53 years of hunting memories

WInter birds

My first pheasant hunt was in 1963. I was 15 years old and so excited that I couldn’t sleep the night before. I shot my first bird near Gibbon, Minnesota in Moltke township. My uncle Ed had a few good areas to hunt and my dad went with me. It is the only time he ever hunted with me and it was a memory I will always cherish. I can still remember the field that this first bird flushed from, I was sporting a borrowed 12 gauge single shot. The bird flushed into a stiff wind and my dad hollered shoot. I raised my gun aimed, pulled the trigger and by golly the bird dropped. I ran over to pick up the bird. Earlier that year I had hunted on my uncle Eldon’s farm with a borrowed 410 shotgun. I was walking a fence line when 3 roosters erupted. I shot and felt a powder charge hit my right eye. The firing pin had blown out the gun. I could hardly see out of the eye for several days. Fortunately no permanent damage occurred.

The following year I started hunting with two high school friends. None of us had a car so we would talk my mother into driving us out into the country and we would hunt all day and walk back into town. We had a great time but didn’t get a lot of birds. One time we were bored so we would throw one of our caps in the air and shoot at it.  A Weimaraner showed up and started hunting with us. All of a sudden our hunting improved. The dog followed us home. My dad new the farmer that owned the dog so he drove to the farm and returned the dog. We asked if the dog could hunt with us again. The farmer agreed. Our hunting year improved a lot. None of us were very good shots. I had purchased a single shot 16 gauge and my friends sported a 12 gauge single shot and the other a 12 gauge pump. The guy with the pump shot no more birds than the rest of us. He just used up more shells.

I purchased a Westernfield 12 gauge pump the fall of my junior year. I still use that gun today. It has been repaired a number of times. I estimate I shot 800 pheasants with it. I have no photographs of my early hunting years with the exception of one 8mm reel of film I took in 1965. I had a hunting dog of my own at the time it was a German short hair, named Penny. She had a good nose but wasn’t the smartest dog I ever owned.

Penny, my first hunting dog

I hunted in Southern Minnesota through the early 70’s. Habitat was being removed at a rapid pace by 1970. Many farms had sloughs on them. In the early 60’s the government subsidized the drainage of sloughs while at the same time paying the same farmer to  idle acres under the soil bank program. By the mid 1970’s most sloughs were gone. Flooding along rivers is more prevalent without the water capturing sloughs. Modern agriculture has literally destroyed wildlife populations in many parts of the mid west.

I graduated with Biology teaching degree. I accepted a teaching job in Leigh, NE. The abundant pheasant population was the main reason I took the job there. I could hear pheasants crowing all the way around the town when I walked up to school. Year one I hunted with other faculty members without a dog. On opening day the superintendent brought his black lab along. The dog got on a hot scent in the first field and took off. He spent most of the morning trying to track down his dog. I remember a lot of pheasants. Some of the hunters were complaining there just weren’t as many birds as last year.

My first Springer-Archie

The above picture is obviously a fake. It was taken on a farm where I took many pheasants. The owner of the property only farmed 160 acres and not very well, but the place was loaded with pheasants. His son a student of mine took the photo.  Hunting in the Leigh area was fabulous. I only  lived there for 3 years but it was some of the best hunting of my life. Since I was a teacher I had a lot of students whose parents farmed. It was easy to get access to private land. 

I got 35 pheasants one year. My Springer, Archie was the main reason. He was an aggressive hard hunting dog that never gave up. He was one of the few Springers  that I had that consistently retrieved birds.

The best hunting day I ever had came in 1974. I had moved to Fremont but still had lots of access to private land back in Leigh. I went with a party of four on opening weekend. I ended up shooting 9 birds that day. The main reason I did so well was my dog worked close with me.

Archie was my best hunting dog. He hunted until he was 13 and even then he often rooted up birds his younger son’s missed.

All three dogs hunted but Archie was the  main hunter. He hit the heaviest brush and was very persistent. Augie the black and white standing in the photo was lazy. He probably had a better nose than Archie but he didn’t like going into heavy cover. He was a good retriever however, probably because he was always out in the open and could see where the birds dropped.

By the early 80’s habitat was being removed a lot in the Leigh area and my access to landowners decreased. Some lost there farms during the rough Carter years. I did some hunting around Fremont and got permission from  a farmer in Herman to hunt. I got a few birds here or there but hunting was getting a lot tougher. 

