Saturday, October 15th
We arrived at our cabin in North Dakota around 2 PM on Saturday and artist Carl Melichar of Countryside Art Gallery in Mayer, Minnesota was there to greet us. Carl has taken an interest in painting all of the hunting dog breeds possible and he has yet to paint a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon. After settling into camp, we all loaded up into the truck to head for the field. We started off in a light drizzle into a swampy creek area that was full of hens, but not a rooster to be found, so we switched into a hilly area.
About half way through the set of hills, our male Sam gave us the body language that there was a pheasant nearby, on a run up and over the hill. As we crested the hill, we closed in on a clump of bushes. With three dogs and three people, the rooster had no choice but to fly. Charles put a few pellets in it and the rooster flew back to the other side the hill. We once again closed in on him, he flew and I hit him hard at about 10 yards. Although I’ve been hunting grouse and ducks for over a decade, this was my first rooster.
Sunday, October 16th
A good roost field was scouted with brome grass cover, bordered by sunflowers and corn. Out we went right at sunrise, along with Carl and his video camera. I stuck to the edge of the field along the farmer access path, while Charles waded through the prime roosting area. The dogs were very birdy and gave Charles some great points that he was able to get close enough before the rooster felt the pressure to fly. He had a couple in the bag within 15 minutes, with retrieves courtesy of Sam (he’s a bit of a hog, but the other dogs got some in later in the trip). We moved up out of the flat and on to the top of a set of hills, where we got into some hens and another rooster getting into Charles’s sights. I was busy reaching for my camera when another couple roosters got up that I missed. We continued working the set of hills for another hour, seeing plenty of hens, but it was time to get Carl back on the road to Minnesota. We were within 50 yards of the truck when our six-month old BB locked up on point. I was too busy watching the big dogs and walked right by without noticing. Charles walked into her solid point and he screamed, “Rooster!!”. I once again biffed the shot, but it was awesome to see that six-month old BB was totally in the game and not afraid to point a bird on her own.
We got Carl back to the cabin and on the road home to Minnesota, then set out on a few hours of scouting. There was a recently harvested cornfield, with a small pasture to the side and a few tiny ponds in the middle of it, so Charles thought these would be great places to get me on to a few more roosters. As we were walking towards the ponds, we bumped one out of the edge of the pasture that was a little out of my range. The first two ponds held nothing except a fast snipe which there was no chance for a shot at. We skirted what we thought was just a swampy area, but boy were we surprised when the whole bird game changed. It was actually a large pond complex filled with hundreds of gadwall ducks that we inadvertently jumped (or bumped!). We called the dogs in to sit by us with the hope that some of the ducks would circle back around. Sure enough, we got our chances and Charles bagged two, with me double-barreling one. Sam and Sue worked up the retrieves while the remaining ducks in flight landed farther down the pond complex which was inaccessible on foot from where we were. We considered loading up in the truck and heading to where we could get access, but Sue was acting like she wasn’t feeling well (we’d caught her with a dead snake in her mouth earlier, so it was hard to tell what she’d eaten), so decided to call it a day.
Monday, October 17th
The roosters had their alarms set early Monday morning following the non-resident opener and were already leaving the roost when we hit the road.
With the road roosters as a sign, we should have called off our AM roost jump, but went for it anyway. We worked the flat and hills for a good hour and a half, seeing nothing. It was a great field that should have held something in the morning, but we had seen a truck there in the evening and those hunters must have busted it up as the birds were trying to roost, so the birds went elsewhere.
Charles settled on a large set of windbreaks with cut wheat in between the trees and surrounded by cornfields for our afternoon of hunting the loafing grounds. He decided to run Sam solo, as the treeline was a thick, tight area and too much dog power could work against us. It was a slow process, one of us on the west side of the treeline and the other on the east, with the dog working the east side, as the breeze was out of the west. I didn’t have a good shot at the first rooster that flushed on my side, as he went up and over the trees. We switched sides for the second treeline and I saw a rooster flush out of the cut wheat and back into our treeline. Sam first pointed the bird in the trees, then I squeezed into the brush to make a racket and push him out to Charles. Crunching. Wingbeats. Thwack! 45 minutes into our march, Charles had the first rooster of the day. We worked another couple of treelines, seeing nothing. I was in my heavy winter gear, as the morning had started cold, but it was noon now and the temperature had gone up probably 30 degrees. ”This gear feels like it weighs about 500 pounds,” I told Charles.
“Just one more treeline to go,” he said.
