Snaking through prairie grass highlighted in fire orange by the sunset creates a picture one thought only exists in paintings. Watching every movement your dog makes anticipating a flush with each and every step taken. Roosters calling out in the distance seem as if they are testing your nerves. There is nothing like looking for a feathered needle in a prairie hay stack.
With the slow, to say the least, duck seasons I have really turned to the almighty rooster to cure my desire for a good wing shoot. Spending time with my dog isn't much different, in my eyes, as a father spending time with his children. By no means am I a professional dog trainer, but I do put a lot of time into doing just that. I have self trained my dogs and the satisfaction I get watching Dixie, a female black lab, work the grass, force a flush, and sitting at heal with a mouth full of rooster is humbling. The fruits of my labour, or shall I say, our labour.
With minimal clutch sightings this summer I had much anticipation as to how the pheasant season was going to pan out this year. On our family farm we have planted nearly half the property in native prairie grasses. Constant up keeping and scheduled burns have make this some of the most beautiful prairie ground I've seen in Minnesota. It is part of our wetlands habitat. Grassland is essential to wetlands based on its nesting ability for waterfowl along with its filter qualities. The benefit to wetlands is that it does not just pertain to ducks. The pheasant relies on this habitat as well. Two birds with one stone sort of speak. With the continual improvement of grassland on our farm pheasant numbers inhabiting the land has increased. Again, if you build it they will come. Habitat is everything.
Especially early in the season I don't hunt the mornings all to often. Mainly due to standing crops. If you have a standing corn or bean field near your hunting ground it can make the hunt rather slow. The birds spend the majority of the day in the crops causing mornings to be much slower than the evenings. Leaving the areas of interest alone and keeping them fresh for that last hour of hunting time before sunset make for the best early season hunt you can have. In that last hour or two the birds begin to creep out of the crops and start heading for their nightly roosting areas. That's when you and your dog can catch them off guard and sneak in a little shooting. Low hunting pressure isn't just for the deer, it really helps with baggin' some purple heads as well. Wait till the time is right.
With a large corn field still standing bordering our north property line my hopes were not all too high. To my surprise we got our two roosters both Saturday and Sunday. We, by no means, saw nor flushed large numbers of birds. We were able to capitalize on the birds that were there. Straight shooting and a super dog along with high quality habitat were the key in our weekend of success. It seems I've taken my pheasant hunting to the level I like to use in my bowhunting. We form strategies due to the wind direction. Yes, by we I mean my dog and I. The wind determines our route. I want the wind blowing through the cover right into Dixie's nostrils. You can run, but you can't hide.
Watching a dog work the grass is always motivating to me. Its like watching your bobber. Intensely staring at it knowing it's going to go down just waiting for some movement. When your dog does a ninety degree turn and picks up on a bird is truly amazing. Their tail is whipping around like a shoe lace caught in weed whipper. It's all about being birdy. I think I even get a little birdy, if you will. Tightly gripping my over and under getting ready for a swift clean shouldering. When Mr. Rudy finally exposes himself in blast of wing beats and a streamer of tail feathers your heart literally skips a beat. Instinct kicks in and you bead up and knock him down. With dog only steps behind and below. After securing the bird in your vest and belly rubs are given you march on with hopes to repeat the moment. I can only hope the rest of the season continues along this very same path.