116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Dogs rightly get much of the credit for putting the fun in pheasant hunting, but the birds themselves deserve as much or more.
Apart from their nearly unrivaled physical beauty and their status as a delicacy, they are good at getting away. They don’t call them wily ringnecks for nothing.
The plumage of a rooster pheasant exemplifies the concept of yin-yang, which describes a dynamic balance of opposing but complementary and interconnected forces.
His feathers, so gaudy as to be almost over the top in a sunlit unobstructed view, become invisible in the desiccated vegetation of fall and winter — so much so that you can peer intently for minutes into the square yard of foliage at which a bird dog is staring without ever seeing the object of its attention until it erupts skyward.
For a bird whose physique resembles that of a chicken, pheasants are amazing flyers.
You have the sudden, explosive flush, which can demoralize even veteran hunters and rob us of a substantial part of the two seconds we have to shoot the bird before it’s out of range.
Not to mention, of course, that the pheasant’s wild initial burst of energy so blurs its image that it does not come into sharp focus until after its initial ascent.
Then, at just the optimal time to squeeze the trigger, the rooster catches the wind, which can accelerate its getaway, abet an instant change of direction or both.
Though we humans and our dogs may hunt a patch of cover once or twice during the season, other predators — fox, coyote, hawk, raccoon and skunk — hunt them every day of their lives, sharpening their survival instincts to a point rivaling the spurs of a 2-year-old rooster.
They are especially wily In the last weeks of the season, when snow typically covers the landscape, obliterating much of the cover that is their first line of defense. Then fleeing, their second line of defense, comes to the fore.
During hunts on two of the last three days of the season (which ended Monday), some of the pheasants we saw simply bolted well beyond our shotgun range and sailed to distant cover, while others ran ahead of the dogs a safe distance before taking wing.
On the late afternoon of Jan. 8 — as Terry Franck of Quasqueton, Dave Patterson of Atkins and Rusty Chesmore of Verona, Wis. — advanced with their dogs across a field of grass, about 20 pheasants, an even mix of hens and roosters, flew in high and fast from a distant cornfield and landed in their path.
From my vantage as a blocker at the edge of the grass, the sight of all those birds excited great expectations, which were soon dashed when the drive ended without the appearance of a single, Houdini-like rooster.
Two days later, Arthur Clark of Quasqueton and I went out to hunt a favorite patch of cattails and horseweeds — less in hopes of bagging a rooster than in being able to say we did not let subzero wind chills deter us from hunting on the last day of the season.
They make gloves that will keep your hands warm when the temperature hovers around zero, and they make gloves flexible enough to permit you to work the safety and the trigger of a shotgun. They are not the same gloves. So after our initial birdless and bitterly cold hunt, we called it a day and a season.
Then on the way back to town, we saw two roosters flying from safe cover into a fringe of roadside vegetation about 200 yards ahead of us. We parked the pickup in the middle of a Level B dirt road, turned loose Willow, Arthur’s German shorthaired pointer, loaded our shotguns and advanced upon our quarry, intent upon claiming our season-ending gift.
As we arrived at what we hoped would be the birds’ last hideout, one rooster sprinted to the edge of the cover and flew low out of range. The other flushed in range but caught the north wind with his extended wings and banked hard for safety behind several trees. Both deepened our long-standing appreciation of the ring-necked pheasant’s escape artistry.