116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
It looked and sounded like a South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks promotional video — pheasants everywhere, standing, walking, running, flying, cackling and beating their wings, as far as the eyes of 10 hunters awaiting the opening of the 2021 pheasant season could see.
But it was Iowa, a state in which hunters rarely, if ever, see hundreds of pheasants in a single field.
As a veteran of nearly 60 Iowa pheasant seasons, I had never seen so many in one place and at one time, even in the glory days of the 1960s and ‘70s when Iowa was the pheasant hunting capital of the world with an average annual harvest topping 1.5 million roosters.
Such a sight seemed unimaginable in the straitened years of the last decade, when harvests averaged 229,000 roosters per season.
But there they were, far too numerous to count, their brilliant plumage burnished by a rising late October sun.
Though stealth should have been in order, we could not help whispering our soaring expectations as we loaded shotguns and unloaded dogs from their kennels.
I still think our plan was sound — seven guys and five dogs advancing from east to west through the frosted switch grass while I and two other guys posted along the first mowed strip in the grass, waiting to ambush the pheasants fleeing before the advancing line.
In nerve-jangling numbers, the pheasants soon flushed ahead of the drivers, mostly out of their shotgun range, and while many of them escaped to standing corn to our north, many also flew in waves over the heads of us blockers.
With the blinding sun behind them, however, it hurt we blockers’ eyes to even look in their direction. We beheld only hurtling silhouettes, with no white rings or colorful heads to distinguish roosters from the protected hens.
Dozens flew within my range, but I could not identify a rooster and did not fire a shot. Our combined bag, after the most auspicious opening day start in our experience, consisted of three roosters.
That’s all right, we thought; many of these naive, previously unhunted birds will scatter across the 160 acres of grassland at our disposal, and we will fill our three-bird limits one by one.
One by one we gradually added to our bag before the intervals between flushes lengthened to the point of diminishing returns.
After a nearly mistake-free hunt, in which we hit every rooster we shot at and recovered all but one of our downed birds, we quit shortly after noon with 14 roosters — 16 shy of our lofty early expectations.
But in years hence when we think of the 2021 season opener, it will not be with disappointment.
We will recall with admiration the pheasants’ uncanny ability to foil a good plan well executed by a large group of experienced hunters and dogs.
And with wonder and gratitude — and perhaps a touch of “Did that really happen?” — we will replay our mental promotional videos of pheasant hunting in Iowa.