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My First Pheasantby Mike Carey, November 01, 2016
I got to spend three wonderful days of pheasant hunting with my son Matthew in the beautiful Montana outdoors, outside of Great Falls. We hunted on both public land and some private farm land. The long weekend (Sat, Sun, Mon) had a mix of so-so weather to glorious weather, long and short hikes, a two hour ordeal of Matt’s car being stuck in the mud, and hunting ranging from seeing no pheasant to Matt’s Brittany, Murphy flushing a dozen in one location. Besides getting to spend a lot of time with my son (the best part by far) this trip also featured my first ever pheasant!
Our weekend actually started off with a trap shooting season on Friday to warm up. I shot well, and felt confident for the hunts to come. I’m learning that trap shooting is NOT the same as shooting at a live, flushed bird. But even so, it was a good start to the weekend.
Saturday morning dawned damp and cold. I was very grateful for my GH Unders base layer. They kept me warm in the morning and cool later in the day hiking. We hunted private land with a one of Matt’s friends. Our guide for the morning was twelve year old Kale. I have to say, in Montana kids sure seem to be mature for their age, with a level of responsibility and confidence you don’t often see in kids on the West Coast.
Kale was a great guide for us. We worked various locations on their farm/ranch and I got to see Murphy in action. He’s still quite young, seven months, and is learning each trip. Even so, it was cool to watch him working prime holding spots and then seeing him get “birdy” and flush out pheasant. We had several hens and roosters flush but were unable to hit any. None the less, it was a good start to the weekend, giving us confidence we’d bag some birds this trip. After hunting in the morning with Kale we headed over to the Freeze Lake hunting area and worked a large field. Murphy flushed out one rooster which was a bit of a long shot and we weren’t able to bring him down. High point of the day – Murphy getting down on all fours, on his belly, totally stopped and looking at something in the brush. Me being a beginner I started walking toward Murphy telling him to keep moving when suddenly a rooster flushed up right in front of me! How I missed that bird I’ll never know. Oh ya, that’s right, I’m a beginner, only my second trip hunting pheasants.
The next day the morning and early afternoon was spent watching the Seahawks football game. After that we drove to a nearby public land and hunted a very nice looking stretch of land that Matt had success at earlier in the year, including a not so good flushing of a porcupine which poor Murphy had ended up at the vet to deal with quill removal. No porcupine this afternoon, nor pheasants. We were down to one last day to get our birds…
Monday morning. Rain during the night and the field roads were a bit muddier than we expected. Driving early and in the dark, we headed down a dirt road that was in reality a mud road. Much to our dismay we were stuck. Fortunately there is always AAA. In no time at all the tow truck came and pulled us out. The driver was amused and I’m sure he spotted us for non-native Montaninites. He did earn a nice tip for his efforts and off we went to check out another (non-muddy) location.
The farm we got to hunt had the best pheasant holding terrain I had ever seen with my neophyte eyes. A berm, 30 feet wide, 15 feet to the bottom, with marshy center and cattails providing thick cover looked to be ideal. Matt and I walked on opposite sides looking down as Murphy got right into the cover. We’d see him jump occasionally, cattails rustling. Then he’d be on the edges with that “birdy” look and sure enough, a hen or rooster would flush. We repeated this at least five times walking the quarter mile of this berm, and missed five roosters. Now I could blame Murphy’s youth as several of those roosters got flushed pretty far from us. I know Murphy will become more disciplined and not range so far ahead of us. I also know we will shot better next time.
I’ll admit, we were frustrated after missing all those flushed birds. We decided to explore some other spots and give the location a rest, and return later.
We drove around, avoiding muddy roads and a repeat of the morning’s folly. One last effort at Freeze Lake with no success and it was back to our private farm location to try the marshy berms again.
This time Murph was noticeably more tired and moving slower and steady. Or maybe he was just gaining experience as were Matt and I. Before we even had a chance to start a rooster flushed in front of us. Crap! The bird flushed on its own and farther down the berm. We continued on, trying to keep ahead of the now (tired) Murphy.
Reaching the end of the property we turned around and headed back. Another rooster flushed up as we worked our way back and once again our aim was not good. I will be the first to admit, this hunting stuff is pretty addicting - and challenging. It’s like fly fishing and trying to land your fly in a specific spot. It takes practice. The fact is, there are all kinds of parallels between hunting and fishing, including many of the standard fishing clichés we all know and love. “can’t catch em if your line isn’t in the water” translates to “can’t shot them if you aren’t hunting em”. I also couldn’t help but notice the “feast or famine” aspect. Some fields we’d get nothing, others a few, and this spot – wow, lots of action!
The sun was getting lower and it was time to go. One last stretch of about a hundred yards of marsh left. Murphy, rutting in the marsh, getting birdy on us, I’m ready. Will it be one last chance before the end of my pheasant trip? Suddenly, Murphy pushes forward and the cattails explode with the sound of wings flapping. The rooster is coming toward me as I’m ahead of Murphy. I have the perfect location and ample time to raise my gun to my shoulder. The bird is now just slightly below me and tracking away. It’s the perfect deflection shot of about 15 yards. I sight and pull the trigger of my 12 gauge Berretta Outlander. I have a perfect aim and the bird drops in flight to the marsh below. Matt and I simultaneously let out an excited yell and then Matt tells me “keep an eye where he landed, he may only be wounded and may be running”. Hey, this wasn’t in the program! I’m super excited about getting my first rooster and now I may not actually get to have him? No way! We secure our guns and descend into the cattails and start looking for my bird. Murphy is one step ahead of us though and quickly has the dead rooster firmly in his grip. The pheasant is a real beauty, with a 19" tail (Matt told me that was a good sized bird).
Matt and I sit down and enjoy the moment. A son’s joy at having guided his father to his first pheasant, and my joy at having shot my first pheasant are framed by the sinking sun bathing us in a sunset never to leave our memories. The day is complete and the weekend a success beyond measure. It’s my first pheasant and a father and son bonding experience that is what life is all about.
Later, Matt showed me how to skin and clean a pheasant. I am again reminded how my son has grown into a man. I recall the past fishing trips where I have taught Matt various aspects of fishing. Now the son is teaching the father. Life comes full circle. I am blessed beyond words. And I look forward to my next opportunity to share the great Montana outdoors with my son.
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