Each year around this time I begin to stress about how to spend the waning moments of another hunting season as it ticks away.
Bow hunting is a passion that consumes my mind 365 days a year, but pheasant hunting is a close second. I’m reminded of that every time a rooster flushes at the tip of my dog’s nose.
By now I am starting to feel guilty for not getting my yellow lab, Ole, out in the CRP enough after spending so much time in a tree through November. The four-day Thanksgiving weekend was devoted to chasing both whitetails and roosters.
I woke up at 4 a.m. three of the four days to get into the stand well before sunrise. History says my chances of seeing a buck with my bow drop considerably after firearms season, but it is still November. That means anything is possible. That was evident with my buddy, Marv Kremin of Cottonwood, shooting a nice eight-pointer on the opening morning of muzzleloader season. He spotted that deer two different times running through wide open fields in daylight before he made good on a shot at him from 60 yards at about 9:30 a.m.
Most of my encounters lately have been with does and fawns. Those continue to outnumber bucks in the area I hunt by a wide margin. Any chasing I saw last week was being done by 1.5-year olds. All of the big guys left on our property are showing up at night. A camera overlooking a primary scrape shows a few 3-plus-year-old bucks coming through at about 2 a.m.
I hung another camera near one of my stands that sits about 100 yards from that scrape and found a new rub that was done by one of those big bucks in the last week. This tree was shredded from the bottom of the trunk to about four feet off the ground. In the same area was tufts of deer hair. Maybe from a fight that broke out between two bucks.
Sights like that keep getting me up three hours before sunrise. By now a lot of us are worn out from hunting hard through the best part of the rut. I talk myself out of bed and dread changing into my camo in 20 degrees in the field. Then the cold disappears on the walk to the stand and is replaced with anticipation of what might happen. That’s when I remember again why I do this.
If you have a tag to fill, keep hunting. My strategy this time of year is to try to find any piece of ground that maybe hasn’t been pressured as much. If I can get into some thicker cover where a buck might feel more comfortable moving those last few minutes of daylight, I will take that chance. It might take a strong wind or a rain to dampen the leaves to get in and out undetected.
Those who are tagged out on deer and love to chase pheasants are entering my favorite time of the season. Weather tends to be cool for the dogs and the corn is pretty much out of the fields. The birds are in the grass when not out feeding.
We got four roosters hunting public land near the South Dakota border last Friday. Another quick push produced a bird on a small strip of CRP the next day.
Sunday afternoon, my buddy, Jacob Busiahn, and my father-in-law, Mike Schaffran, and I finished off the weekend with a great hunt on some strips of CRP along a dredge ditch.
We loaded the shotguns and stepped into the grass at about 1:30 that afternoon. Ole was immediately “birdy”. It wasn’t 15 seconds before a rooster flushed not 40 yards from the truck. Jacob and I both took aim and fired at the same time as the bird folded. A perfect start.
We went on our way with Jacob manning the top of the ditch and Mike and I walking through the thick grass. Jacob surprised us when he let out two shots over the water. A hen mallard had jumped off the ditch right in front of him. It was his first duck in years after buying a waterfowl license for the opener this fall.
Ole retrieved the mallard and was all business again in his pursuit of pheasants when another rooster busted between Mike and me. I missed and Mike took aim, pulled the trigger and watched the rooster hit the dirt of the plowed bean field on the run.
The bird immediately got back in the grass. Ole didn’t see him go down, but was on his trail. Another rooster flushed a few seconds later right in front of me. I folded him and made my own retrieve.
Ole kept working. Up and down. Back and forth. He finally pinpointed Mike’s bird and dived in after him. The front half of his body was under matted-down grass as he came out with the rooster and brought him to my side.
It was another reminder of how amazing good bird dogs are and how many birds they save us. Their engines never quit. Not until they are back on the sleeping pad back home.
They live for this, just like we live for this. With about one month left in the 2017 hunting season, we owe it to them and ourselves to soak up every last hunt we can.