WOODS AND WATERS: Pheasants today and the old pine stump

By Ed Gilbert • Last Updated 10:14 am on Monday, October 29, 2012

Pheasant hunting is different now than it used to be. Early, traditional pheasant hunting, say in the 1930s, in places like South Dakota or even here in Michigan, were mostly a large group activity.

Now, most of us hunt alone or with a friend or two, even sharing a dog, and don’t go much for larger areas of cover during the fall or winter hunts where roosters will make fools of us. Rather, we go for cover such as fence rows, abandoned farm acreage, overgrown ditches and even old stump rows.

Today requires a hunter to be sneaky. Sometimes we quickly advance a few yards through  likely pheasant habitat, and then pause for a few moments before continuing. The birds will become nervous and eventually flush, when you’re right up on ‘em. They will also hold better for a dog before flushing in slim cover.

But roosters always seem to have an escape plan, which they throw into gear as the pressure increases. They often run and sneak more, so a good shot becomes more difficult.

Now, that old stump row I mentioned above reminds me of a particular hunt I had with my dog, Mr. Chips. It was winter and we weren’t pheasant hunting at all. At the time there was no winter hunt going on, and the fact is we were chasing after some cottontail rabbits.

We had by-passed an old stump row and were about to enter a likely looking hedgerow when there was a slight noise, so I glanced back at the row of stumps as I stopped. Mr. Chips also stopped, and we both sort of moved in on those stumps to investigate.

Suddenly a ring neck went up from under the protection of one of those large, tipped-up stumps, his flapping wings making the snow swirl and forming a dozen or so tiny, dazzling rainbows.

I watched as the beautiful bird flew out a ways, to eventually level off and glide to a halt amid some corn stubble. Then I turned and began to walk onward, but suddenly realized Mr. Chips hadn’t followed my lead. Turning, I saw that the dog was instead continuing to sneak up on that old pine stump, his tail going like an egg beater.

Then suddenly another pheasant took flight, and another, and still another. I stood in awe with my shotgun pointing downward and watched as no less than nine roosters flew out from under that old stump! Nine ring necks, and no winter pheasant season!

Well, Mr. Chips finally turned about and looked at me as though I may need my head examined, as though asking, “I found them, so why didn’t you shoot?”

I petted my old pardner and said, “Good job, but too bad we can’t find a bonanza like that during pheasant season…Come on, let’s see if we can find a rabbit or two.”

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