatility and overall functionality of the pack. I will do a comprehensive review the Badlands Birdvest in a future blog.
We hunted the rest of the morning with limited action. It was obvious that other hunters had thoroughly scoured the territory earlier in the day. After a very long lunch, the weather started to turn cold and icy. Four of my friends made a decision to end their day and head to the bar. Greg, Pride and I continued to pursue the intended quarry. We know of a field that abuts private land so we decided to make the walk. The land contained viable cover, and we were moving into a stiff wind. As I carefully navigated down a steep slope a big rooster took flight at about thirty yards. He actually banked left, angling towards my mounted barrel. My first shot missed to his rear, so I steadied for a second attempt. Number two missed as well, prompting me to pull the trigger for a third time to see if luck would overtake skill. Not a chance; the unharmed bird glided easily over the adjacent hill. My head dropped as I knew that opportunity would be the last of the day.
Day number two was cold and snowy. The temperature had dropped to single digits, and four inches of the fluffy white stuff covered the ground. As we moved down the highway at about 5 am, we witnessed wrecking crews pulling vehicles from undesirable positions off the road. Predictably, many of the opening day hunters had gone home, or decided to enjoy the comfort of their warm motel bed. Our secondary field was empty so we decided to hunt that area. About one hundred yards into the walk, I noticed a pheasant footprint with a long slash behind it. I told Greg that there could be a rooster on the move. Pride quickly got birdy, and we expected immediate action. The rooster got up at about twenty yards, and began to fly low and straight to the west. Greg executed a perfect shot, and bagged his first ever wild pheasant (see picture).
After some picture taking, Greg and I headed north in order to investigate fields hunted hard the prior day. The rest of the group became frustrated by the lack of action, and decided to head back to Parker. We stopped at a rancher’s home in order to ask for access to his property. He was heading out on a coyote hunt, and permitted us to hike through his CRP. He had shot two birds the prior day, and told us not to expect much success. We covered a lot of ground over the next hour, but never saw an animal despite the many tracks in the snow. As we made our way to a group of newly planted trees, waves of pheasants started to take flight. Despite my “Usain Bolt” effort, when we finally made it to the spruces, all of the birds had disappeared into adjacent land. Feeling somewhat defeated, we thanked the rancher for his generosity, and started our trek back home.
The 2012-2013 upland game season is off to an inauspicious start. There are birds to be bagged, and we need to be mentally prepared to work hard to find them. Pride and I will venture east many times over the next three months. We will require a bit of luck, and better shooting in order to experience success this year.