The sun shone weakly in the cloudy sky. A northwest breeze brought a smattering of snowflakes. The ground was covered in 3 inches of snow. It was opening morning of pheasant season in Wyoming's Bighorn Basin.
My hunting companions — Bruce, Kenny and David — had mapped out a strategy that involved our walking through a tall grass field that provided excellent roosting cover. The guys figured that if we could get into the field before the pheasants flew to feed that we could have some pretty good shooting. Our dogs had been making a racket of barking and whining since we loaded them up earlier. When we finally let them run, they eagerly bounded into the heavy grass. Snow flew as they pushed through and excitedly searched for pheasant scent.
We walked at an angle to the irrigation rows so that we had to step over the grass and navigate the rows that were covered in snow. Needless to say it didn't take long for us old timers to start feeling the physical demands of the hike. Still, it was opening day and the adrenaline levels were high.
As I struggled to make headway in an especially heavy patch of grass that had been knocked down by the snow, a rooster pheasant erupted out in a shower of snow. I was taken by surprise, and it took me what seemed like 10 seconds to get my shotgun up to my shoulder and swing on the bird. I pulled the trigger and was slightly surprised that the bird folded up.
There were three or four dogs that converged on the downed pheasant. Of course, a tug of war resulted in Trouble delivering a headless pheasant to me. Oh well, what a blessing to get the first pheasant of the season on one shot, I thought.
We stomped through the field and the dogs flushed three hens and one more rooster that was dropped. We huddled to devise the next plan. David suggested that Kenny, Bruce, and I hunt the west side of the grassy field to the south and then tackle the five-acre cornfield just to the east. David would do an end around and block the cornfield from the east end.
After the three of us slogged through the grass field with only a couple of hen pheasants flushing I was beginning to have misgivings. After all, it was opening day and the pheasants should have been sleeping in with all the snow on the ground. The dogs should have had an easy time with the tight-sitting birds, but there was a paucity of pheasants.
When Kenny, Bruce and I reached the cornfield, we held a quick strategy session. The cornfield was on a slight hill and curved to the east. Kenny would walk through the center, Bruce would take the north side and I the south. We knew that David would be blocking the east end.
Kenny and Bruce advised me to not get into the corn and be ready for birds flying back. I started out as Kenny and Bruce advanced.
Trouble and Chip soon disappeared into the corn, and I could hear them banging around. I had advanced about 50 yards when I heard David shoot but couldn't tell if he had been successful. As I walked a bit further I spotted a rooster pheasant flying out the east end of the patch and climbing. David's shot of a high altitude rooster was classic.
All of a sudden there were pheasants flying everywhere. In a minute or so there must have been 35 to 40 pheasants zinging by. My lord, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
A rooster came flying back at me about 30 feet away. I swung past it and pulled and watched it crumple into the corn. Trouble soon fetched that bird and promptly raced back into the corn. Pheasants were running at me in the adjacent corn rows. They soon were airborne and headed in Kenny's direction — no shots, hmm.
Another bird flew past me and I swung on him. To my amazement he folded. Wow, I had gone three for three on pheasants; it had been ages since I had accomplished the feat. It had been ages since I had seen that many wild pheasants; it was like the good old days.
We met at the end of the corn patch and compared notes. David had retrieved one rooster and had a couple of cripples to hunt for but had been overrun — many of the pheasants either flew by him or ran past. Kenny's gun had malfunctioned and he couldn't get a shot off. Bruce had dropped a couple of roosters.
Subsequently, Kenny got his shotgun working and he managed to collect another bird. In a brief foray into the heavy grass David's dog managed to retrieve the two cripples that had eluded him.
Bruce needed one more bird so we walked some heavy grass adjacent to an irrigation canal. There was a single Russian olive along the canal. When we got close to the olive tree the dogs started charging around the tree. I noticed pheasant tracks coming from the olive and into the heavy grass. The tracks were fairly good-sized so I surmised they belonged to a rooster.
I said to Bruce, “It looks like a rooster track.” Bruce's dog, Ace, followed the track into the grass; a minute later a rooster pheasant clattered out with Ace in hot pursuit. Bruce's shot downed the bird and we were done for the day. We had 10 pheasants in a little over two hours of hunting; if Kenny's gun hadn't malfunctioned, we would have had 12 birds. It was an opening day to remember for many years to come.