Hunting & Heritage  |  05/22/2020

Hope Springs Eternal for Fall


Spring turkey blind provides a window to rooster antics, hen decorum, autumn dreams

By Tom Carpenter

Those who know me and my sporting life best know two truths:

I go through deep turkey hunting addiction every spring. But the pursuit takes a runner-up position to my outdoor life’s true mecca, nirvana, happiest place and passion: pheasant hunting.

This spring I had an opportunity to combine both, in a sense.

Sitting in a turkey blind with one of my sons just at the very top of the Missouri River Breaks in South Dakota’s Gregory County, a rare (for the area) rooster pheasant became our entertainment between turkey episodes.

Rare you say, in this classic South Dakota pheasant hunting county? Gregory is a big place, with lots of pheasants. But most of them occupy fertile ground to the west. We were literally on the edge of the first agricultural field where the land smooths out a little “up top” of the rugged breaks rising away from the Missouri's western bank. 

In fact, in 19 years of turkey hunting the area, this was only the third pheasant I had ever seen there.

But what a show! Cackling of the beak. Puffing of the chest. Thumping of the wings. Strutting of the body. Flaring of the tail.

One evening, he looked like a jewel, fairly glowing in the sunset as he went about his work from atop a stack of fenceposts.

I figured it was all for his naught, until the binoculars finally revealed a hen pecking in the grass. She must have had a nest nearby, and was the only date in town.

Sometimes one is all you need.

Time in a turkey blind offers time for thinking. I thought about our world and what has happened and wondered about where everything is going but took hope in one simple truth: 

Pheasants are out there breeding. Getting ready to nest. Nesting. Some even sitting, perhaps. Starting to make the birds we will hunt this fall.

And much of it thanks to the organization you and I love, and the habitat it puts in the ground: Pheasants Forever.

So when I got home I called some friends around pheasant country.

From Napoleon, North Dakota and PF volunteer Rick Marquart: “The roosters are fighting. Plenty of hens made it through winter too. If the weather cooperates some, we should be set for a good hatch. I’m feeling good.”

From north-central Iowa and PF biologist Dan Borchardt: “The birds fared well over winter. It’s been pretty dry overall this spring but cover looks good. The hens may be just starting to sit. That first hatch could be very good; it all comes down to what comes next for weather.”

From central South Dakota and PF friend Eric Johannsen: “The spring has been cool and as of late wet, but that’s making the cool-season grasses look really good. Despite some severe blizzards and cold, these tough birds survived winter. There’s phenomenal potential out there right now. I don’t think our hens are sitting yet, which is good. Let it warm up some.”

From western Minnesota and longtime PF volunteer and conservationist Gary Hauck: “Our potential is the best I’ve seen in 5 years. Last year’s water has retreated, grasslands have re-emerged and are starting to look good … and the birds came through winter without being buried by the snow. It’s good, and I’m optimistic, given some decent weather for the couple months ahead.”

From east-central Illinois' Ford County and PF supporter Mike Bleich: "If the number of roosters I hear is any indication, the birds made it through winter well. Habitat looks great! Not sure if hens are nesting yet, they're probably just getting started, but even if the past couple weeks have been too wet, it's early enough for second nesting attempts."  

Many miles and numerous oh-dark-thirty risings, and some sun-dappled naps below big bur and white oaks, and maybe even a turkey two, are all in my rear-view mirror as we turn our collective bird-hunting attentions to summer, bird dogs, shotguns, that gear list we have to tackle … and the upland adventures to come this fall.

And they surely will.

Tom Carpenter assisted by Lark is editor at Pheasants Forever.