Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pheasant Hunt 09

Thursday morning I set out for central Kansas on my annual pheasant hunt with long time friend Mike Conroy and members of his family. Leaving here at 8:00 I met up with Mike's father big Mike in Fort Scott around 3:00 and we proceeded to Ottowa to join Mike and the rest of our party before heading to La Crosse. The little town of La Crosse, Kansas was our home base from which we hunted Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning. Friday morning started cold and windy and due to malfunctions in guns, gloves, fingers, and aim the first couple of opportunities came and went with no birds to show for it. We finally shot a couple of quail and then a pheasant which hit the ground running. Despite a fine brace of hunting dogs including Luke the beagle, Jack the German shorthaired pointer, and of course Finn the Boykin Spaniel, we were unable to locate this pheasant that had fallen in a thick stand of Indian Grass. After searching for a while we continued our hunt and things continued to be slow as we flushed a number of hens but had very little luck finding any roosters within gun range. We focused our efforts on WIHA land which is leased by the state of Kansas from landowners for the specific purpose of adding hunting opportunities for the general public. This program has allowed thousands of hunters the opportunity to hunt a variety of game in areas that are otherwise devoid of much public hunting ground. This has obviously had a positive impact economically to areas that other times of the year have little or no outside visitors. As we drove through small towns and down county roads we saw hotel and restaurant parking lots full, and trucks filled with hunters from places as far away as Ontario. We continued to search out fields to hunt and were finally able to put a pheasant in the game bag. As evening began to fall over the Kansas prairie we found a farmer outside his barn and after talking with him we obtained permission to hunt a large field of milo stubble. This field quickly yielded the second rooster of the day, and before the hunt was over, two more pheasants were added to our total. Day one ended with a meager total of 4 pheasants and 2 hard earned quail. Day 2 would begin optimistically with a large field of native grass surrounding a cut milo field. While this looked like perfect pheasant habitat, after completing the drive we had only one pheasant and a few quail to show for it. This was rather disappointing as we had added to more hunters and two more dogs to this days hunt. We decided to pay our friendly farmer another visit and again were given permission to hunt his fields. This time he decided to join us and showed us several new fields, but once again the hunting was slow and only one more pheasant was shot. We decided to move on with a few more fields being hunted and only one more pheasant and a few quail hitting the ground. It is not unusual to see big numbers of pheasants flushing out of range, or having lots of hen flushes throughout the day, but in our case we were just not seeing many birds anywhere. Following a lunch of ham and salami sandwiches we decided it was time for a change in strategy. We decided to shift our efforts to the north hoping to find more birds, and the rest of the day was spent scouting for new, and hopefully better places to hunt. As we drove the dirt roads we spotted a group of hunters, and observed pheasant after pheasant flushing in front of them, a good sign of things to come we hoped. Just down the road we found a good looking field of grass and our small party of three decided to give it a try. We took a quick hike around the field and kicked up nothing, deciding the pheasants must be running around our small line. We then joined back up with two others and hunted a cut milo field just before dark. In this field I was rewarded with a rooster flush directly to my left, and was fortunate enough to drop it with my first shot, ending the day on a high note. Day two ended with a beautiful Kansas sunset, and a meager harvest of 4 pheasants and 4 or 5 quail. Day 3 would break slightly warmer than the previous two, and we headed out before dark to a field where some of the guys had seen 20 or 30 pheasants flying in to roost the night before. Unfortunately for us, another group had beaten us to the field and we were forced to scramble to another location before legal shooting light. We found a nice half section of CRP grasses and could hear the roosters cackling in the pre-dawn glow of the prairie. Quietly we entered the field and began the final push with 10 hunters and 4 dogs. Quickly several hens flushed and a covey of quail got up prompting several shots but no connections. As we continued across the field pheasants continued to flush wild, with only a few hens flushing within range. My dog Finn had several good flushes on hens, and picked up a few flushes on several of the quail that had set down in front of us, but we were able to hit only one quail, and had no good opportunities on roosters on our first pass. As we watched a small mule deer buck bounce up the hillside in front of us we excitedly planned our next pass through this vast field of native grasses. Finally we were seeing birds, and although shooting opportunities were few, like most hunters we were happy to finally be seeing a good number of pheasants. The next pass would only bring us a few hen flushes, and as we lined up for the third and final pass of the trip, we sent several hunters down to "block" the field in an attempt to catch any roosters that might try to flush wild on us. I walked the far left side on this pass, and following several close encounters with pheasant hens, a rooster made the mistake of taking flight within gun range to my left. I quickly spun and shot, dropping the rooster to the ground, Finn had seen the pheasant fall, and was immediately on its trail as it weaved it's way through the clumps of Indian Grass and sideoats. After a short chase Finn collected our prize and as I wrung the roosters neck he got the final laugh by spurring me in the pinky leaving me with blood running down my hand. As we approached the blockers another rooster was harvested from the other end of the line, and a large covey of quail erupted in between all of us. I hit the ground as I feared for my life, but everyone was careful in their shot selection, and 4 more quail were added to our tally. Two of these quail were retrieved by Mike and Matt Conroy who along with the rest of the hunters and dogs spent 10 minutes or so chasing two winged quail around in circles until they could be pounced upon. By now it was nearly 9:00 and with a long drive ahead of us we decided to leave the rest of the birds for next time. This one field had yielded two roosters and five quail, as well as many wild rooster and hen flushes. Finally we had found what we had been looking for, but like most times, about the time you figure them out it is time to head home. Despite the low number of birds being harvested I think everyone enjoyed our time afield, and thanks to the WIHA program put forth by the state of Kansas with a little planning this type of hunt can be enjoyed by anyone. At about $45 per room, double occupancy, and good inexpensive restaurants, if you make reservations early a successful Kansas pheasant hunt can be enjoyed by anyone for very little money. If we had been a little smarter and shifted our hunting area sooner we might have even come home with enough pheasants for a Thanksgiving feast.

P.S. Trout are biting good right now, while I was hunting we had Hargrove and his guys down catching fish after fish, including a 19 1/2 " rainbow, and a 30" BROWN!!

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