One doesn’t hunt in order to kill, on the contrary, one kills to have hunted.
-Jose Ortega y Gasset
There is a nauseating thread in upland bird hunting writing these days that the hunt really isn’t about the size of the game bag at the end of the day, but is really some sort of quasi-religious experience where we are communing with nature and bonding with our fellow hunters and our dogs, waiting for some sort of epiphany to occur out in the field. I first saw it start to crop up in the blogosphere, but it has since bled over into magazine and newspaper articles.
It sounds to me like an excuse used by people who aren’t hunting smart and hard or by state game officials when they aren’t properly managing habitat. The drought this year has led to almost all of the CRP land in southeastern Nebraska to be hayed or grazed, leaving hunters with very few options to chase roosters nearby. The general agricultural climate of eastern Nebraska as a whole, with grain prices as high as they are, has become an annual limiting factor regardless of the weather conditions for the year. We can’t ask farmers not to farm, that’s their job, but the Nebraska Game and Parks needs to consider expanding their current pheasant stocking program to all wildlife management areas in the Lincoln-Omaha area.
You didn’t know that NGPC was stocking pheasants? They claim it is for the youth hunting weekend, but we suspect that it is a pilot stocking program looking to salvage what is left of upland bird hunting culture in the urban part of our state. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: NGPC has no problem managing several fish hatcheries and openly stocking fish. Heck, I get updates on Facebook when they stock trout and exactly where they do it. Stock more pheasants in southeastern Nebraska. How did they get here in the first place, did they fly from China?!? (That’s a rhetorical question of course. The current rooster-bearing states were stocked many times in order to establish a sustainable population.)
Here’s a shot of a rooster that we planted in April on a friend’s land along the Platte River in Cass County, where we have never seen pheasants at all before, Charles and Sam harvested him last weekend.
Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, Sam, and the first Nebraska rooster from Saturday
I know that NGPC and Pheasants Forever think that the sole focus needs to be on habitat, but if there aren’t any birds to manage habitat for, then what is the point?!? We were so excited for our friend, Matt, who took our oldest female griffon Sue out last Friday to some of the WMA’s that had been stocked. He got his first limit of roosters ever and was completely ecstatic. Tell him that the size of the game bag doesn’t matter.
Which is why Charles, like many other “dog men”, take the dogs north for wild bird training for a week each year. All of the kumbayaing over hunting spirituality in the world doesn’t replace sheer grit and determination to give your dogs the most wild bird contact possible each year. Charles has chosen North Dakota as his annual destination. One of my fellow griffoniers brought his two dogs out to Montana from the east coast and didn’t realize the huge learning curve that it takes to get a dog educated to the behavior of particular upland game birds, the wily rooster pheasant especially. They took one rooster over a few days, then he boxed his dogs and brought out the guide’s dogs. Over the guides dogs they took several roosters and some Hungarian partridge too. Appreciation of the dew on the grass and the wind on your face doesn’t give the dogs that education. Getting up before the sun comes up on day 4 of a pheasant hunt, stinking because you haven’t taken a shower the whole time, stiff and sore from the physical exertion and because you’ve been sleeping in the back of your SUV is not fun or religious. But it is necessary. Just like killing.
Sam and BB with the birds hanging at the end of day 2 in North Dakota.
I’ve been known to cry over getting skunked on a day. I’ve felt guilty as hell when my dogs have worked their asses off tracking a rooster, then pin it down with perfect double points, only to have me wreck it on the shot. The dogs hate it too, you can tell they get upset with me.
Although ancient hunters recognized the religious and spiritual nature of the hunt, they did so in order to increase the size of their harvest. In the fall and winter, we all still look up at the constellation Orion at night and hope he blesses our efforts. But to succeed is to kill. There is no way around that with hunting.
Charles and the dogs’ bird total from 3 days in North Dakota: 2 ducks, 3 sharptail grouse and 8 roosters. They took a few more before they packed up and left the following day.