October 27, 2015
By Lynn Burkhead
Pheasant hunting seasons are open – or they are opening up – across much of the nation as this is being written.
In some places, prospects for the 2015 pheasant hunting campaign are pretty good this year according to Pheasants Forever, while in other places, PF is telling hunters expectations should be a bit more subdued.
Regardless of where an upland bird hunter finds himself or herself chasing the gaudy ring-neck pheasant this fall, a key to success is to get out there and to keep on keeping on.
So said Rick Young, a vice president with Pheasants Forever, who had a conversation with me a while back in which he extolled the virtues of laying down some boot leather in the ongoing chase of gaudy ring-necks cackling loudly as they vault skyward behind a hard-charging canine.
“You can walk for six hours, put up a few hens here and there, and all of a sudden you can find a spot where there’s 20, 30 or 40 pheasants there including 10 roosters,” said Young.
“When you tell your buddies, it will sound like a really good day, but there was a lot of hard work involved."
Indeed. And the key to it all – like so many other things in life – is to stay after it.
“The average guy may get discouraged and give up after four hours by thinking there aren’t a lot of birds here,” said Young. “There could be a lot of birds; you just have to find that one spot.”
In other words, keep laying down the boot leather. And when you've done that, lay down some more.
Take a pheasant hunt I made with my oldest son Zach a few years ago. Our group of upland bird hunters in northern Kansas battled an ice-covered landscape that was entombed in an inch of ice following a round of severe freezing rain.
Then it got really bad as a big snowstorm plowed through the area, adding several inches of powder to the early December landscape.
Follow that up with a big arctic cold front pushing through on the heels of the storm, a front that sent temperatures plummeting into the single digits despite bright sunshine after the storm.
Add it all up, and well, it was pheasant hunting at its absolute toughest.
Ice covered stalks that noisily broadcast our presence to pheasants as soon as we waded into a standing crop field or CRP patch. When we entered a field that looked promising, it seemed like clouds of pheasants were running and exiting.
Then there were drifts of knee-deep snow that made the going tough – at best – for two-legged hunters and their four-legged canine companions alike.
Add in the brutal cold and wind chills pushed well below zero by the northerly gusts and well, it doesn't sound much like a Chamber of Commerce kind of pheasant hunt, now does it?
And yet that hunt remains one of my all-time favorite outings afield, harsh conditions notwithstanding.
Why? Partly because it was time well spent with my son, partly because of time spent hunting with good friends I rarely see, partly because of the satisfaction that came by way of a battle of sheer will against tough weather conditions and partly because we persevered to the end and eventually found a few roosters to shoot at.
Like a well-known Bible verse (Galatians 6:9 "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."), the trip was both a lesson in persevering to find some hunting success and in doing the same thing in daily life.
In fact, a big smile still creases my face every time that I look at a photo of my son and I standing bundled up on the wintry Kansas prairie, shotguns in hand as we prepared to push on in the hopes of finding a few snowbound roosters.
Years later, it's a hunting trip that my now college- aged son and I still laugh about and recall with a smile to this very day.
Young knows exactly what I'm talking about.
“I’m a firm believer that if you want to shoot roosters, then you’ve got to get out there and put one foot in front of the other,” said Young.
“I enjoy getting out there and figuring it out. It’s a game in a sort of way. You can’t get frustrated; you’ve got to keep on going.
Whether it's a pheasant hunt, a deer hunt, a football game, a fishing trip, a situation at work or a challenge in daily life, there are few truths more worth noting than that one: you've got to keep on going.
Because eventually, your path will cross paths with a wily rooster who has run out of options and has no choice but to cackle noisily and lift up in that furious rush of wings into a cobalt blue sky.
A moment where time stands still, a smile creases your face and a worn, familiar scattergun comes to the shoulder.
“If you put one foot in front of the other, repeat the process, then repeat it again 10,000 times if necessary, you’ll eventually get into birds," said Young.
Truer words may never have been spoken.