I needed to hunt birds. It’s one of those urges that you cannot explain and best not to ignore. Not hearing any protests from the spaniels we loaded up and headed out. We didn’t really have a plan and were even less sure of what to expect. However, our goal was to hunt ahead of the rain Thursday morning prior to hitting the office. I will admit to hitting the snooze button a time or two which meant it was after 8 when we rolled up to the parking area of the Wildlife Management Area (WMA). The area was selected because of its proximity to the office and that I remembered bumping a pheasant out of there while hunting it for doves in September. The fact that I have had some luck there in years past didn’t hurt.
During the late season I do my best to avoid hunting the same patterns all the other hunters have used. This is especially true in public areas that receive a lot of attention. One secret to consistent success in hunting is scouting and patterning your quarry. Unfortunately pheasants can do the same with us as we are the easiest critter to pattern. The trails leading away, and back to, the parking area of most WMA’s by this time of year are proof. So, after letting out Carrot, the tiny French Brittany, we headed to the least likely spot to find birds – and she slammed into a hard point.
Carrot was intently staring at a very small cedar tree that was poking up through the short, snow-bent grass. My first thought was she had found a meadowlark as that’s about all that would fit into the tree. However, her intensity proved otherwise and I readied the shotgun. That’s when my mind switched to quail – and up they came in a buzz of wings. Three popped up from directly below the cedar and flew away faster than I was hoping they would. I had no chance at them but the fourth that followed wasn’t so lucky. Then at least 6 more took flight. Somehow one managed to fly right into the pattern of my second shot and tumbled. The covey scattered well, but we didn’t give chase. I wasn’t about to mess up my shooting average.
We headed to some thicker grass hoping to find some pheasants still roosting. We hadn’t gone even 100 yards when Carrot went from cruising mode to fine-search mode. She came to a soft point in a nice patch of native grasses but her demeanor proved this bird was already on the move. We trailed for a ways before two hens and two roosters made their escape just out side of my range. Then another rooster further up busted wild and headed for the thicker cover on the property. As I mentioned before I didn’t know what to expect for this hunt, but let me tell you I was tickled. For the next hour we were in the pheasants. Some close, some not so close. Carrot has some beautiful points on hens and trailed many a running rooster – a common tale during the late season. My shooting average suffered, too.
The biggest things working against us was that we found the birds in very sparse grass, giving the birds little reason to hold. Also, with just Carrot and me the birds had many options for escape. But let me tell you I have already come up with a plan for the next time I hit this WMA. A little pincher movement with a buddy or two where we start in separate spots but come together back in the corner. This can often confuse the birds just long enough to let you catch up to those cagey roosters. And I already have a volunteer.
Oh, I did stop at one more little corner of public access ground and we put up 5 more pheasants in 15 minutes – all within 20 yards. This one doesn’t require much planning, either.
The birds are still out there – and so Carrot and I will be, too…