Anderson: A day to be dazed by pheasants

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 8, 2012 - 6:42 PM

The rooster crop was as dry as the land on a southwest Minnesota sojourn. But there was no shortage of memories.


Hiking grasslands in hopes a rooster pheasant might flush skyward, cackling, is one of life’s great joys, especially on an unusually temperate December afternoon.

Photo: Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Upland hunters who have made the rounds might favor an old-fashioned Georgia quail hunt over other options. I say this having never done it. I have hunted quail on horseback in west Texas. And near Waco in the same state, I once shot these sporting birds over my setter on a ranch owned by former Twins pitcher Ron Davis. His father, my host, had killed a deer in honor of my arrival, while instructing me, come evening, in the fine regional art form of drinking from a bottle in a paper bag.

I was thinking about this on Tuesday as I loaded a couple of dogs into the truck for a drive to western Minnesota. The forecast called for temperatures in the mid- to high 40s, with a blue sky. This was December, and you couldn't beat it with a stick. The dogs' names were Allie and Brill, and by the time I reached cruising speed they were fast asleep.

Pheasant hunting in Minnesota isn't good these days. The uninitiated might even describe broad swaths of Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Stevens and Renville counties, among others, as vast wastelands of corn and soybean fields. And drain tile. Which they are. But it's also true that among the seams of these producing lands lay patches of residual cover, many on wildlife management areas. Even in late season it's here that the pheasant hunter with a good dog can chamber a load of chilled 4s and not unreasonably expect an occasional rooster to flush.

The trade, of course, is that measurable amounts of boot leather must be exchanged for the opportunity. This can discourage the hunter who hasn't seen better times, or, especially, good times. Those who have, meanwhile, are propelled ever onward even in these lean years by "hunting memories," or recalling occasions long ago in this place or that when not just one cock bird came to wing, or two, but three or even four. This is a very addictive experience, and oftentimes soon following is the purchase of an additional dog and maybe even a new, bigger truck.

Logic is lacking here, but you get the idea.

• • •

Allie and Brill are young, just 2 years of age each, both Labradors, one yellow, one black. When I finally unleashed them from the truck, they couldn't have been happier. The air was clean and crisp, and the dogs sprang ahead of me quickly, noses to the ground. They might have been unsure exactly what they were doing. But they opened their strides and quartered with enthusiasm. I felt good.

To be successful, pheasant hunters must be ever-alert. Cover thickness must be continually assessed for its possible concealment of birds. The countryside's relative undulation and the placement of big bluestem or other grasses alongside corn, whether harvested or standing, also warrant attention.

Paramount in this mix is a hunter's ability to read his or her dog's body language, and equally so a certain shrewdness in imagining how a rooster might flee upon detection.

Most of these birds will run, of course, especially in late season when they know well the dangers of taking wing within gun range. But the bird hunter can be tricked here if he or she races too quickly ahead, or pushes dogs to do so. Often a rooster will double back, or hunker so low that the hunter oversteps him, unaware of the mistake until the gaudy bird flushes well behind.

Important also in this bird-finding equation are appreciation of wind direction and the experience of the attending dog, the best of which will turn themselves inside out to find their quarry.

• • •

I saw enough hens that under ideal conditions will help seed a good crop of birds next spring and summer, an upbeat note.

Two roosters also revealed themselves, florid specimens beneath the bright December sun. But they flushed wild and offered no shots.

There you go, I figured: late-season pheasant hunting.

Reloading the dogs into the truck, I angled toward Nobles County where, I knew, Scott Rall of Worthington was hosting various riffraff from the Twin Cities, all of whom, like me, on this day were playing hooky from more responsible endeavors.

Finding this bunch scattered hither and yon on 80 acres of rehabilitated farmland, I watched first from a distance as the late-afternoon sun alternately illuminated and shadowed their blaze-orange caps, vests and jackets.

One and all, the hunters bore arms and high-stepped through tall grass, exercising not so much their Second Amendment rights as their need for mental-health breaks, the likes of which few shrinks prescribe.

Here the reader might expect a certain crescendo of activity leading to, metaphorically, a tympani roll and cymbal crash, followed by descriptions of game straps heavy with pheasants.

In fact, some birds were in hand by day's end.

But when darkness had fully enveloped southwest Minnesota late Tuesday afternoon, that hardly seemed the point of the day's efforts.

Or at least not the only point.

Tired now, the dogs had been given a good workout and were that much closer to understanding the wiles and wherefore of pheasants, no small shakes.

Also, Scott and I and the others had traded some boot leather for new insights into just how dry western and southern Minnesota are, an unhealthy situation not only for pheasants and other wildlife, but for farmers and their crops.

And therefore for all of us.

Sheathing our guns, we followed soon our trucks' headlights, trailing long plumes of dust and using up ground in the direction of Rushmore, Minn., population 342.

There, amid the folksy confines of Pd's Bar, we celebrated our good day while concocting plans to return the pheasant to its rightful status as king of Minnesota game birds.

Plentiful during the Soil Bank days and during the peak of the Conservation Reserve Program, these feathery trophies would rise again, we just knew it.

How, we weren't sure.

Until then, we'd hunt memories.

Dennis Anderson

  • related content

  • Bathed in late afternoon sunlight, a hunter shooting over good dogs might bag one of the uplands’ true trophies: a December rooster.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.


