The 2015 pheasant season is under way. Corn fields are freshly combined and cast in a golden glow. Sloughs, thick with cattails, are waiting to be conquered. Hunters of every age are filled with hope and anticipation. Even the dogs know something is going on.
The excitement of a new season is built upon all the pheasant seasons that have come before it. We are eager because we know what to expect. We will hunt with the same friends. We will walk the same proven paths through the CRP. We will sit on a truck tailgate and eat ham and cheese sandwiches. With very little variance, this is how the season will unfold.
I don’t mean to imply pheasant hunting is predictable. It is not. Few experiences in this world are more exhilarating—or unpredictable—than a flushing rooster. However, I have been through enough pheasant seasons to know certain things are inevitable.
For example: I will miss the easiest shot of the season in front of a large group of friends. Surely, a fat pheasant will slowly rise above the corn rows like a hot air balloon, hang motionless in the wind and wait for me to pull the trigger. I will empty three successive shells in the air and watch him fly away.
I will make the most difficult shot of the season when I am by myself. The pheasant hunting gods always grant me one spectacular trick shot every season. A high-altitude rocket of a bird will pass over my head. I will swing my shotgun around and quickly calculate the 30-foot lead it will take to bring him down with one shot. The same gods will make sure no one will be there to see it happen.
My dogs will point, flush and retrieve perfectly when no one is watching. I don’t know if this is some form of canine performance anxiety, but both dogs seem to function better when there aren’t other hunters around. Conversely, when I’m hunting with all my friends, my dogs like to show off their amazing ability to run ahead and scare every bird out of a slough.
While I’m on the subject of dogs, I also predict one of my dogs, possibly both, will require an emergency trip to the veterinarian. So far, our tally of hunting-related injuries includes three cut abdomens, two scratched corneas, one cut eye socket, one split paw pad and a collapsed lung. The lung injury required an all-night drive to the Iowa State University Veterinary Medical Center. When it comes to hunting with two high-energy Labradors, it’s not a question of if they’ll get hurt, it’s a question of how much will it cost?
I can count on my friends to be remarkably consistent, as well. Just as sure as roosters cackle, one will forget his wallet, one will have to go home early, one will miss a bird because his shotgun jammed. When these events occur, I find it comforting to know some things will never change—nor should they.
I also expect a few hard days where I hunt for hours through the thickest grass and heaviest sloughs just to fire one desperate shot. If I’m lucky, I might bag one bird. I also know there will be some easy days I probably don’t deserve. I will scare up three roosters from a roadside ditch and get my limit without getting my boots dirty. I like to think the hard days somehow pay for the easy ones, even though the tougher hunts are much more rewarding.
I predict the weather will remain perfect while I’m at work—mid-fifties, light autumn breeze, not too bright, but not too cloudy, and just a hint of moisture to hold a pheasant scent. By Saturday morning, the weather forecast will call for high winds, sub-freezing temperatures and driving sleet. I’ve never let the real possibility of hypothermia prevent me from hunting on a weekend.
I can also predict with absolute certainty there will be a moment in the season when everything is just right. Like a snapshot, it will capture the entire pheasant season. Usually, it involves two exhausted Labradors slowing falling asleep in their kennels, me and my buddies sharing hot coffee from a Thermos and telling the same stories, a limit of brightly colored roosters laying side-by-side in a snow bank, and a South Dakota sun setting over a horizon of dried corn stalks.
If the past is any indication of what to expect in the future, there is no doubt I will experience these moments again—which leads me to the same prediction I make every year:
2015 will be the best pheasant season yet.
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