Snow Birds

February 15, 2009 by  

By Perry Thorvig

Late season pheasants in need of some attention

Late season pheasants in need of some attention

What a difference – early season pheasant hunting versus late season!

We know that late season pheasants are smart compared to the early season birds. We have experienced the change in pheasant behavior between the early and late season in past years. But, we got our butts kicked by those gaudy flyers after Thanksgiving in 2003.

We again traveled to Chuck Gosen’s place in Bismarck. I, Jerry Vandelac,

Ken Ziegler, and his 10 week German shorthair, Donner, made the six and a half hour trip. Little Donny was just along for the ride. He was too little to get out there and beat the bush this year. But, he got a good whiff of pheasant scent when we got home each night. He’ll be ready for next year.

By noon on Friday, the weather was pretty good for a late November day. The temperature was in the 20’s, with stinging winds and a sunny sky. The snowcover was spotty. In some places, the farm fields were completely exposed. The light CRP cover had three inches of snow. In some places, it was deeper because of drifting. Some of the Minimum Maintenance Roads were heavily drifted, though passable with a high clearance truck and four wheel drive.

We were ready to make our first push by noon on Friday. We sent two walkers down the abandoned railroad grade and the other two blocked. We didn’t have a chance. We blockers could see our two partners walking down the half-mile stretch of old grade and the pheasants bailing out at least a hundred yards ahead. And, we blockers had too much space to cover to make an effective block.

We then drove the five miles over to Gary’s and tried the abandoned farm place across the road from Gary’s place. The light, crusty snow revealed very few pheasant tracks in the shelterbelts surrounding the farm. It was not looking good.

After coming up empty there, we sent two guys up the driveway at Gary’s to post for the two that would be walking through the shelterbelt into the south wind. Chuck and I had just placed our first steps on the green farm yard when pheasants were heard flushing from the sunny south side of the shelterbelt about 50 yards away. Damn! About 25 birds were then seen passing a break in the shelterbelt headed east into the neighbors CRP about 200 yards away. A few birds were flushed in the shelterbelt push. But, it was clear that the majority of the birds had escaped when we drove into the farmyard. An inspection of the outside edge of the east and south sides of the shelterbelt around the place revealed a multitude of pheasant tracks. They loved that place. But, how do hunters get at them?

We then hit the road to see what we could find in the area. We saw a few concentrations of birds here and there. It seemed that when we saw one, we saw 20. And, they were not letting us get close to them. And, so it went for the last two hours before sunset. We got a few birds that day and had located many more.

The pursuit of ringnecks

The pursuit of ringnecks

Friday night, we devised our strategy for Saturday’s hunt. We hoped for more success on Saturday. We focused our plans on Gary’s shelterbelts. How could we get a whack at those birds in the shelterbelt? We decided to try to pass shoot the birds as they flew from the shelterbelt heading for the CRP. It meant that we would sneak the fence line about 100 yards east of the farm shelterbelt and hide in the vegetation along the fence line.

The plan was good. The execution was terrible.

Our sneak was pretty pathetic. We were three guys in blaze orange not shielded from the east edge of the shelterbelt by any hills or vegetation. As we “sneaked” along the fence line walking south from the road that bordered the north edge of the property, the pheasants lounging along the east side of the shelterbelt spotted us immediately. They didn’t run back into the shelterbelt. Instead, they began bailing out as we got within a 100 yards of them.

In the meantime, Chuck had driven halfway up the driveway to the west and began walking toward the farmyard. He was too early. We weren’t in the appropriate position to intercept the birds as they flew for safety in the CRP. Much to Chuck’s surprise, many birds were right in the middle of the farmyard basking in the warm 45-degree sunshine. Those birds began to head for the CRP. We got a couple of 75-yard shots, but that was it. I don’t know that I would have been able to hit one of those fast flying birds anyway. They were really moving as they crossed the fence line.

Foiled again! We lounged in the farmyard out of the wind and ate our lunch. We were about out of ideas on how to get these wily December birds. We headed for the thick shelterbelt on the west side of the driveway after lunch.

