So, let me set the mood / scene. It’s the day AFTER the first huge snow storm of the season. The property I hunt has probably like a mile or mile and a half ditch, with mostly thick cover 5 to 10 yards from the edges, but after that, plowed field. For 3 years straight, my hunting partner “Duckslayer727” on this board hasn’t been able to go, but has heard the stories, and seen the pictures of “The Cover Migration” of pheasants after a huge storm, and how there are no more 80 yard jumps of wild birds, …. Rather 2 to 7 yard flushes of pheasants under your feet! On the ground, no foot prints of previous hunters … and a good 10 – 12 inches of snow beating down the cover making “pockets”. Tempt outside was 12 degrees, and a slight wind of 3 to 5 MPH causing it to seem much colder.
As we took the hour drive to the property, I had in my mind, of all the years past. Where the little bastards were holed up … how they sat until you basically had to step on them … and after 15 minutes of pheasants jumping out from under your feet, how the heart stops racing so fast. In the back of the Toyota Land Cruiser, we had 3 dogs. Cooper, my 9 year old yellow lab, the veteran of the group, the “old man”, Reese’s, who’s Ben’s Chocolate Lab / Wirehair mix that is 2 years old and a fireball of spunk and has energy to burn, and Gauge who is my 6 month old Black Lab getting his eyes opened to the rather large world outside the house.
I left work early at 10:45am, and after the hour drive / loading up … we pull up to start hunting … its 12:15pm. Legal shooting time ends at 4:00. We have 3:45 minutes ahead of us … and I can’t wait!
We start at the very top of the long ditch, in an area that used to be an old horse pasture, which currently holds cat tails, brambles, a couple down trees, a deep ditch and some blackberry bushes. Anything that we kick up here, fly’s right down the ditch and is game on for the next mile … Cooper and Reese’s get birdie but nothing jumps until we are almost to the end of the pasture. While Coop and I are hugging the deep ditch with the blackberries … Up pops a hen, and then another, and another, and another … and another. All completely in shooting range, all exciting flushes, and yet I can’t place a ring around any of their necks. What those hens did show me though, is how tight they were sitting … and we needed to kick EVERY bush and clump today. Leave no “bush” untouched so to speak.
Pasture swept / cleared, like Ben along with myself were in SWAT (joke) … and time to start on the very long honey whole ditch. I’ve hunted this ditch for the last 10 years, and I know what she can provide on one of these cold snow days. I almost feel like running from clump to clump with excitement, but know better … and Ben is just jazzed to have seen how close those birds jumped. After a quick pow-wow on strategy, we proceed down the ditch, with the dogs working hard. Within the first 50 yards, up two more hens. Coop had them pegged. Down the ditch a little further, with dogs running 10-15-20 yards ahead and coming back, Ben noticed a fresh pheasant tunnel into a weed clump, on the side of the ditch. Dogs birdie after we call them over, … Hell I drop down in the ditch and beat down the clump … nothing jumps … but Reese’s will not let this clump go, as she truly believes something is there. I climb out of the ditch, walk about 10 yards, and hear an “exhaust”. What I mean from that, is from hunting birds with Coop, he’s caught his fair share of “if you’re not going to jump, then I’m grabbing you” … you hear that “squeak exhaust” the bird makes, followed by a crunch so to speak … I instantly turn around and yell to Ben, “She’s got one, hope it has a ring” … Ben calls to Reese’s, and as her head pulls out of the bush, sure as schhhhhit, it’s got a ring! One rooster in the bag, no shots … Game on! Down the ditch we go, with at least 5 more hens getting up within a 10 yard shot, but none have a ring. I’m thinking “ARE YOU SERIOUS!”
We get to the road, and the part of the half way point of the ditch. The total so far is 1 Rooster in the bag, and 13 hens. That’s right … 13 FREAKIN HENS!!! Pheasants can breed 3 times in a season, if conditions are right … if they are bad, 2 times, REALLY bad … 1 time. If we hunt no further, I know the stock is set for next season, without a doubt! Maybe with a little help, I could make this spot outstanding as Ben and I chat, with a strip of food, or a Rooster blend of seed from Pheasants Forever or Quail Forever, I could have my own little piece of “South Dakota” … We’ll see.
