By Kara Wattunen
“Stay in line!” “Hen!” “Swing,” are words that echo through the cattails and tall grass when chasing the roosters while pheasant hunting. The word “hold” brings your feet to a stop as the dogs point into the thicket ahead. As you approach the dogs slowly, you can see the excitement in the pointer’s body, which is instantly contagious.
The steel in your hand seeps into your skin as your finger moves to the trigger and you settle the gun ready to shoot. Each breath escapes slow and controlled as you stand next to the dog. With one nudge to the edge of the thicket, the rooster shoots into the air, close enough for you to hear each wing beat. “ROOSTER!” choruses down the line as you swing with the bird and take one shot.
Pheasant hunting is a world on its own, and it is a hunt that can be for all ages and abilities. Whether you are an experienced hunter or just a beginner, the rush of the flush is something you should experience. Also, pheasant hunting can be a group or a solo activity. The possibilities are endless for how you want your hunting experience to go. The states that thrive in pheasant hunting are also wide spread throughout the Midwest, offering a wide variety of landscapes and hunting opportunities that you can pick and choose which would be best for you.
December, one of the coldest months in the Midwest, is one of the most fun and challenging times to hunt these birds. This is when I chose to take my first hunt a few years back. An ice storm moved through and coated everything in an inch and a half of ice. Our adventure was going to happen regardless of weather conditions. If we could walk the fields and sloughs, we would be hunting in the morning.
Upon arrival, we split the group into walkers and blockers. Since this was my first go, I chose to be a blocker so I could watch how it all shook out. Blockers stand at the other end of the field. This may sound boring, but it is the exact opposite! It is the blockers job to shoot the birds that come toward them if the walkers cannot get clean shots. So no matter where you are in the pheasant field, blocker or walker, you have the chance to harvest a rooster.
As the walkers started, it was like a choreographed dance, moving through the corn and tall grass. The line pressed through and moved like a snake, pushing birds out left and right, while the dogs worked and ran. The dogs are like machines! Their job is to find the birds, hold them and retrieve, which these did flawlessly.
When the walkers reached the blockers, the hunt for that field is finished, and it is time to switch jobs and move to the next field. I was more than nervous taking on this field, which had a frozen pond to the south and cattails coated in thick layers of ice taller than me by at least 8 inches.
When the lined started, I pushed my way though, making sure I stayed with the group. Due to the ice, the pheasants were “sitting tight,” which meant they weren’t moving until we practically tripped over them. Soon enough I flushed one and shot. Miss. When I say miss I mean missed three times.
We had even shot trap the day before so I have no idea what I was doing wrong, but it wasn’t working. Receiving some suggestions, we moved forward and I got my second chance. Again, miss.
I was hot and cold all at the same time, sweat was starting to build from pushing through the terrain and my frustration started to climb. We continued through, slowing down because of how still the birds were sitting. Finally, I felt the rush of the flush up my left leg and heard the boys yell, “Rooster!” I lined up, took a breath and BOOM! I had my first ever rooster!
One of the dogs retrieved the bird and brought it right back to me. I was even more excited to hold onto the bird and look at it. The colors of pheasants are nothing short of spectacular.
As we finished the field and approached the trucks, I was able to really take a look at all the details within these amazing animals. The stark difference between the muted browns and whites from snow and ice cattails and the vibrant greens and reds of the roosters was jaw dropping. Each feather on these animals is just like a snowflake, completely unique to itself. The green on the back of the heads also shines an iridescent hue as it moves in the light. A rooster’s tail feathers are like trophies for the harvest, which are long and have an amazing pattern on its entirety.
With each field, the passion for pheasant hunting grew, and I knew this was something I could share with my family and friends when I returned home from our trip. That is exactly what I did.
My mom, who loves to bird hunt, immediately wanted to go see what the flush was all about. We ventured not too far north of Minneapolis to fields we could pheasant hunt on. As we walked the fields, the first bird went right up my mom’s leg and she screamed! I screamed as well, but it was “MOM! It’s a rooster! Shoot, shoot, shoot!”
Needless to say, she was so startled that we watched the rooster glide away and hide in the corn field about 50 yards in front of us. It took us awhile to get all the giggles out before we moved forward through the fields, but that is what hunting, and pheasant hunting especially, is all about. The laughter, the fun and the teamwork all plays into the skills needed to make your pheasant experience.
We managed a few pheasants that day, but most importantly, it was sharing of a tradition. She now loves to pheasant hunt alongside others and myself whenever she can. As part of the harvest, we also try new recipes for pheasant other than the typical, but delicious, wrapped in bacon.
Pheasant hunting gives you the capabilities to bond over what I call “field to table” conversations. You can carry on a conversation as you walk, while you harvest, prepare your game and then enjoy with others.
The rush of the flush is exactly that. It is a true rush. From the rush of adrenaline up your body when the bird appears to cheers of excitement of a harvest and then sitting down to enjoy the harvest as your meal makes your hunt come full circle in just one day. No matter age or ability, pheasant hunting can be an amazing experience to not only enhance your hunting skills, but to build and foster growing relationships that last a lifetime.
~ Kara Wattunen