After our first bird was down, our new mission was to get more quality shots at these birds before the season ended. Zeus and I decided we better kick off the New Year right and attempt to bring home some pheasants on the last day of the season (January 1st). We packed up the truck with our gear after church and headed out. I decided I would try a change of pace this last day, and try to get permission on some private land next to the Waterfowl Production Area I had been hunting. I watched numerous birds fly into several sloughs that were on this parcel. After tracking the owner down (via creeping the web), I gained permission to venture out on this haven.
I walked out onto the edge of the cornfield with Zeus and we began our trek into the cattails. Zeus was acting like a seasoned guide dog now, running up in front of me into the wind fighting his way through the mangled mess. 20 yards into our walk we kick up our first bird. A gorgeous rooster not more than 10 yards away, jumps into the sky and immediately falls back to the earth. The knock down power of 1500 fps steel had little mercy, as it sent shot ripping through its body. Zeus watched the bird fall and handled the dying bird like a veteran with a beautiful retrieve. “This is going to be a quick day” I thought to myself as we had our first bird in hand within 10 minutes of leaving the truck. We continued pushing through the cluttered cattails, as this area was crawling with birds not more than a few days previous. This proved to be a waste as not another bird emerged from this section.
We moved on to a fresh slough that also looked promising but was just a tease, as no birds came from this acreage either. As we started walking to the furthest slough, birds started rising from it like locust heading in every direction. I watched a beautiful long tailed rooster head into the slough Zeus and I had just walked. I mentally marked this bird to return to later. We continued chasing the other birds into the WPA until we decided it was no longer worth it. These birds were toying with us and they were winning.
Our next move was to go after the single rooster I had mentally marked from earlier. No other bird had gone in that direction, and no bird had gotten up from that spot. Zeus and I slowly reentered the same area we had just gone through not more than an hour or so before. Slowly working through the cattails, I would often pause as this used to get nervous grouse to take flight in the North Woods of Aitkin. Sure enough it works for pheasants too. As Zeus labored to my left, I heard the eruption of wings hitting cattails coming from his direction. I swung over my Franchi and put the bead on the long tailed rooster and bang! Down goes our second bird of the day. Another perfect retrieve from Zeus gave me all the more confidence that the light bulb had turned on for him, and that he had grasped his inherit purpose in life. He had turned from a puppy to a bird-dog, and I was so ecstatic to be in that moment with him.
With time no longer on our side, I decided to make a big move and try an area I had not scouted. We jumped in the truck, and made it there with an hour or so of shooting left for our season. We hustled towards the cattails and started working the area. As I was walking towards the edge of the cattails I felt the dreaded plummet of my foot into ice cold water. This time it was not just up to my knee. After emerging out of the water, I was wet from the waist down, and unable to put weight on my other leg as I twisted my knee in an unfavorable direction. This lasted a few minutes until I started to limp along. We pressed on and scant sign was found until the end of the push when 3 hens busted out of their nooks. With shooting time fading we jumped back on the dirt road heading to the truck. Figuring we were going home with 2 pheasants I was pleased, but in the back of my mind was really hoping we could wrap the season up with a limit. That was when I saw it. Like a beacon of light shining towards us. A WPA sign across the road with a gorgeous slough in the middle, agriculture fields surrounding it. Zeus and I hustled up and jumped into the cattails.
We immediately started seeing tracks all over the place. Not more than 20 yards in the slough, the first hen jumped up 15 yards in front. Two more steps another hen, before I could take another step, four more hens blew up in front of us all within 20 yards. I looked at Zeus and he looked at me, both of us were in amazement. This was the honey hole we had been looking for. This was the place we were going to find the last rooster of the season. We continued pushing on and hen after hen kept rising in front of us. We hooked back around to head back into the slough and that’s when the prodigal rooster we had been waiting for got up in front of us. Not wasting any time to allow the bird to get further away from us I fired. The bird took a nose dive into the cattails, but appeared that it could still be alive when it hit the ground. I started hustling towards the area it went down and continued calling for Zeus to find it. As I continued forward, Zeus headed off to my right and behind me. He disappeared into the cattails and I heard wings flapping. A black head popped back up with a gorgeous rooster protruding from his mouth. I yelled “Good boy!” as he proudly jogged back to my side and released the bird into my hand. It was fitting that Zeus would surprise me further and find a blind retrieve to end the season on.
We were able to put a limit in the vest on the last day of the season. Something I thought may not be possible after our first day of hunting. The idea of pheasant hunters being rich, stogie smoking, scotch drinking, uppity ups may be true in some cases, but not the case in real life- normal hunting. I now have a new found respect and love for pheasants and the art of hunting these birds.