So, we cross the ditch, and start working a heavy cover piece. Fresh tracks allll over the place, no birds as of yet, but we KNOW they are in here. Then … as quickly as before, here they come. A pair of hens here and another here … and there goes another …. And wait, Reese is locked up on that bush, there goes another. Add 5 more to the total, so that’s 18 hens so far. Dogs still working hard tempt dropping as the sun is fading behind the hill. I then step into a cover spot, where I’m seeing fresh tunnels tracks and sign … There’s more here…. Up comes another hen, and then another, and then ANOTHER … from basically under my feet! Hearts racing, but I’m having a blast! Ben keeps saying, “I can’t believe the amount of hens!” … I stepped away from the bush I kicked up the 3 … Reese comes over and BARRELS into the bush … UP POPS ANOTHER HEN! Total from a bush not the size of a school desk for kids was 4 freaking HENS!!! Total up to 22 … Now we are coming to the Blackberry Bush, or Hotel I call it … Guess what, Coop puts up ANOTHER hen … but nothing more. Total for the day so far … 23 Hens, and 1 single Rooster.
Now we are heading into a quick “end” of the long ditch, which has one lone tree in it, with plowed field on either side. This ditch is maybe 5 yards across, but normally holds at least 1 bird under the tree in cold weather. As we approach the tree, Bens on one side of the ditch, I’m on the other, and Coops getting birdie on my side … He jumps into a clump, and out pops a hen, goooooooo figure! It’s been one of those days, and as Reese’s and Coop get birdie on another clump of sticks and limbs … why would I figure anything LESS than another hen is going to jump … Why? …. “ROOOOOOOOOSSSSSSSSTTTTTEEEERRRR !!!” Less than a 3 yard jump, crossing right to left and heading away … BAMMMM… BAMMMM. He’s headed back to the blackberry bush / hotel … but he was not grabbing altitude … and I HAMMERED him twice. “Ben, that birds down back there” … so we headed back, and about 50 yards short of the Blackberry bush, there he was in the snow. As we stood there and caught our breath, I looked down at his spurs, as this was a big bird … They had to be ¾ of an inch or a 1 inch EASY!!! BIG BIRD!!!! I was on the scoreboard! We walked down past the tree to where the ditch ended, only to kick put … that’s right … 1 more hen!
Total so far … 25 Hens … and 2 bagged Roosters.
We walked back up to the truck, cold wind blowing with my ears stinging … watered the dog … Time on the clock says 2:55pm
As we drove down the hill, I told Ben to jump out, and walk a 5 minute ditch that sometimes holds pheasants, but mostly quail. You’ll NEVER guess what the 3 dogs and Ben put up walking that ditch …. 3 more HENS!!! Really … are you serious …. REALLY?!
Quick drive through town, and heading to an upland spot along the Touchet River. I had to ask permission to hunt this …. And it’s always produced a couple birds, or shots for that matter.
WHERE IN THE HELL DID ALL THIS SNOW COME FROM? When we were on the hill, the snow was maybe shin, mid calf high … Now we are down in the valley; along the river … The snow is over my KNEES!
Ben and I decide to hunt this 80 yard swath, that we have seen birds in before … and as I sneeeeeek in, I see a fresh “tunnel” … I yell over “Ben, … Tunnel” and point …. He calls the dogs over, but before they get there … UP pops a ROOOOOOOSTTTTER !!! Ben pulls up first …. BAMMMM. I can see the bird is coming down, no question, no need to shoot. Reese’s with the retrieve, and after a quick walk through the remaining cover, no birds.
Total bird count for the day … 28 Pheasant Hens … 3 Bagged Roosters, and the only damn ones we saw all day!
On the way home, he wasn’t talking about how he didn’t limit … He was talking about the amount of birds he saw, and the fun day he had. That’s why Ben will get an invite back to hunt … Because it’s not always about the amount of birds bagged, rather how many you saw, and the experience.