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Saturday, April 19, 2014

First snow-filled hunt brings some fast results


RENO COUNTY — Like many Kansans, my Monday morning began with 10 minutes of scraping to get my vehicle ready to roll.

Half-speed was about the best I could do on a ride that had some white-knuckle moments. But with a smile.

By mid-morning, my face was carrying a full-sized grin as my dog fetched his fourth pheasant of the day.

A season's first snow is a special time for pheasant hunters.

The birds are forced to heavy cover for warmth and protection. Running from hunters isn't as easy when they're up to their breast bones in powdery white.

Two inches of snow had already fallen and more was coming down when we left for the field.

A half-mile from our hunting spot I pulled over, bundled up, put a few shells in my vest pockets and got ready to hunt.

Ol' Red was parked at the edge of a friend's Conservation Reserve Program land. Bordered on three sides by crops, it offered birds plenty of warmth and groceries.

It was 22 degrees with a 5-mph north wind. Perfect. My plan was to simply follow Hank as he followed his nose.

I could easily see his black hulk lacing through the white background most of the time.

Where the grass was tall and thick, I watched for puffs of snow falling from the tops of tall grasses smacked by his tail.

The first bird, a yearling rooster, reached the end of the trail when his exit route took him to a small clearing. He flushed at 10 yards and folded at 25.

A few minutes later, Hank was working scent again. First a rooster and then four hens flushed when he attacked a tub-sized patch of grass. The last hen to rise nearly flushed into Hank as he headed back with the retrieve.

We rested a few minutes before moving on.

Heading off with the wind at our back, we flushed only a few hens.

When we turned east for a side breeze, Hank's tail started snapping from about the ears back.

The next rooster held so tight, the dog had it by a wing until it flapped free. I muffed the easiest shot of the day.

Drab hens popped through the snow every minute or so. A rooster joined two hens when they passed over him about 40 yards out.

I was expecting good things when we turned and headed into the wind and wasn't disappointed.

Pheasant tracks had worn the snow down on every little game trails that snaked through the grass.

Fifty yards in that direction, I had to use a whistle to sit Hank so I could catch up.

A few steps after that, Hank charged forward and a rooster came up cackling. The shot that dropped it started a flush all around and I shot another bird.

I'm not sure how many birds flushed in the next few seconds, but it was many. Even with my gaze focused where the second bird fell, I watched two other long-tailed birds pass within easy range.

The first bird of the double was retrieved quickly but the other took some work.

When I walked up, Hank's head and shoulders were deep in a snow-covered clump. First he just came up with a mouthful of blue feathers from the bird's back.

Pushing a bit harder, he pulled the tunneled-in bird from the grass. It was an old rooster with wicked spurs and a tail so long it drooped at the end — a perfect bird to fill a limit.

When I checked my watch to see if the nearby cafe would be open, I noticed we'd been hunting for 50 minutes.

But it took about two hours to work our way to town as I drove around and admired other hunting spots bathed in white.

The first snow of the season is too beautiful to be rushed through.

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