What is it about pheasants? Why do hunters pack one-star motels and race down gravel roads to beat other hunters to their pre-determined location? Heck, at some lodges in South Dakota, folks spend hundreds of dollars a day to shoot three birds. Often over someone else’s dogs. Hunters simply get crazy about pheasants.
I was part of the chaos and have been for over 20 years. As I left town the Friday before opener, every dog kennel in truck beds that I saw headed to pheasant country, gave me some angst. Seeing personalized license plates that read POYNTR, HNTMUP, RNGNEK, didn’t help either.
But, as it has for many others, it is often about tradition more than the hunting. The same hunting partners, the same rooster honey holes and the same corny jokes during lunch. “Never have we ever seen a guy miss a rooster over a point!” or "I don't shoot the juveniles, that was the new guy." The only things that change over time are the dogs, unfortunately.
Once again, I woke up Saturday morning before the alarm. I grabbed my coffee cup and told Ryan and Kale to meet me at The Spot. Sitting in the truck, for 45 minutes before dawn, I questioned my sanity, vowing to not do it again next year. I mean it this time. The Spot isn’t typically loaded with birds, but it is good enough. And it was again. We had our limit of nine birds, with a lot of help from experienced dogs that ranged in age from six to 12. And, by golly, someone did miss a bird over a point. And to the Holier-Than-Thou types that like to respond with, "Bird hunting shouldn't be about limits", well I agree. Except for pheasant opener. It is often about limits. Even tailgate photos. Sorry. If I see someone one hunting at 4PM on pheasant opener, they are either a poor shot or are breaking the rules and are working on limit #2. Or they really overslept.
By day three, when birds were running, some running ahead and flushing wild, things got sporty. And when an experienced dog plays the game of chase, point, chase, point and you are able to keep up to get a shot at that crafty rooster, then there is a sense of gamesmanship and great appreciation for just how good a dog’s nose is. That is hunting, not just shooting ,like opening day was.
The only negatives this pheasant opener were extreme winds, (gusts to 50 mph on that Sunday) and the loss of CRP, which has reduced the amount of bird habitat by over 50% the past three years. The glory days of Montana pheasant hunting might be over, but they are still good to enough to get up really early for, just to get your spot, one last time.