With the year and the season rapidly coming to a close I figured I better get out one more time at least for crack at a wily cock bird. Tuesday was as nice a December 29th as I ever saw and a perfect day for a late season pheasant hunt. I decided to work a little creek, and being by myself the challenge was to hunt the cover on both sides of the meandering waterway. This was achieved by putting Elle on one side of the creek while Sunny worked the side I was on and Boo would assist on whichever side had the most cover to hunt. It was a good set-up that I had successfully utilized in the past and was achievable because the dogs were used to it.
As we approached a bend of the creek where most of the cover was on the opposite side I noticed that Elle was getting birdy. I moved into a position where I could get a shot if she flushed a bird. As is often the case she pushed to bird right to the water's edge and he flush
ed straight into the air. Fortunately, he flew back my way but as I swung on him I lost him in the sun. When I finally picked him up again he was a ways out but when I fired he crumpled and fell about sixty yards away. From my angle I could not tell if he was on my side of the creek or the other side but I marked the fall as best I could and went to find him. After after a short hunt Elle brought him over to me and as I always do, I admired the beautiful plumage of this late season bird. I don't think there is anything as mesmerizing to me as the coloration and beautiful composite of the plumage of a male pheasant. I can never admire it enough. After admiring him I gently placed him in my game bag and proceeding with the hunt.
When I was a boy I received my first subscription for Outdoor Life magazine from my Aunt Brownie for Christmas in 1964. I digested every monthly copy of the magazine, reading and re-reading each and every story. I would also procure other hunting magazines whenever I could. One of my favorite story tellers was the late Gene Hill. Hill was a monthly columnist and associate editor for Field & Stream magazine. In his column "Hill Country" he would often write about bird hunting. Many of his articles were about hunting ruffed grouse and woodcock in the forests of New England. Hunting birds in the thickets of New England was a very foreign concept for a boy who grew up on the Canadian prairies.
I was also intrigued by the driven pheasant hunts practiced on the British Isles. The idea of shooting pheasants flying overhead at long ranges was also a strange concept for this Alberta boy who's biggest challenge was letting pheasants get out a bit before shooting so as not to destroy the bird. However, that didn't stop me from admiring those who could bag birds consistently at those ranges. I also admired the dog work that required a dog to remain steady and mark multiple falls with the distraction of many guns and other dogs all working at once.
I pondered those boyhood memories as I continued my hunt that day. Just a few days earlier my stepson, Mitch and I had been hunting a public area for pheasants that receives an extreme amount of hunting pressure. The result of that pressure is that the birds are in cover so thick that even ruffed grouse would have a hard time negotiating a lift off. As Mitch and I fought our way through this thick stuff we could rarely even see where the dogs were working. We could hear the birds when they flushed and would catch glimpses of them as they flew but it was difficult to get a shot off. Finally, I heard a flush and as I turned toward the noise, Mitch said "there goes one". I snapped off a shot and saw the bird go down, but then it was out of sight in the thickest stand of willows you ever saw. All we could do is stand there and let the dogs work. Eventually, Boo brought me the bird. Then I knew the elation of chasing game birds in heavy cover and one's total dependence on his canine companion.
My admiration for those who hunt driven pheasants grew that Tuesday as the day wore on. The dogs and I had just finished pushing through a thick cattail slough and were entering into a thick stand of greasewood. I noted the dogs had some scent but the vegetation was impenetrable for me - they were on their own. A bird flushed! I saw it to my left but I could not tell if it was a rooster or a hen so I did not fire. Then another came up and I identified it as a rooster but it was out of range when it flushed wild. Its flight path took it on a crossing trajectory that would put it in range. By the time I fired my first shot it had a full head of steam and my shot was way behind the bird. I swung further ahead of the rooster and fired my second shot which surprisingly connected and brought the bird down. Sunny made that retrieve.
As I pondered the events of this season and this year I have to acknowledge it has been one for the books. The pandemic has created a situation that few of us anticipated and has certainly changed our world forever. I don't think anyone's life has been unscathed or disrupted to some degree, some more than others but all have been affected. Due to the pandemic my waterfowl hunting was hugely curtailed, but I have hunted pheasants more than I have done for many years. Much of my hunting has been just my dogs and I which again is reminiscent of days gone by. I have enjoyed it immensely and have had confirmed to me the absolute joy of spending a day afield with our canine companions and our dependence upon them.
On the December 29th hunt I realized what a great blessing it is to live where I live and to enjoy pursuing wild pheasants in a variety of habitats replicating the dense hardwood coverts of New England ranging to the driven pheasant hunts of the United Kingdom. Regardless of all the negatives associated with the year 2020, I have to say that I for one have gained a greater appreciation for what I have and indeed I am a blessed man.