But when we reached the north end of this treeline, he noticed a little creek and some bushy clumps that looked promising. The dog pointed into the first bush clump and up went the roosters. I hit one but not hard enough, so he hit the ground and took off on a run toward the cornfield 75 yards away. Luckily, Sam isn’t afraid to grab a live one, and he chased him down and retrieved him live for me. Sam then set out for the one that Charles hit. The weight of the gear on my shoulders had become too much, they were pretty stoved up and I couldn’t reach around my back to stuff the rooster in my game bag. ”This gear is killing me!” I screamed.
Charles was not happy with my volume, as he knew there were other roosters nearby sitting tight and there were plenty that flushed and relocated. So we stopped, much to his chagrin, reduced my gear load and continued. We didn’t take 10 steps when another rooster jumped out of the same set of bushes that Charles nailed, rounding out his limit.
We walked down the hill away from the bushes into an oxbowed creek. I decided to cut across the oxbow instead of following Sam like I should have, letting a rooster bust for the cornfield out of range. We headed up into another bush clump, where I walked into a perfect point from Sam.
This is where I have to pause the story and rant about my gun. I really shouldn’t, it is a beautiful Browning Citori Lightning over/under 12-gauge that we won at this year’s Pheasants Forever Heartland Chapter #491 banquet (the stock is too long for Charles, so it’s mine now and he shoots the SKB). The one feature that I am struggling to adjust to is that the O/U switch is a left/right push to the same button as the safety. Well, if I bump the O/U switch and it isn’t fully locked into one position or the other, the safety won’t release.
So, I pull on this rooster that is in easy range and I fumble because my safety won’t release. I completely lost my cool and believe I ruined my pheasant mojo for the rest of the trip because of it. We worked the last treeline, but I was so out of the game that I missed another 2 or 3 roosters. I didn’t even feel like taking pictures (a sign of when I’m really not with it) until after we went to town for lunch and I cooled down at camp.
We had considered hanging around the cabin the rest of the afternoon, but after all of my frustration, I didn’t want to allow myself to get into a funk. We decided to return to the duck pond that we had discovered the previous day, this time from the opposite side. At first we tried to be sneaky about it and creep as close as we could to the pond, but the land next to the pond was complete swamp and not conducive to standing around or sneaking. We opted for the bum rush to see if we could get some to circle back around. Once again, hundreds of ducks busted up and I blammoed until my vest was empty, but didn’t hit anything. Charles managed to hit a female canvasback duck, a first for us.
Tuesday, October 18th
Tuesday morning we skipped the roost jump, opting for sleeping in. I then made the mistake of taking a prescription strength, horsepill sized ibuprofen with my coffee in hopes of relieving the stiffness in my neck, shoulders and back. Charles had picked a little pond in the middle of a harvested cornfield, thinking that it held loafing promise. We had driven in on a minimum maintenance road a quarter of a mile from the main road, took about 10 steps out of the truck, when Sam and BB locked up on a small clump of swamp grass on the border between the cut corn and the pond. Charles walked in on it, flushed a rooster and took it down within 2 minutes of leaving the vehicle. For some reason the shock of the discharge of his firearm sent me into a spell, which I knew right away was an overdose of ibuprofen. My heart and head pounded, I was almost too dizzy to walk and my stomach was a knot. I tried hard to stick with it, seeing that BB and Sam again were locked up on the cattails next to the pond. Two flushes, two shots, splash, splash. I was so out of it, I thought that he had shot a duck and a rooster, but it was a double on roosters. I wished that I had my camcorder in my hands instead of my gun. Sam rounded up the water retrieves, he did pretty fast work on these, as he’s finally realizing that it is easier to slow down and use his nose in the water, instead of quickly swimming and running the banks. ”Time for lunch,” I said, not wanting to clue Charles into the fact that I was hating life at the moment.
“No, there are more birds here,” he pushes on. So, I stumble 20 yards down the pond into some swamp grass. I see the birds running, I see the dogs pointing, a rooster flushes right in my face and there was just no way I could focus. Finally, I tell Charles what is going on, so he takes my gun and we walk (I stumble) the 50 yards back to the truck. I got enough food and fluids in me to counteract the effects, then just curled up in the truck the rest of the day while Charles jumped ducks with no luck.
Wednesday, October 19th
I was back in business Wednesday morning and we were sure to be at it up and early for a roost jump. It was a large brome field with low, rolling terrain, surrounded by standing corn and cut wheat. Charles took his first bird within 15 minutes of getting out, which was a good sign for what the field held. A lone sharptail jumped in front of me within range, but I hesitated in identifying it in time to get a good shot off. The dogs locked up on point that Charles and I squeezed in on. The rooster flushed about 10 yards away, where it could have been either person’s shot. The rooster charged me, flew right at my face and I missed. He flew between us and I swung at him on the other side of us and I missed again. As the rooster was making his exit from range, Charles pulled up on him and got it (Damn!). We continued toward the corn and saw a flock of sharptails fly into the other end of the field, probably 200 yards away. It was nice to see, but not what we were after, since we chase those frequently in Nebraska.
