A pheasant hunt in Kansas (Nov. 19th~21st)
The 2010 North American Falconers Association (NAFA) meet in Dodge City, Kansas (Nov. 21st~24th)
An elk hunt in the mountains of Colorado (Nov. 26~28th)
I guess the best place to start is at the very beginning!
One of my best friends, Joel, and I loaded his truck and headed out late Friday morning headed to Kansas. Our eventual objective was the NAFA meet in Dodge City but for the last few years I've gone to Kansas to shoot pheasants with my father. He couldn't make it this year but since Joel and I were headed in that direction anyway we thought we'd leave a bit early and do some shooting before the meet started.
To be honest there's not much to write about the first couple days. We drove to a few of the walk-in areas around the town we were going to be staying in the first night just to get the lay of the land and only had time to walk one before the sun set on us. Unlike when I go with my father, we didn't have dogs, so it was a tall order for just the two of us to push some of the native grassland. We got two hens up but didn't fire a shot. In fact, we saw more prairie falcons that first day then we saw pheasants! One actually hung around the field we were hunting and did a few flybys. Being falconers and all, we thought it was pretty cool but we did want to find some pheasants! As we were packing our guns back at the truck we saw a MONSTER whitetail buck but went to our hotel empty handed.
We misjudged when the sun would rise the next morning. We crossed from mountain time to central time on our way over which put sunrise closer to 7:30 rather than 6:30! So we bounced along the back roads in the dark and arrived at our first planned location well before shooting time. I'd hunted this area a few times with my father and knew there were pheasants about but dogs were definitely the difference in the equation this time.
When the sun finally did rise we set off over the grassland and I quickly realized that without dogs the birds were likely to run circles around us. Again we flushed a couple of hens but nothing we could shoot at. We went a little further down the road and watched a rooster fly from a controlled shooting area (basically a place you have to pay to hunt) across the road to a field where we could hunt. A good sign! Just behind him we watched another rooster sneak out of the grass with a hen in tow. They were smart birds though as they stopped in the middle of the road and looked right at us, frozen for about 30 seconds before deciding they would rather take their chances in the controlled shooting area than deal with us. The rooster and hen in the road flew back in that direction and when they did the grass around them erupted in 30 or 40 pheasants following their lead in the opposite direction of where we wanted them to go! So much for that spot as the lone rooster that had flown across the road heard the ruckus and made his escape as well.
We headed southeast toward Garden City, our next destination. A small stand of evergreens along the way yielded three roosters that flushed out of range but flew to a field where we knew we could find them. We spotted all three out in a wheat field and opted to go after the pair that were closer together hoping to get both. My nerves get the best of me when hunting though and a poorly timed flush on my part prevented Joel from getting a shot (a recurring theme on this trip). I did drop one rooster though so we had our first bird for the trip.
The rest of the day was nothing to blog about. Lots of walking through large grass fields where I'm sure most of the birds just hunkered down and let us walk right past them. We pulled in to Garden City having hunted hard all day with only the one bird to show for it. Luckily we were able to find a nearby sports bar that was showing the UFC card that night and that took our minds off an otherwise disappointing day.
Sunday was going to be our last day of shooting and by now we had a better idea of the kind of cover we needed to find if we were going to be effective. With just the two of us we had to have something to push the birds in to, an empty field or road, otherwise they could avoid us rather easily. We were also hoping to find walk-ins that had been planted with some type of crop since the grasslands were obviously unmanageable. We found a perfect spot with cut milo and a thin row of grass separating it from thicker cover. Joel walked on one side of the grass and I walked on the other and low and behold right near the end a rooster flushed out Joel's side and a single shot brought it down. Finally Joel had gotten a bird and I didn't feel so bad about screwing up the first opportunity when I'd gone mine!
We headed back to the car and realized that it had gotten rather warm. I had on two pairs of pants and winter boots and it was simply too much. Joel also opted to shed some layers at the truck and as we were both changing he suddenly yells, "Two roosters just landed in that field right behind you!" Talk about being caught with your pants down! I quickly laced up my shoes, grabbed my gun and we both headed to where he'd seen them put in. I jumped into the brush and sure enough a rooster flushed just to my left. I took a wild shot with my first barrel, missing completely, and then his tail exploded as Joel shot. I regained my composure and dropped him with my second barrel. Good team work! We called it an assist as I gathered the bird and went looking for the other that Joel had seen. Unfortunately, the second wily bird snuck out behind us and made his getaway well out of range. But we were starting to see birds, and put a few in the bag, this was good!
We were getting closer to Dodge City, our final destination, but still wanted to check out a few more walk-ins before we called it good. As we continued our search I saw a suspicious looking minivan parked on the road. Hunters? we wondered as we approached but a minivan didn't fit the typical profile. "I'll bet they're falconers!" I told Joel and as we passed we noticed that one of the two individuals standing at the back of the vehicle had a falcon in hand. We pulled over and chatted for a minute and they showed us a freshly trapped prairie falcon they'd just caught. It turned out that me and one of the guys knew each other online! They were looking for merlins so we told them were we'd seen a few and wished them the best before continuing on. We definitely got the sense that we were getting close to the falconry meet though!
We stopped at another walk-in when Joel noticed a hen walking toward the road. She flushed but we thought it was a sign that this would be a good spot. We stopped the truck, hopped out and no sooner had I loaded my gun and shut the door when pheasants erupted all around me! There must've been 40 birds that started popping up like popcorn. I quickly dropped one rooster and yelled for Joel who was on the other side of the truck still getting ready. We both missed our subsequent shots but wow, what a start to this area! It turned out to be as good as we hoped with cover that worked perfectly for the two of us. Joel made a beautiful shot on a rooster that was quite a ways away and despite watching him drop like a stone in a wide open spot we made the critical mistake of taking our eyes off him once he hit the ground. He must've had enough left in him to crawl to cover somewhere because despite looking for him for 45 minutes we couldn't find him. I really hate to lose birds, again, we needed dogs! We got one more rooster up at the end of a small patch of cover and I put him down with my first barrel. The only other exciting thing that happened in that field is that I walked right over a rattlesnake! I thought it was kinda cool, Joel wasn't as excited...
So 4 birds for the day, 5 total for the trip, and we ran in to another set of falconers before we called it good. Not excellent by any means but all things considered we'd done fairly well for two guys without dogs once we found the type of cover we could work effectively. I should've taken more pictures but didn't think to pull out the camera until we'd arrived at our camp in Dodge City. Here's all I've got:
We actually found one more spot, a small abandoned farmstead, that produced a whole bunch of birds but they flushed two far out for either Joel or myself to shoot at. We made a note of it though and figured we'd hit it again on our way back from Dodge (more on that later!).
So the shooting had ended and we'd arrived at the Gypsy Hawkers camp in Dodge City, Kansas. It was time to fly birds. Part 2 of the manliest of man weeks will follow...