With my clean conscience, I instantly fall asleep most nights.
But not on Jan. 10, when I was still abuzz with excitement from the last day of the 2019-20 pheasant hunting season.
As I mentally reviewed the day’s hunt, which ended early with limits of roosters arrayed for a tailgate photo, still potent memories of blurred wings and cackling beaks held sleep at bay.
The hunt confounded the low expectations with which I and my regular hunting buddies, Arthur Clark and Terry Franck, both of Quasqueton, approach end-of-season hunts.
For us, late-season hunts typically consist of many legally protected hens and an occasional hunting pressure-hardened rooster escaping well beyond gun range.
Such was not the case, however, when we closed the season in a 160-acre bloc of Conservation Reserve Program grasslands in north-central Iowa. Based on the pheasants’ overall abundance, the almost equal distribution of roosters and hens and their uncharacteristic tendency to flush at close range, it was more like opening day on a private South Dakota farm than the last day of the season in Iowa.
Three guys and two dogs cut a narrow swath through a quarter section of head-high switch grass. On our two earlier visits to the same field, the birds either flew well in advance of our approach or sneaked away from our path.
For some inexplicable reason, however, this time we seemed to take them by surprise. The dogs indicated the presence of several of the roosters we shot, while others burst from cover without warning.
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For every rooster that startled us with nearby flushes, at least two tight-sitting hens did likewise.
On one across-and-back pass through the CRP, Arthur recorded six such hen flushes, including one that brushed his pants as she exploded like a hand grenade between his legs.
After the sixth pulse-racing flush, Arthur berated Gunny, his German shorthaired pointer, for the lack of warning. Then, declaring his heart fit for further service, he expressed doubt any physician could come up with a better stress test.
Such sudden stimuli trigger instant releases of the so-called “fight or flight” hormone, yielding what is often referred to as an adrenaline rush.
Adrenaline, released in stressful, dangerous, threatening or even just exciting situations, makes the heart beat faster, increases blood flow to the brain and muscles and stimulates the body to make sugar for use as fuel.
Most of the physiological effects of an adrenaline rush — rapid breathing and heart rate, heightened senses, increased strength and performance, higher pain threshold — can help law enforcement officers, combat personnel and others engaged in dangerous occupations.
Certain recreational pursuits — sky diving, cliff jumping, bungee jumping, white-water rafting — derive at least some of their appeal from the adrenaline buzz their adherents experience.
While I am too risk-averse to ever become an adrenaline junkie, I do relish the afterglow of a top-water bass strike or a flushing cackler. So too, apparently, do my hunting buddies, who each acknowledged still enjoying “a little buzz” 24 hours after our season-ending hunt.