My Blackberry was hot to the touch on Saturday night as emails, texts, Facebook posts and phone calls reported pheasant opener results from South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Results from my circle of friends were mixed, as tends to be the case when you hear from a wide variety of folks hunting a wide array of locations.
As for my Minnesota pheasant hunting party, the key phrase was “dog power.” In total, we had seven hunters behind eight bird dogs on Saturday. Those eight dogs were comprised of five golden retrievers (Tess, Tyson, Duke, Acea and Stella), one Lab (Lucy), one Brittany (Snap), and my shorthair (Trammell). With the pointing breeds sweeping the ends and the flushers crashing through the heavier cover in the middle, we found enough roosters to bag 13 of our 14-bird daily limit on two public Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs) in central Minnesota on Saturday.
I was very surprised at the number of birds we saw considering Minnesota’s roadside count drop of 64 percent. Unfortunately, I heard from a wide variety of folks struggling to bag birds this weekend that believed in every percentage point of Minnesota’s roadside count plunge.
As “Hannibal” used to say on the A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.” We employed many of the strategies I blogged about last week. Here was my group’s ingredient’s for success:
1) Dog Power. When it comes to pheasant hunting, bird dogs are critical. Having eight dogs in the field with us definitely tipped the scales in our favor for finding, flushing and locating downed roosters.
2) Winter Cover. We hunted in two massive WPA complexes on Saturday. In addition to nesting cover grasses, both featured very large cattail sloughs, along with willow thickets and conifer shelter belts. There is no doubt last winter was brutal across central Minnesota; however, the birds that lived in these two spots had the thermal cover necessary to bring adult birds through the winter months.
3) Juveniles Dominated the Bag. At least half of our take on Saturday consisted of very young roosters still developing their full plumage. This likely indicates that hens found some late re-nesting success after failing during the cold and wet spring. The number of juveniles we saw also left me optimistic for hunts in November and December when these youngsters will be easier to identify as roosters.
4) Corn Harvest. The other piece of the puzzle working in our favor on Saturday was the harvest of corn fields immediately adjacent to both of the WPAs we targeted. Not only did both WPAs hold the cover necessary to bring birds through tough weather conditions during the last year, their afternoon all-you-can-eat corn buffet was being removed while we were hunting the fields they were naturally escaping to as the tractor rolled.
If you’ve hunted the openers in North Dakota, Montana, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Minnesota or anywhere else this young season, let me know how things have gone for you by leaving a comment below.