Kansas City - J. Vargas 7:07 PM
San Francisco - R. Vogelsong
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans 10/30/14 7:25 PM
Buffalo 2 FINAL
San Jose 1
Boston 1 1st Prd 11:45
Toronto 0
NY Rangers 0 1st Prd 10:56
Montreal 0
New Jersey 0 1st Prd 13:03
Ottawa 0
Dallas 1 1st Prd 6:35
NY Islanders 1
Detroit 0 1st Prd 5:52
Philadelphia 0
Chicago 7:00 PM
St. Louis
Pittsburgh 7:00 PM
Tampa Bay 7:00 PM
Florida 8:00 PM
Washington 9:00 PM
So Florida 17 FINAL
Cincinnati 34
Troy 13 FINAL
South Alabama 27
Boise State 55
(6) Oregon 59 FINAL
California 41
North Texas 21 FINAL
Rice 41
Arkansas 45
Rutgers 24 FINAL
(16) Nebraska 42
Maryland 7 FINAL
Wisconsin 52
Texas 0 FINAL
(11) Kansas State 23
Minnesota 24 FINAL
Illinois 28
Memphis 48 FINAL
SMU 10
North Carolina 28 FINAL
Virginia 27
San Jose St 31 FINAL
Navy 41
Northern Ill 28 FINAL
Eastern Mich 17
(25) UCLA 40 FINAL
Colorado 37
Akron 21 FINAL
Ball State 35
Massachusetts 35 FINAL
Toledo 42
Ohio U 21 FINAL
Western Mich 42
Ga Southern 69 FINAL
Georgia State 31
Kent State 3 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 10
Oregon State 14 FINAL
Stanford 38
Fla Atlantic 16 FINAL
(23) Marshall 35
Louisiana Tech 31 FINAL
Southern Miss 20
(1) Miss State 45 FINAL
Kentucky 31
Georgia Tech 56 FINAL
Pittsburgh 28
(22) West Virginia 34 FINAL
Oklahoma State 10
Texas Tech 27 FINAL
(10) TCU 82
Michigan 11 FINAL
(8) Michigan State 35
Boston College 23 FINAL
Wake Forest 17
Central Mich 20 FINAL
Buffalo 14
Vanderbilt 14 FINAL
Missouri 24
Old Dominion 51 FINAL
Western Ky 66
Utah State 34
Temple 14 3rd Qtr 6:34
UCF 27
(15) Arizona 31 2nd Qtr 1:55
Washington St 7
Texas-El Paso 7 1st Qtr 4:55
TX-San Antonio 0
Wyoming 0 1st Qtr 8:40
Colorado State 3
Syracuse 0 1st Qtr 4:00
(21) Clemson 0
Texas State 0 1st Qtr 2:57
(3) Ole Miss 0 1st Qtr 8:25
(24) LSU 0
(4) Alabama 6:30 PM
So Carolina 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 9:45 PM
Nevada 10:59 PM
(2) Florida State 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Troy 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
Cincinnati 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Purdue 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
(17) Oklahoma 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Iowa State
Oklahoma State 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
(10) TCU 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(22) West Virginia
Texas 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Texas Tech
Northwestern 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Maryland 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Penn State
Air Force 11/1/14 10:30 AM
ULM 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Texas A&M
Duke 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Rice 11/1/14 11:00 AM
(18) East Carolina 11/1/14 11:00 AM
UCF 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Boston College 11/1/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
North Carolina 11/1/14 11:30 AM
Washington 11/1/14 12:00 PM
Central Mich 11/1/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Western Mich 11/1/14 1:30 PM
Western Ky 11/1/14 2:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
NC State 11/1/14 2:00 PM
Texas State 11/1/14 2:00 PM
New Mexico St
Virginia 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Georgia Tech
BYU 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Middle Tennessee
Indiana 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Florida 11/1/14 2:30 PM
(9) Georgia
Georgia State 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Appalachian St
Kentucky 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Kansas 11/1/14 3:00 PM
(12) Baylor
Houston 11/1/14 3:00 PM
So Florida
(20) USC 11/1/14 3:30 PM
Washington St
Arkansas State 11/1/14 4:00 PM
South Alabama 11/1/14 4:00 PM
New Mexico 11/1/14 4:30 PM
UAB 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
(5) Auburn 11/1/14 6:00 PM
(3) Ole Miss
Arkansas 11/1/14 6:00 PM
(1) Miss State
Old Dominion 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State 11/1/14 6:00 PM
San Jose St
Stanford 11/1/14 6:30 PM
(6) Oregon
Tennessee 11/1/14 6:30 PM
So Carolina
Southern Miss 11/1/14 7:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
(7) Notre Dame 11/1/14 7:00 PM
Illinois 11/1/14 7:00 PM
(13) Ohio State
(15) Arizona 11/1/14 9:30 PM
(25) UCLA
California 11/1/14 9:30 PM
Oregon State
San Diego St 11/1/14 9:30 PM
Wyoming 11/1/14 9:45 PM
Fresno State
(19) Utah 11/1/14 10:00 PM
(14) Arizona State
Utah State 11/1/14 10:00 PM
Los Angeles 0 FINAL
Seattle 2
Montreal 1
Toronto FC 6:30 PM
New England
Portland 7:30 PM
FC Dallas
Colorado 9:00 PM
Vancouver FC
Montreal 23 FINAL
Ottawa 17
Saskatchewan 27 FINAL
Calgary 40
Hamilton 24 FINAL
Toronto 26
Brt Columbia 7 5:48
Winnipeg 4
Hamilton 10/31/14 6:30 PM
Winnipeg 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Brt Columbia 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Toronto 11/2/14 11:00 AM
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question