Last Call for Birds!

Kiri working some heavy cover for pheasants.

The clock is ticking, and it’s not just for the brand new baby we call 2019.

The upland bird season ended a week ago, on New Year’s Day. I stayed home and tried to stay warm on that subzero day. I did get out for one last pheasant outing a few days earlier, however.

I guess if I had someone filming my life, as it seems all klutzy people do, posting the results on Facebook, the day might end up in some series of outtakes from the life of an unlucky pheasant hunter.

I’d object, as the day was more about how smart and wary pheasants are in the middle of winter. These are birds that have honed their senses and survival skills to a fine edge.

A few glimpses into the outing might indicate how my day went.

Just before I turned off the gravel road to drive into the ranch I was hunting, I spotted a rooster pheasant in the middle of the road about 20 yards ahead of my truck. While I was watching this pheasant, another rooster flushed from a Russian olive tree on the side of the road and flew into a sagebrush patch in the field I was going to hunt.

I parked the truck and quietly got out and then let Kiri, my Labrador retriever out and we approached the brush patch. There were pheasant tracks everywhere. We got perhaps 20 yards into the brush when cock pheasants began flushing out of range.

It occurred to me that these pheasants must have watched some old W. C. Fields movies on some hidden TV set back in the brush jungles. “Never give a sucker an even break, “ was one of Fields’ favorite lines, using it in several movies, including his last starring movie in 1941, when that line was the movie title.

During the course of our walk through brush patches, cattails, sagebrush and willows, we put up more pheasants, again all out of range. We finally got to a grassy swale where half a dozen pheasants got up in good shooting range one at a time. The only problem was that they were all hens.

The sun was beginning to slip behind the mountains to the west when four rooster pheasants flushed from around 100 yards ahead of us, flying to a cattail patch another 100 or so yards ahead. When Kiri and I got there, the birds were gone, having slipped off to parts unknown.

I saw a pheasant fly into tall grass not too far away, but when we got there it was gone—not even a hint of scent that might have gotten Kiri excited. Yes, never give a sucker an even break.

We were in the shadow of the mountains, with temperatures dropping, when we completed our walk, and, for all intents and purposes, the 2018 upland bird season.

As I noted in last week’s column, this hadn’t been a particularly productive season in terms of potential dinners in the freezer. Still, as I look back to the annual trek through the seasons from late summer to autumn and, finally, winter, I feel good about it.

My birthday falls in October, usually in the first week or so of pheasant season, so I have annual reminders that I’d better enjoy this hunting season, because it’s a good question how many seasons I have left.

So, I feel good that I’m still hiking the aspen thickets in the mountains, and the prairies of Montana and North Dakota. I’m still thrilled and startled by the flush of a grouse or pheasant. I enjoy the sight of a Labrador retriever working out the scent of a game bird.

When you read this I will be looking at one more, final, outing for some mallards, though there are never guarantees for success. Nevertheless it’s personally important to be out there, trudging across that frozen tundra before the seasons are all done.

It’s a long time until September.

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