Pheasant – More Shoe Leather than Shooting

Kiri with the first pheasants of 2017.

It might be a blast of lead pellets from a shotgun that supplies the coup de gras, but the biggest lesson I’ve learned in over 60 years of pheasant hunting is that we kill pheasants with shoe leather.

We just returned from our annual last campout of the season trip to the Rocky Mountain Front, where I hunted pheasants for three days, and the importance of keeping on your feet and trudging to yet another patch of cover was reinforced yet again.

A corollary to that principle, of course, is having access to those patches of pheasant habitat. I’m fortunate in that I have access to some farms and ranches with good pheasant habitat. My landowner friends tell me that the list of people they let hunt on their property is quite short, but that I’m on it. I’m grateful, and make sure that they know I’m grateful.

Blustery weather on the northern plains of Montana.

One farm that I hunted on our trip isn’t a big farm, but there are patches of pheasant cover scattered around the barley fields, and a day of hunting means trudging across the prairie checking things out, even if I walked that same cover several hours earlier.

On my first walk on the farm, I had my first shot at a pheasant rooster just minutes after my Lab, Kiri, and I started walking through tall grass on the edge of an irrigation ditch. The pheasant took off from the grass, right where other pheasants have made similar attempts at escape. Some succeed, but many others ended up, like this one, with a one-way trip to Butte, Montana.

A long walk around the perimeter of the farm and along an irrigation canal bisecting the farm followed that first successful shot. That stroll also included several unsuccessful shots. I should have finished the morning with a limit of three pheasants in my vest but, on the bright side, one pheasant is easier to carry.

After a lunch break and a chance to rest, Kiri and I went for another walk, this time to work some cover we hadn’t touched in the morning walk. In a strip of tall grass at the edge of the barley stubble a pheasant flushed from just in front of us and with a blast from my shotgun, the bird fell without a wiggle. We now had just one bird to go for a limit.

Our walk took us to a corner of the farm that has almost always given me lots of thrills over the years, along with a lot of groans of frustration. This corner centers on a cattail slough, with cottonwood trees and willows marking a border from the open fields.

I sent Kiri into a willow thicket, fully knowing what would happen next. All hell broke loose! First, there was a flurry of hen pheasants erupting from the willows. Then a rooster shot out. I missed a shot at the rooster. Then, while my over and under shotgun was open for reloading, half a dozen more roosters flew out, cackling their scorn.

From another brush patch several pheasants flushed, but in the shade I couldn’t pick out their colors that marked them as roosters until they were out of range. Kiri flushed a pair of pheasants from the edge of the brushy area and I missed the easy shot.

As we neared a return back to the farmstead I felt discouraged. I’d had lots of shooting, but a handful of empty shells rattling around in the back of my vest doesn’t represent food in the freezer. My legs were getting tired and I was beginning to reconcile myself to the possibility of not getting a third pheasant.

But, there was one more weed patch to go before I got back to the truck. It was thick cover and difficult to walk through, but a rooster pheasant flushed and this time I didn’t miss, and Kiri and I had our day’s limit of three cock pheasants.

Pheasant season runs through New Year’s Day. I’m looking forward to more walks across the prairie.

A ray of early morning sunshine lights up the prairie at Freezeout Lake.

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