It never fails! We had only begun our push when we jumped three roosters that had not escaped with the rest of the flock. These three had held tight and watched us eat lunch just a 100 yards away. We only got one of the three that flushed.

We then hit the road for one of our favorite spots where we had seen a lot of birds on Friday. Boy, did we find them in the early afternoon. There were birds out eating in very light cover right next to the roads. One area revealed the mother lode. Pheasants pecked away right of the road and also 400 yards deep into the field. A quick scan of the posting signs in the area revealed that the picked cornfield was not posted. Two nice little shelterbelts ran right through the cornfield. Skittish, birds started flying out of the cornfield for the adjacent CRP as soon as we stopped the car. We headed for the shelterbelts hoping a few birds had decided to hide there rather than fly for the CRP. Fortunately for us, a few had. We got some good shooting out of the shelterbelts and a few birds, but we should have shot a lot better. Our shooting stunk!

We then scouted some new territory and wound up two miles north of the cornfield. Here the birds were running all over a pasture and sitting on top of the hay bales laughing at us. We got permission to hunt this area. It was teaming with birds. Three of us put on a good push and dislodged many birds. Again, our poster had gone too far to the east and missed an opportunity at birds pouring out of the end of a shelterbelt. However, most of the birds had not flown past where Chuck was going to block and might be intercepted as we pushed on along a lake shore with good cover on the edge. Many hens were uprooted as we moved toward Chuck. Then the roosters started flushing beyond our range. Now, Chuck started to unload at the fast flyers. Most of them headed out over the lake and the ice below trying to cut the corner to the adjacent field. We all agreed that if Chuck downed any birds, they would be out on the ice. Sure enough, Kenny, our lightest guy had to make his way out onto the thin lake ice to make the retrieve.

We made our last pass of the day in a posted shelterbelt about 100 yards off a main road. The landowner in the nearby house gave us permission to hunt the shelterbelt. Kenny and Jerry pushed as Chuck and I went down to post. Chuck and I got some shooting at the end of the shelterbelt while Ken and Jerry were diverted into some nearby small sloughs. We waited a long time for those two to complete their walk of the shelterbelt. As they neared us, more birds began to take flight from the edges of the shelterbelt. One of our party (the guy who does all the trap shooting) missed two birds that were very easy shots. It was boom-boom-boom-nothing. He did this twice in 15 yards. I laughed, but he was totally exasperated at what had transpired that day. He couldn’t believe he had missed those two birds.

It was then that I saw something that I have only seen on a golf course. (One time, I threw my putter over the out of bounds fence out onto the adjacent freeway right away. I never found it after I regained my senses.) First I heard the obligatory, “What the hell is wrong with this x?xx?iigduujg gun?” Then the empty shotgun was launched forward like a two hand push shot. The snow flew as the gun bounced and came to rest five feet in front of the hunter. The gun was retrieved by the hunter and a few more choice words were uttered in the quiet late afternoon. Geez, I laughed my butt off and thought I was on the golf course.

A late season hunters best friend

A late season hunter's best friend

Our Sunday morning attack on Gary’s shelterbelts got us nothing once again. The attack was staged right at sunrise. We would be in position along the fenceline by 7:50. Chuck would then make his push up the driveway. We were too early. There were no birds around the shelterbelt at this time of the morning. They were along the fenceline though!! We were stupid and passed on these birds waiting for the big explosion out of the shelterbelt that never came. Outsmarted again!

After a couple of more runs that morning, we parted ways with Chuck. He headed for Bismarck. We headed back to the Twin Cities. Our two five day hunting periods were over for another year. Kenny and Donner fell asleep in the back seat very soon. Jerry and I rode along without saying anything. The “driving-home-malaise” had settled in. We were also thinking about how to outsmart those birds next year.

Forty miles down the road I broke the silence and asked Jerry, “You figured it out yet?” “Parachutes,” was the short reply. No more was said for another forty miles. Six hours later we got home and still had not figured out how to get those late season birds.

I guess pheasant hunting is like golf. Even though it can be terribly frustrating, you gotta keep on trying or you’re not going to get any better. It’s that one good shot that keeps you coming back next time.

Parachutes? Hmmm. That might work. Anybody got a plane we can borrow?


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