We hadnâ€™t gone 20 yards into some of the best cover Indiana has to offer; Jim Merten was to my left, Skip Hendricks to my rightâ€¦further up the line was Hank Hefner with his lab and guarding the escape route was friend and landowner Tom Hefner.
If you have been pheasant hunting in Indiana in good cover before then you know that at times it is like trying to herd cats, and sometimes a plan just doesnâ€™t work. But then, sometimes a plan comes together and for a few minutes it is bird-hunting bliss.
So was the case on Saturday, December 7as we were in northern Indiana. The five of us eased into a grass strip located between a few harvested cornfields. If you have hunted pheasants here in Indiana then you know that we have experienced population swings, and my hope is that we are moving into a more stable direction. Â The real stars of the show were Cedar, Royale and Macy, my trio of German Shorthairs, who were doing what they are supposed to do as all three locked into a very steady point just a few feet in front of Jim.
As usual I took a moment to snap a couple photos and then gave Jim the nod to walk on in. Suddenly, up from the cover came a roar as not one but two brilliant rooster pheasants exploded skyward. I donâ€™t want to overdramatize the moment, however it was a sight that every bird hunter and dog owner lives for. Just like we were writing the story ahead of time Jim dropped the bird closest to him and I shouldered my 28 gauge, threw the muzzle past the second bird and pulled the trigger.
Thirty seconds later we had pocketed two gorgeous Indiana pheasants, both of us took a moment to snap a couple more photos and just drink in the moment. Pheasant hunting with dogs here in Indiana can be a tough gig due to various issues like suitable cover, which is where Tom Hefner raised the bar, planting warm season grasses for nesting and roosting cover. As the old adage goes, â€śIf you build it they will come.â€ť
I quickly refocused as my trio of shorthairs swung to my right. They were once again sorting through scent in hot pursuit of another ringneck. Skip was using his Winchester Model 12 in a 16 gauge and I could see that he was at attention as he said to me, â€śAll three are locked up on point right in front of me!â€ť
I heard a commotion and watched as a long-tailed bird clambered upwards and crossed from my right to leftâ€¦then a pop as the bird tumbled down into the cover. Seconds later I proudly witnessed Macy charging towards me with Skipâ€™s first bird of the day. It was a truly beautiful sight as the morning sun was now about a quarter of the way up and the colors of the golden grass painted a picture that was truly grand. Macyâ€™s black, shiny coat while holding a bird that in the sun had a myriad of colors.
I accepted the bird, handed it to Skip, who held the bird up in the sun and we both marveled at the abundance of colors when the sun was striking the birdâ€™s pelt at different angles. It is one thing to shoot a bird and a totally different thing to really appreciate the beauty of a bird that God has so eloquently painted.
Now I wonâ€™t be shy, I am a pointing dog person but here is where I leave the reservation as Hankâ€™s dog, Dude, was quite impressive. He was about 18 months old and a pretty golden color, but more importantly he was under control. There is a big contingency of pointing labs out there now and Dude was a dog that would freeze as he got close to scentâ€¦basically doing a very nice job of giving the hunter time to organize and prepare for a shot.
We continued to move away from the sun toward a ditch that bisects the property at an angle. In the past this ditch has acted as a break in the cover, giving us yet another spot to â€śherdâ€ť and try to control the pheasants. I knew we were pushing birds as my trio was pointing every 30 or 40 yards. We methodically and slowly moved towards the ditch and right on cue Royale slammed to a point with Macy and Cedar backing her.
I took a number of photos and then eased toward the trio when a bird flushed to my left. Jim made quick work of his second bird and I assisted in the retrieve. I snapped a couple pictures of Jim holding the bird then noticed that once again my three pups were pointing. I was going to move behind the dogs, trying to keep the sun behind us when another rooster exploded flying backwards between me and Skip. I snapped my Weatherby to my shoulder and pulled the trigger on a Âľ ounce load of #6â€™s.
The birds head dropped and I knew I had made a good hit on this trophy; I always hustle to the spot where the bird folds and as I neared I could see that Royale and Cedar were in a tug-of-war over the bird. A step closer and Royale relented, pulling off of the bird, leaving Cedar holding another long-tailed Hoosier pheasant. Cedar is soon to be 14 and each bird this season is special. I stopped him and knelt down, taking a few photos of him and the very red bird. I hope that he and I have many more excellent moments in the field but the truth is that I know our time together is limited.
What an incredible day as the five of us continued around the edge of the grass moving several other birds and eventually harvesting eight of our 10 bird limit in just over an hour. The dog work was supreme and will leave a mark in my memory. The camaraderie between friends and bird hunters was what itâ€™s all about as we all treasured a special day chasing pheasants and sharing memories.
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