Of miles and bird dogs and habitat
By Tom Carpenter
December. Starry sky. Fresh snow. Actually, too much of the white stuff falling south and west, so in a counterintuitive about-face for the season at hand, the old Jeep is carrying the dog and me northward today toward, yes, the very upper fringe of pheasant range.
The drive to start is even slower than anticipated, but the icy roads get better and the miles come easier and the week’s worries have disappeared by the time we reach the Waterfowl Production Area that had been tantalizing me on the old OnX. It is shooting time.
Cold air. Blue sky. A mere skiff of new snow here. Perfection? Yes. Pheasants? Not quite.
Five hours later, we are at the tailgate after a big, big swing. I make a peanut-butter-and-jelly. Lark dozes. There is no roostery sag in the gamebag. There should be.
After scouring prime habitat on the WPA for several hours, we had crossed gravel into another piece of public ground, this one a Wildlife Management Area. Things were tough all around. Birds were scarce, educated, evasive, cagey, all of that and more.
Welcome to late season pheasant hunting. But the dog can run forever in the crispness of such a winter day, and we just kept going.
And then it happened. Cattails here. Bluestem and wildflower stalks there. Corn stubble close by. Pheasant tracks in the snow. A birdy dog. A point. A flush. A rooster down.
But then, a rooster fluttering to get away and then, unbelievably, flying full-out again but too low to shoot at for fear of hitting the dog.
I watched the bird land and we went there and looked, scoured, hunted, crisscrossed, searched and hoped. And came up empty.
Show me a pheasant hunter who hasn’t lost a bird and I will show you one who hasn’t hunted much, or long. It sucked … for the bird. My feelings, and you know them too, didn’t matter.
So here we were. Winter days go fast. There was time for but one more good swing. I found the arena for it down the road after a little driving around to scout and let the dog rest.
We headed in from an odd corner at another piece of public ground. No human boot tracks. A few pheasants tracks. Cured prairie grasses golden in the raking golden sun. Evening’s chill coming on, no, already here.
And then, Lark birdy. I know her better than I know me. Points … one, two, three ... a rooster rainbowing out of cattails and then quivering on slough ice. Hers. Ours. The habitat’s. This place’s.
And every step on boot (23,781 of them) and paw (who knows how many), all day long, thanks to public lands and upland habitat you own and I own and made that way thanks to Pheasants Forever.
How hearts can fly. A rooster cackled somewhere and then another, and others. I laughed. We did it. We got one.
The all day rooster.
Tom Carpenter is editor at Pheasants Forever.
This story originally appeared in the 2022 Spring Issue of the Pheasants Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to read more great upland content like this, become a Pheasants Forever member today!