Western Natives

FIRST TIME UPLAND

– PHEASANT HUNTING EASTERN COLORADO –

November has always been a busy month for me afield. I usually find myself in a with freezing fingers rigging up decoys in a duck marsh or in a corn field on my hands and knees jamming corn stock down my stubble straps until you can’t make out the lay down blind under it. Although I am an avid bird hunter during this time of year, my experience had only left me in pursuit of waterfowl and the occasional grouse during archery season.

I have always wanted to try my luck at upland bird hunting but with little knowledge of the tactics and the craft, I didn’t know the first steps on getting out there and getting birds to flush. It wasn’t until November of 2016 when I got invited out on my friend’s an annual bird hunt that I had the chance to chase ring neck pheasant.

Author: Brian Waugh

Author: Brian Waugh

MERINO, COLORADO 2016

I had my gear packed and ready to go the night before.

Gun. Check.
4 Shot. Check.
Camera. Check.
Blaze Orange. Hell Yeah!

I felt ready to experience my first upland bird hunt in eastern Colorado. This would be my first ever upland game hunt ever in fact, I was a total noob looking to revel in my first time hunting upland. I wanted to experience it all, trekking through sage brush, sneaking over rolling knuckles in hope to bust birds and the excitement of shouldering my shotgun at any given moment if a rooster were to pop up.

The goal for this hunt was to be in the field and ready to hunt at sunrise. However, on this particular day I was late. So late in fact I thought there was no way I was going to make the hunt at all. I woke up at 8 AM! The one time I actually slept through my alarm on a hunting day.

I woke up to a call from my buddy Austin asking about my ETA. Immediately swear words dropped out of my mouth as I jumped out of bed and rushed to throw on all my gear. I currently reside in Denver and I knew the only way I could make it is if I flew in my SUV. I had my gear packed and ready to go, so I jumped in the car and went East. At this point I wasn’t sure if I was going to hunt or not, I just new I was making the drive to at least experience part of the event.

Upon my tardy arrival, I made it to the farm 30 minutes late from the time we were supposed to be in the field. I pulled up to the CRP to find my crew sweeping towards me. Besides the loud blaze orange vests on all of the hunters; all you could see was a dog running around side to side in the zone. I jumped out of my truck and grabbed my gear and joined the hunt.

This was the following weekend after the opener, so I was told a lot of the birds had been pushed out of the area. However, my excitement was high nonetheless. This was the first time I got to learn and experience the trade of upland bird hunting, something that I always aspired to try since both my grandfathers were avid upland bird hunters.

I quickly observed the tactics as the group came my way, the sweep of a field was a new hunting tactic in my play-book. I knew that pheasant were notorious for holding tight, sometimes without even moving from their bunker in the bush. On this particular day the frost had really changed the game (or so I was informed). After the first sweep, the guys hunting in our group said that this frost can really lock up the birds and makes flushing more challenging.

As the crew made it back to my side of the CRP I was ready and then joined in for the second round of sweeping the field.

This time the plan was to go slower and change the angle of our approach. We jumped into it right away. Everyone spaced out along the roadside around me. After we got into position, the guy on the end raised his hand and started his pace into the brush.

From left to right, everyone descends into the field from the road. All maintaining an equal spread, we kept pace in our search. From the right there was a movement in the field.

Someone to my left yelled, “Hen!”

I quickly jumped to see what was going on as a hen ringneck flew out of our sight.

Dang!, I thought to myself. “That bird could really move.” She flew out of our range incredibly fast and I knew that the roosters were going to have the same flight pattern if not better. I knew this required a well placed shot and quick draw of my Winchester SX3 without hesitation.

As we continued through the field, I saw Nina-dog running in between us all with her head down and nose up on the search for another bird. Nina, the experienced brown lab was more ready than I. Next thing you know, she did it. She flushed a bird! Everyone on one side of the field noticed and the only thing you hear from across the line is, “ROOSTER!”, “ROOSTER!”,¬†“ROOSTER!”

This was the third of the day, they got two birds in the morning before I arrived to the field.

Immediately afterwards, gunshots.
Everyone on the east of me who witness the same bird flush.
POP!
POP!

The ringneck flew my way as I saw shotgun wads from the others flying at him. He was peppered, but not slowing down, he came in reach after the first shot. I snap into action and raised my SX3 to shoulder it and get on target. I get my fiber optics on the bird without haste and squeezed the trigger as I swepped my gun through his flight pattern.

There he went, down out of the sky and into the brush and at that very moment I had shot my very first Ringneck Pheasant! I couldn’t describe how I felt, from a morning of stress and not knowing if I would make the hunt to having a my very first bird from the prairie.

I couldn’t wait to see him, Nina and I rushed over to get our reward. Of course she beat me to the bird, she was ecstatic to have filled her desire to hunt and stood by her work to present her achievement. I snapped a picture as it lay, fresh from the field and ready to be dressed. However this was just the first field of our day, we wouldn’t clean the birds until we try all of the walk-in-access spots in the area. I remember thinking I couldn’t wait to try it, I had already planned a recipe to make with my family at home and was stoked to be able to share the meal with my family.

Throughout the rest of the day we were able to bag more roosters, after the third bird I got to shoot at, I felt like I was really getting the hang of upland hunting. This type of hunting requires you to be on your toes and ready for birds to fly in any direction, I was fortunate enough to have been given multiple chances to get on target and put my clay pigeon shooting practice to the test.

 

Ringneck pheasants are located in nearly every state in the U.S, in fact, chances are many people are within a fairly short drive from decent walk-in access¬†pheasant hunting land. For this reason, the birds are often some of first targets of upland bird hunters. Many hunters find pheasant a pleasure to hunt with dogs and the upland culture can be intoxicating and addictive to people willing to put in the time to train their pups. Upland hunting is great because you are able to have fairly consistent success with or without a dog, it’s typically easy terrain to navigate, and the ability to scout large sections of land with nothing but a public lands map that outlines the private land, you don’t want to end up hunting someone else’s land.

Originally brought to the U.S from Asia in the 1800s ringnecked pheasants today number in the millions and can be found across most of the country and in the West. This bird can survive in a variety of climates topographies but typically reside at lower elevations near farm fields. This bird is easily among the most sought after upland bird by active bird hunters. Pheasants, who are actually not native to the United States. Have thrived in a foreign environment that they made their own throughout the centuries and we are lucky to have such a great game species so widely available to hunt in the West.