Michael Pearce

A “light bulb moment” on a pheasant hunt

We call it a “light bulb moment,” as in when a cartoon character suddenly figures something out and a light bulb suddenly appears above their head.

Cade, our nine-month-old Lab, had a light bulb moment concerning pheasant hunting Thursday afternoon. He left the truck a puppy that sometimes played almost as much as hunted. Less than an hour later he was back after being all business with my limit of four rooster pheasants.

And to think, we almost didn’t even hunt.

Working my way towards southwest Kansas for a story and photos on hunting for scaled quail, for days I’d planned hunting some pheasants at a friend’s place along the way.

But Thursday afternoon was far from ideal pheasant hunting weather being 63 degrees.

The pup is young, strong and handles heat and cold well so I decided to give it a half-hour, mostly hoping he’d sleep a bit better that night.

I’d been told the field had 120 acres of CRP grass, with a long line of a milo food plot, plus a much smaller patch. A group of about eight hunters had walked it recently and flushed quite a few roosters. I’ve long enjoyed good success hunting large covers, by just following a dog.

I’d kept Cade at my side walking to the milo strip to reserve his energy, then released him with a whispered, “OK.”

He laced back and forth in front of me, and within about 50 yards I could tell he was working scent. Another 30 or so yards a rooster flushed a few yards in front of the pup and folded at my shot.

Seconds after I took the bird from his mouth he was again working the cover. He was moving with only more birds on his mind. The pup paid no attention to a bounding cottontail and ignored mice he normally would have chased or dug from their dens for cat-like play.

It wasn’t long before he was again working scent. As he moved out of shotgun range I hit the whistle with a single long, loud tweet and he sat. He’s always done that, but in the past he often simply quit working the bird once released.

This time, he kept his face into the wind the entire time it took me to catch up and pass him by 10 or 15 yards, and kept on the bird’s trail . A few minutes later two roosters flushed out of range to my right. Unlike most times, he paid them no attention and didn’t bolt towards the leaving birds.

Instead, he stuck to the scent trail and made a nice retrieve after the rooster flushed at about 25 yards and fell at my second shot.

The milo ended well within the CRP but Cade kept working past the stalks and into the grass. I had to whistle him twice to get him to stop so we could sit, catch our breath and cool a bit.

I gave serious consideration to just heading back to the truck, with Cade at heel. Upon standing, though, I noticed the small patch of milo to the north. Cade was already headed that way.

He worked scent the length of the 50 yard patch and the rooster flushed near my feet. I botched a slam dunk shot and the poorly-hit bird hit the ground running, several seconds ahead of Cade’s arrival.

Experience told me the bird was headed south, but Cade quickly headed west, zipping back and forth with the wind at his back, obviously working scent. He nabbed the bird about 60 yards out.

We headed to the skeletal remains of an ancient windmill, to take a few photos and let Cade rest in the only shade within sight.

My plan to head straight to the truck, with Cade at heel took a detour when he obviously caught scent and began working to the left.

I thought about calling him off the trail, but he was so excited I figured a flush would come at any second. But seconds lead to minutes as he worked the hot scent.

Three times during the 150 or so yards he sat at my whistle so I could catch up. At each release he bounded forward.

We both knew action was near when he suddenly lost the scent trail, having passed the sitting bird. It flushed on his first pounce back in my direction.

After the retrieve I insisted he stay at heel to the pickup, where he drank half a jug of water while I poured the rest over his head and chest to help him cool.

As we headed on down the road, and towards the story on scaled quail, I thought of the change I’d seen within the past hour. I have no doubt Cade will again act like a silly pup on upcoming hunts, but what happened Thursday afternoon left no doubts we have plenty of solid pheasant hunts in our future.

Something had clicked, and the lightbulb in his mind was obviously beginning to shine brightly.