Wild, wild (opening) weekend

Michael bags the final rooster.

Opening weekend of pheasant season was wild in northwest Iowa. Of the hundred-some ringnecks we put to wing Saturday and Sunday, all but two were wild, wild flushers. The two that held to Abbey’s points were, of course, hens.

We attributed this first-day-of-season wildness to coyote predation. Whenever in doubt, blame the coyotes. We saw only one coyote in two days of hunting, but that’s our story and we’re stickin’ with it.

Our hunt was on ground that is a pheasant paradise. A quarter section of high hills, vertical terraces, steep sided waterways, deep roadside ditches, and the occasional rut that sent me sprawling. The ground cover includes thick plantings of native grasses, switchgrass, brome, bluegrass, marsh grass, about two dozen species of native forbs, clover, and various invasive weeds. Three food plots of sunflowers and soybeans keep the birds well fed, and they are protected from weather and predation by stands of scattered trees and brush, and in wet years a few thickets of sedge.

After a long search, Abbey found a rooster I had knocked down with less-than-stellar shooting.

This was not a wet year.

This was a dry year. A year of exceptional drought. I thought these months of drought might wipe out pheasant populations. That was not the case. There were lots of birds.

The weather was hot and dry both days, windy the first day. Scenting conditions were not good. Abbey had to work slowly, but that was good for both of us. At our age, both bird hunter and dog are wise to work slowly on hot days.

Maybe it was the heat that made the roosters so wild. Maybe it was the wind. Maybe it was our pace. Whatever the cause, we were fortunate when a rooster flushed closer than 30 or 40 yards.

I do not often shoot at pheasants that flush at that range. I can’t be confident of hitting them, and I hate to see that puff of feathers when a bird is wounded but manages to fly away and cannot be found.

Thanks to Abbey, we found two of our crips. But our less-than- stellar shooting lost us two others. We finished the hunt with five roosters in the cooler.

Not bad for a wild, wild weekend.

About Jerry Johnson

Curmudgeon. Bird hunter and dog trainer. Retired journalist and college public relations director. Former teacher, coach, mentor. Novelist and short story writer. Husband, father, grandfather.
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