Wild Side: Memorable opening day pheasant huntA beautiful fall day greeted us last Saturday after a week of rain and wet sloppy snow.
By: Dan Wilcox, outdoors columnist, River Falls Journal
A beautiful fall day greeted us last Saturday after a week of rain and wet sloppy snow.
The clouds broke up by 10 a.m.
Gerry Keithley, Mike James, Emma James and Dennis Anderson of River Falls, Derrick Budd of Martell, and Dave Jensen and Steve Payne of El Paso assembled at our shop at 11:30 a.m. for the pheasant hunting opener.
Mike’s chocolate lab Beaner, Dennis’s golden lab Storm, Derrick’s golden lab Hero, his Alsatian Ertha, Dave’s golden lab Pete, Steve’s black lab Sadie and our Badger the Wonder Dog golden retriever socialized wagging tails and sniffing. The senior citizen dogs Hero, Pete, and Badger, all over 70 years old in dog years, were enthusiastically ready to hunt.
We assembled at the east end of our planted prairie for the ceremonial noon opening hunt. The hunters were all wearing blaze orange because of the early season antlerless deer hunting season going on at the same time. That was a good thing.
We needed the bright orange clothing to see other hunters in the tall grass. We had burned the whole prairie this spring and it grew like gangbusters this summer. The September rains stimulated the big bluestem, Indian grass and switch grass to shoot their seed heads skyward, to over 7 feet.
Walking through the tall grass reminded me of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, with boy Mowgli riding an elephant through the tall grass in northern India. I half-expected to be startled by a tiger or an elephant. The thick cover made it hard to see the dogs. We walked slowly and let them work. Roosters got up and the dogs made some heroic retrieves for us.
As we circled back toward our starting point at the west end of the field, some of us walked right by a bunch of pheasants that stayed put in the dense cover. Seven hens and a rooster flew out after we had passed them.
The hike through the prairie was quite a workout. We had to step high to bring our boots forward through the thick vegetation. The dogs took different tactics to hunt. The long-legged dogs bounded; the smaller dogs burrowed. At the end of the field we were all leg-weary.
Back at the shop, we cleaned birds and watered the dogs. We adjourned to the valley bottom and shot some clay birds for target practice.
Ken Hensel showed up to shoot and was deadly with his open-choke grouse gun, while the rest of us agreed that we seem to shoot better at live birds.
Tired dogs and hunters rehydrated, relaxed and enjoyed the afternoon breeze after another successful opening day pheasant hunt.
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