FLUSH!!! – A Pheasant Hunting Story

February 15, 2009 by  

By Chris Hustad

“Chrissss…it’s time to wake up” were my mother’s calm words that awoke me from my casual slumber. After a couple long stretches and a few scratches on my head, I was rolling out of bed and onto my feet. It was around 5 in the morning on an early October morning, but not just any morning, it was the pheasant hunting opener. This wasn’t just any pheasant opener, it was my first and to be honest I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting myself into. As a youth, packing for such an occasion was easy, grab my 20-gauge and some shells that my dad laid out for me. Oh ya, I forgot, it’s supposed to be a bit on the chilly side, better grab another sweatshirt.

I  casually made my way down the steps and walked into the kitchen where my mother was offering a quick breakfast. I was a bit behind, a rookie, I didn’t know better. Dad and my brother Eric already had their gear packed into my dad’s old Dodge Ram Charger. They’ve been down this path before and knew what they were anticipating, and I could see the half smile on my brother’s face that didn’t seem to subside. After a few bites of toast, I realized eating wasn’t included in the itinerary that morning…we’ve got miles to put on and we wanted to get into the pheasants at daybreak. Minutes later, we met up with the rest of our group, Chuck and Lance Shambaugh; Stan and Josh Weins. Little did I know at that time how many fall mornings I would be spending with this crew, how many sunrises we’d share. This was the beginning of many openers to come.

We hopped onto Interstate 94 in Eastern North Dakota and headed due south. We were going to my late Grandpa Carl’s farm down in the Hankinson/Fairmount area (this was during the dry cycle when this area held good numbers of pheasants). Growing up in the city and spending occasional weekends down there, it was the only farm life I knew. Chasing around the chickens in the coop, playing hide and seek in the cornfield, picking apples from the orchard from the bucket of my grandpa’s John Deere. These were childhood memories that have stuck since, but at that time hunting wasn’t apart of this same tradition. Thinking about what could be, I found myself drifting off to sleep. Minutes later all the windows in the Dodge went down as the interior was rushed with the chilly October air waking my brother and myself up. “Shut the windows!” growled my brother as he huddled below an over sized hunting coat. My dad hated driving when everyone was asleep, too much anticipation and he wanted to talk about it. This was a lesson I learned early, and rarely found myself falling asleep in the years to follow (or maybe too scared to).

As soon as the first rays of light peaked over the eastern horizon, we were off the interstate and onto a back highway and soon gravel. It’s not long now, the farm is just minutes away. It’s hard to believe how many senses of smell became attached to the sport of hunting that morning. The ever-so-familiar smell of dust on the gravel roads, the smell of a skunk scurrying across the road, the crisp smell of fall with winter not far behind that’s almost impossible to describe. When I’m up to my elbows in paperwork in the office, I long for those smells.

I was deep into a daydream when suddenly the Dodge abruptly came to a halt, I looked up as a deer casually pranced across the road. That was a close one.

“It’s almost shooting time now” said my father as he looked towards the eastern sky, and then to the radio clock. I wasn’t sure what we were anticipating, but I could certainly tell by looking at my brother that something big was about to happen.
“Uncle Scott said this piece is full of ruddies” said my dad as he pulled into the east approach. “We’ll try this first.” This was about a section that was split almost down the middle by train tracks, with my family’s piece in CRP on the north side. There was a few small trees along the road, and a short tree row just off the train tracks. My brother opens the passenger door and gets out, only to flush a couple hens and a rooster. This should be interesting.

The group talks for a bit and decides on the best way to cover the 300-acre field. One end paralleled the edge of the road, the other end stretched all the way to the train tracks. As soon as the line started, the drive began and didn’t last long.

“ROOOOOOOOSTERRRRR!!!” screamed my father only moments into it, as a cock rooster quickly folds and becomes the first harvest of the day. I didn’t see it unfold, so I wasn’t sure what really happened. As soon as a few shots fired, more pheasants popped up from what seemed to be everywhere. Birds flushed, shots missed, shots connected…, it was controlled chaos. I wasn’t quick enough on the draw and found myself being only a witness. The rookie I was, I kept cruising ahead in search of my first pheasant like an untrained dog. “Slow down Chris! Wait for the rest of the group” I halted, stalled, and looked back to get a feel for the speed of the rest of the group. Just as soon as I think it’s time to continue forward, I turn around to find an anxious rooster holding what seemed to be inches away….and then it flushed in front of me. With my stomach in my throat, and the excitement taking hold…I didn’t even fire. It startled me so much that I froze like a wax museum exhibit. This is a rush!

A few minutes later, another rooster flushed. This time I was ready and I quickly drew my gun, followed the lead, and squeezed the trigger. I was a bit behind as I blew out the back end and the rooster glided off to the side into the brush next to the train tracks. Again, like an untrained puppy I was off running for the bird. I wasn’t about to lose my first pheasant. I kept my eyes pinned exactly where the bird went down, in hopes for a quick retrieve to continue with the rest of the group. I quickly learned that where the crippled pheasant goes down means nothing. I found a few feathers, turned around, turned around, turned around…nothing. It couldn’t have gone that far I thought?…I learned quickly that these were the true roadrunner’s of the north.

After an unsuccessful 10-minute search, I realized that I was too far behind to catch up to the rest of the group. I missed what looked to be a quick hunt, or so I thought. They reached the end of the field, turned around and came back to the east. This time they were covering a small strip that we couldn’t cover during the first push. “Chrissssss! Stay there and post!” I heard faintly, so I scurried down the train tracks toward the road. I ran so fast that I practically stepped on a pheasant, which slowly flushed up in front of me, just yards from the road. Even though the pheasant caught me off guard, I knew what had to be done, quickly. I drew my Remington to my shoulder and got off 1 shot quickly before it disappeared over the road. To my amazement, it actually folded! I sprinted over the road and came across the young rooster laying lifeless along the ditch.

I remember how long I stared at the bird, feeling all sorts of mixed emotions over what I had just accomplished. Until that morning, everything I knew about pheasant hunting was from stories my father and brother shared. You can’t really understand or relate to stories like that until you experience it for yourself. And it was at that time where it all kind of made sense. Why we got up that early in the morning, why we spent that much time preparing, why we pheasant hunt in the first place…it just all made sense. It’s amazing how some experiences stick with you, even decades later.

Every youth should get the chance at experiencing a flushing rooster.


2 Comments on "FLUSH!!! – A Pheasant Hunting Story"

  1. Eric Hustad on Wed, 21st Oct 2009 8:24 am 

    You took me down memory lane and it was a great article. That really was a memorable morning and its hard to believe how long ago that was. Great article!!!

  2. ronin on Tue, 12th Jan 2010 5:27 pm 

    a very nice story man.i actually felt i was there.wish you luck with your upcoming huntings.
    i wish i’ll have the same experience.

    all the best

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