Dennis Anderson: Pheasants, for the stress

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 13, 2011 - 11:56 PM

So much of what society throws at us is made more palatable when it is interrupted by a walk afield, shotgun in hand, a dog working just ahead.

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Jack Rendulich of Duluth admires three roosters bagged during a late-season pheasant hunt in 2009.

Photo: Doug Smith, Star Tribune

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The wiser among us limit our exposure to contemporary distractions, among them the economy, also too many crackpots running for too many offices and, not least, the health scare du jour, most recently that posed to our longevity by ... vitamins!

Pay too much attention to these and the result, oftentimes, is pain radiating from the neck into the jaw, finally twisting the brain, also multiple tics, for which perhaps the best antidote might be the placement of a really big gun in one's cold bare hands.

Which is what the state's pheasant hunters will do Saturday, their boots laced high, the wild thing just up ahead. If there's a surprise, it's that the entire populace won't be similarly armed and in lockstep, parading hither and yon, the state's grand collection of dogs also out ahead, the whole bunch barking and yipping, alert for roosters.

Really, pheasant hunting is that much fun, and it speaks to mankind's tendency toward sloth that perhaps only 75,000 human-canine tag teams will be afield when the season's opening bell rings at 9 a.m. Saturday.

Yes, the time between flushes will be longer this season than last, due to the cruelties of winter and perils of wet springs. But when a big boy finally erupts, all florid and feathery, long tail trailing behind -- the white ring around its neck resplendent against the bluest of skies -- scattergunners of all ages will grin as they touch their triggers. Boom. And perhaps boom, boom again.

Wackos who troll the Internet dispensing vacuous observations make something of the ring-necked pheasant's illegitimacy as a native species. Well, OK, we got them from China. But in Minnesota and most every other place, homeboy prairie chicken and sharp-tailed grouse had already been doomed to irrelevancy as game birds. Sadly, their lives did not align well with agriculture, particularly with the advent of eight-wheel-drive tractors and 20-bottom plows, to which pheasants have accommodated, more or less, kinda.

I myself have outlasted a small kennel of dogs in the pursuit of these birds. And outlasted some trouble as well. Some years back my friends and I were run out of a motel in a town that will remain unnamed, the proprietor huffing in our rearview mirror about our parentage and, as I recall, throwing a shoe at our fast-departing truck. The allegation that one in our bunch had bathed his skunk-laden springer spaniel in his rented room never was confirmed by a court of law. Therefore it didn't happen. And if it did, I didn't condone it.

I have told the story before about an opening day some years back when my friends and I were parked in a lot adjoining a state wildlife management area. We had arrived early and planned to high-step it, phalanx-like, through the entirety of the area beginning at 9. But a few minutes before that time, a wreck of an old pickup with oversized rubber showed up with three ragamuffins scrunched shoulder-to-shoulder up front and a ribby cur dog in the back.

"I'll talk to them,'' I said.

Knocking on the driver's side window, I soon was face to face with a guy who might have been 21 but more likely was 18 with a fake I.D.

"What's the plan?'' I asked.

"The plan is to be in the Danvers bar by noon,'' the kid said.

On Thursday, in this newspaper, you could read about how to cook a pheasant. The best advice is "while drinking whiskey.'' Really. Also, when the October moon is big, as it is now, and the shooting done for the day, if someone fires up a grill and a half-dozen pheasant breasts are sliced thin, not quite like prosciutto, but thereabouts, and the whole bunch dipped into melted butter, seasoned and braised quickly over coals, flames will dance against the coming dark night. Your dogs will curl into themselves in the shadows. And all the day's pressures will dissipate, the jaw relaxed first, then the neck and finally the mind.

The other day, my 16-year-old son and I were driving along, talking about the pheasant opener and its many pleasures, when a guy in a Prius passed us.

"I'd like to get the mileage that guy gets,'' I said.

"It's not about mileage, Dad,'' my son said. "It's about being an American. Will Farrell and Mark Wahlberg taught us that in 'The Other Guys.' ''

I acknowledged the point. You can, too. Come Saturday, find yourself some open space, cradle a 12 gauge in your cold bare hands, and walk. The wild thing will be just up ahead. Maybe even a pheasant.

danderson@startribune.com

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