We turned back towards the truck and walked until we were almost there when all three dogs lock up on point. Charles wrapped up his limit that day in about 45 minutes.
As planned, we headed to town for lunch to meet fellow griffoniers (that’s what Wirehaired Pointing Griffon people are called) Tom and Susan. They opted to leave their griffs, Mr. Favor and Zephyr, at home to let our three dogs work. We returned to the hills where I took my first rooster of the trip, and walked to where we spooked birds the first time. All three dogs were closing in on a tall grass and weed patch in the dip of the hills. I walked into the middle of three solid points, kicking the ground as I went. I saw what I thought was a scrubby bunch of short grass that they were all locking down on and I nearly kicked it. ”Porcupine!! No, Sam, no BB, no Sue, get off of it!!” The big dogs have played porky’s game before, so they didn’t bother with it much more. Six-month old BB lingered over it momentarily, looking inquisitive, but seemed to know not to dive in (especially since mom was having a cow).
Just over the hill was the magic bush, where Charles peppered the rooster in the butt on day 1. I made the mistake of wading in, when I should have scooted around the brush. The rooster flushed, but I was too mired down in twigs to get a good shot off. So we marched toward where we saw him land, on the last high hill before the truck. I was walking about 10 yards down the slope from the crest, when I saw Sam lock on a perfect point. I knew it was that rooster again. He alighted towards the standing corn across the road below and seemed to just float away. I’m shooting too low, not leading them with the gun, birdwatching instead of putting my head on the gun and shooting. Another disappointment for the dogs, they seemed to look at me like, how could you miss that?
We had given that area a pretty good shakedown and it was time to put Susan and Tom on to some birds, so we went to a creek bottom down a steep minimum maintenance road. Tom had two birds and Susan had one within a matter of 20 minutes. The most exciting part was that BB found and started to retrieve Tom’s second rooster, but Sue thought she’d be a bully and finish bringing it in.
Charles had reached his pheasant possession limit that day, so in order to have one last hunt in the morning and be in good standing, we had to cook some pheasant that night.
Possession Limit Pheasant Camp Chili
3 pheasants, deskinned, deboned and cut into 1 inch cubes
2 packets of white chili seasoning
1 bottle of water
1 can of northern white beans
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Heat cast iron skillet over camping stove or fire. Pour vegetable oil into skillet and add pheasant. Cook the pheasant over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently until browned. Add seasoning and water. Simmer over low heat for another 5 minutes, add beans. Allow to simmer on low, stirring frequently until the beans are hot. Serve with corn chips.
Thursday, October 20th
For the last morning out before the road home, we opted to return to the field where we had hunted with Carl on Sunday morning. As we pulled in to park the truck, we could see 15 roosters and hens scurry across the farmer access path into the freshly harvested sunflowers. I opted to walk 10 yards into the harvested sunflowers while Charles walked the farmer access path, with a fence surrounded by thick grass between us. Once we let the dogs out, young BB went berserk because of the number of birds. While Sam and Sue held pretty close and pointed up a rooster for Charles in the grass, BB burst ahead and busted up 5-10 roosters and and twice as many hens way out of range. On her way back to Charles, she popped one up my way, but I’d long since lost my pheasant mojo. We cut up into the grassy flat and low hills where Charles had harvested birds on our first excursion into the field. True to form, he took another one and I missed another gimme shot. It was getting close to the time we wanted to pack up, so we headed back to the farmer path. Over at the homeplace on the far side of the sunflower field, the hired men were firing up the tractors to finish up the harvest and we had high hopes that we’d at least see one more rooster for Charles. ”Where are the dogs?” he asked me.
“Right there,” I pointed into the grass along the fence, on the other side next to the harvested sunflowers, “and they’re all on point.”
Charles hopped the short fence, walked into their points and got his limit for the day, just in time to go home. I didn’t even take a picture, I was ready to pack up and go home on several levels.
Adventure isn’t always fun or easy, frequently it challenges you to improve your skills. I will be spending plenty of time at the gym and the skeet range between now and next season. I will not be defeated by the rooster.
“Yeah, they’ve come to snuff the rooster. You know he ain’t gonna die.” -Alice in Chains