By 1985 I was relying on an organization that identified farmers that would allow hunters ( yes, there were actually farmers that would let you hunt on their land) As a member you had access to their list and you could call a farmer and get permission to hunt. I found one farm around Wahoo that was quite productive. I hunted there 2 years and did quite well, but he lost his farm and the new owner removed all the cover.

Guido was my hunting dog at the time and he did quite well hunting the basins.

I kept looking for new places to hunt and found a great spot in the Clay Center area. I’d never hunted there and when I arrived at one of the sloughs I was surprised when I saw a bunch of pheasants flying across the road into the slough. Unfortunately there was a big sign saying steel shot only.  I didn’t have any steel shot. I had to go back to town and buy steel shot shells. Well I did that and returned that morning, I probably flushed over 100 birds. They were wild but I got my limit. I returned to that area for several more years but it was 150 miles away and I was looking for something closer.

The CRP program was instituted in 1985 and improved in 1990. Habitat improved. Hunting got better. My access to public land had disappeared, however. I found out that the Indian reservations on the east part of the state had pheasant hunting with a special reservation license. The Winnebago reservation had some good hunting. Thurston county had always been a good county for the birds. I hunted the reservation a number of years. It extended my hunting season by 2 weeks since their season started two weeks earlier than the states.

I’ve had a number of memorable hunting days but the one that stands out more than any is the hunt I had one December day.

That morning I decided to hunt a creek that lead to a patch of CRP. I barely reached the creek and a rooster flushed. I dropped him and crossed the creek to retrieved the bird. My dog Gudio was really working the brush of the small creek. Soon another ringneck flushed. I shot and missed. I walked another 100 yards or so and Guido flushed another bird and then a few seconds later another bird. He flushed some more singles and I dropped 2 more. By the time I was done He had flushed 10 single roosters and I had shot up a half a box of shells but I got my limit. To this day I have never had that many individual flushes in that short period of time.

The last year I hunted the Reservation was 2004. Habitat on the reservation was disappearing and pressure on the little habitat that was left was increasing. It wasn’t worth hunting there anymore.

Photo taken Winnebago Reservation

I always wanted to hunt South Dakota so I finally made my move. There was an add in the newspaper for pheasant hunting in Burke, South Dakota. I responded and set up a 3 day hunt.

I had Gudio and Cosmo as my hunting companions and they had a ball. The landowner would drive us around to various spots and we would proceed to hunt. Hunting was good and I normally limited out in several hours or less. The property also had some quail as well as grouse and Hungarian partridge. In all my years of hunting I only shot 2 partridge and I only recovered one of them.

I was down to one dog by 2006 but Cosmo was in his peak years and hunting was good in South Dakota. After 3 or 4 years I decided to try another South Dakota ranch. I found it in the magazine that South Dakota Game division mailed out. I was blown away when he drove me around his property showing me the  borders. Pheasants were flying up everywhere. At that time he had 3000 acres and they were loaded with birds. He let you hunt on your own and told you to be careful to stay on his property.

I’ve hunted the Dakotas for roughly 15 years. The hunting has been fabulous with the exception of 2012 a bad drought year. 

I’ve taken several friends hunting in South Dakota. Hunting costs are high. Trespass fees are $150 a day. Motels run roughly $100 day and the license is $120 for 10 days. I hunt South Dakota two different 4 day periods. To keep costs down I hunt public land on the first day. It has been difficult hunting public land although I did limit out one time on it.

Nebraska hunting is getting more difficult every year. This last year most of the birds I shot were released by Game and Parks on some of their properties. 

Since I’m getting older driving long distances to hunt and return the same day is just too tiring. I try to stay within 90 miles and often hunt for only 2 hours and return home. If there are birds around my Brittany, Tbone will find them. My best hunt and a memorable one was in the Tekamah area this year. It was on private property and I limited out in 20 minutes after flushing 7 roosters. I hunt this property once a year and pay to access it. The birds are all wild, no released  ones.

Hunting pheasants and photography are my two passions. I only regret that I don’t have many photos from the earlier years of hunting. I had a cheap kodak camera when i was in high school and it never dawned on me to take any photos when hunting. Today I always have at least one camera in my vehicle at all times. I have the phone of course but really prefer a camera.

I know my hunting days are limited. At least I will have the photos of those lovely days in the field.

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