Outdoors

Aging outdoorsmen find fun, and pheasants, in ditch

Wildside: Fences get taller, creeks get wider for older hunters

Gunny delivers a ring-necked pheasant to his master, Arthur Clark of Quasqueton, during a recent roadside ditch hunt in
Gunny delivers a ring-necked pheasant to his master, Arthur Clark of Quasqueton, during a recent roadside ditch hunt in Buchanan County. (Orlan Love/correspondent)

Hunting pheasants is not for the old and decrepit, but my friend and hunting companion, Arthur Clark of Quasqueton, and I, both in our 70s, have found with some accommodations in style, technique and expectations, it remains an enjoyable and rewarding pastime.

That age is catching up to us was subtly impressed upon me earlier this year when Arthur was having trouble keeping Gunny, his excellent 5-year-old German shorthaired pointer, from escaping his kennel and running about town.

So exasperated was Arthur that he considered taking Gunny to a veterinarian for surgery to curb his wanderlust.

That would be a shame, I said, if it happens before he sires a pup to eventually take his place.

In a tone that sounded like he was outing Santa Claus, Arthur replied, “Just how many more pups do you think we’re going to need?”

Our aging has coincided with adverse landscape changes that include taller fences, wider creeks, steeper banks, denser thickets, more cloying vegetation and a 50 percent increase in the force of gravity.

Whereas we once stepped over fences, bounded up and down steep banks, leapt creeks and bulled through horseweeds and canary grass, we now crawl under or through fences, slide down banks on our butts and pull ourselves up them with handfuls of grass and roots, wade across creeks in rubber boots and steer around dense cover.

Whereas we once ran to get into position for an imminent flush, we now walk a little faster and hope for the best.

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Whereas we once eschewed roadside ditches as legitimate pheasant habitat, we now appreciate the easy walking afforded by rural gravel roads.

We find Iowa’s 750,000 acres of roadside ditches especially inviting in December, when competition with shotgun deer hunters makes traditional habitat less appealing and when their forays might force pheasants to flee their traditional haunts and take refuge along nearby roads.

The best ditches of course flank little traveled gravel roads with few, if any, occupied farmsteads, and they lie adjacent to pheasants’ favorite food source, untilled harvested cornfields.

They also contain pheasant-preferred vegetation ranging from tall horseweed for cover from aerial predators and fluffy foxtail and brome for cozy roosting and lounging to dense cattails and snake grass, among which pheasants seem to feel especially secure.

During the week before Christmas, when unseasonably warm weather made Buchanan County feel like a southern vacation, Arthur and I, and the still-intact Gunny, hit the ditches on three successive afternoons.

In addition to fresh air, exercise and sunshine vitamin D, we harvested three roosters — a much preferable alternative to sitting in the big chair, getting gooned on Prevagen and shouting out wrong “Jeopardy” answers in the form of a question.

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