Saturday December 5th:
I’m sitting in my warm pickup, peeling off the 2nd layer of the day already, while Northland Outdoors Radio plays on 1460 AM out of Montevideo. Two roosters lie in the back of my truck and I’m feeling pretty confident about getting my third before 10:00.
Exhausted I limp out of the mile-long cattail slough just as the sun disappears. I skipped early-ice walleyes and late-season whitetails this afternoon for the chance at that third rooster. Despite the optimistic start to the day, I’d finish one short of my limit.
December is my favorite time to go pheasant hunting. Birds are grouped up-usually in heavy cover that you can target, and most shotgunners have changed over to ice rods, offering less competition for guys like me.
I hunted almost exclusively public land this fall. The reports you’ve heard are accurate: Pheasant numbers are up in comparison to recent years. Each time my lab, Mika and I strapped on an orange vest, we put birds in the air. Sometimes it was just hens and occasionally a wary rooster would bust wild, but at least we had some action. Even though I like eating pheasant more than store-bought chicken, I’m ok with just seeing the dog have fun. Watching Mika pop her ears up, stop on a dime and spin 90 degrees because she caught a whiff-if that doesn’t get your heart pumping, the frenetic pace at which her tail bounces back and forth will.
After knocking down the first two roosters I saw, I dipped into my honey hole, knowing I only needed one more bird to reach my limit. This sacred place always produces. Always. Usually I just target small portions of it each time so that the entire spot doesn’t get burned out.
On this day, the small portion would turn much, much larger. You can walk for a long time there, busting cattails, tall grass, and small stands of trees and on a day like this where the mercury tickled 40 degrees, you’ll get wet feet too when you do it.
I’d walk the entire length of the tract and it wasn’t until near the very end that Mika would get birdy enough to convince me of pheasants in close proximity. 5 hens would flush, one right after another from a hidden cave, created by gnarly mass of weeds and brush that were bent under the weight of heavy, wet snow. The rhythm of their flights were paced slow enough to give me minor heart attacks each time. But where was the rooster?
Turns out, he ran out ahead and flushed out of range, like roosters who have been shot at like to do this time of year. I turned around and worked my way back to the truck, searching for a holdout that we may have missed.
That afternoon, I was invited to drill holes in the 4” of ice the area lakes had to try my hand at the hungry walleyes that were present, but decided to stop off at my honey hole on the way. I had 45 minutes of legal shooting time left and the whole other side of the slough to hunt.
45 minutes came and went and I totaled up the number of flushes for the day: 23. I still only had 2 roosters in the back of my truck. It just goes to show you how unpredictable hunting can be. What I thought was a sure thing turned out to be more of a nature walk. But, I’ll take it, even if it means a few less meals of wild pheasant. I know Mika didn’t mind either.