The 3 Things That Make a Successful Pheasant Hunt

   11.06.14

It’s another day. Another highway. One city after another—Nashville, St. Louis, Kansas City; then the plains of the Midwest. But this time, as in all road trips with the grandeur of the outdoors at its inevitable end, the miles are just a bit shorter, and the hours spent traveling transform my body and soul into an earlier time when nothing mattered more than watching the world slowly pass by.

Can you say that each hunting trip is the same? Does the elk’s bugle inject the same adrenaline rush as the cackling pheasant flushing underfoot? We all have our preferences, but there are some important ingredients that lead to a successful hunt when large groups convene for some outdoors revival—especially when the target is pheasant (or virtually any bird shot on the wing). We all have varying opinions and testimonies that point to general beliefs, but I think this should about cover the basics. In no particular order, here’s what matters to me.

The perfect spot

This, I guess, is rather arbitrary. That “good” spot is whatever you deem to be a good one. For us it’s a little farm near Gregory, South Dakota, which we visit once a year for a few days of pheasant hunting. So many things make this place perfect—it’s just a little hunting camp where the farmer only caters to people he knows. We’re lucky in that regard. The birds are wild and hardly pressured. The refrigerator stays stocked, as does the bar. A different cut of Black Angus from the farmer’s herd greets us at the table each night.

A good dog

I watched an amazing transformation just last year in the same spot we’re now heading. My friend Lyle’s lab, Bella, had never seen a pheasant, much less hunted them. The first day out she did okay as novice dogs go, stayed close, but what we didn’t realize was that she had plans of her own. She watched. The farmer’s dog is a big chocolate lab named Cocoa that spends most of the season running the milo and cornfields and passing through the cedar boughs of the long windrows. Bella took note of every aspect of Cocoa’s game and not only did her actions reflect his by the second day, but he had surrendered the Alpha position to her by early afternoon. A smart dog that requires minimal training is one of the sweet things in life.

The right friends

This to me, having the right friends is the most important aspect of any trip. I’ve hunted with people of all kinds, from friends and family to other writers on sponsored hunts. While some of the latter are fun, I know I don’t get the full benefit of the hunt itself if I don’t have a close companion with me. It’s a safe bet when the bond has long since been made. And as I sit here now, not even an hour from home to hunt pheasants in the Midwest for the umpteenth time, I still feel like a kid when my father would check me out of school at noon on a Wednesday to begin our journey. Now I’m grown, and it’s with three great friends with which I share an RV. My father is heading north out of Dallas at this very moment with his best friend. We’re only separated by the miles between us, for we’re all together in the eternal pursuit of the outdoors and everything it has to offer beyond a full game bag.

There are many other things I could have added, like a trusty shotgun, but that’s a given—who wastes an annual hunt with a gun they only kind-of like? Perhaps I should have mentioned the proper way to hold your mouth on a six-man drive to guarantee that bird after bird will spill out your way, each falling to the gun’s report. But again, it’s simply that these are who and what’s important to me. I don’t know that we’ll kill a lot of birds, though I know the experience won’t be ruined if we don’t.

North of Nashville now, the traffic is dense but moving steadily. I long for the moment when it all dissipates in the aftermath of Kansas City and through the windows I only see miles of open land and rolling hills and ravines where so many dreams have begun. And then we’ll be there; far from the beginning of this story that right now has no end in sight.

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