Iam so very pleased to offer The Checkcord readers this report on our first Y2K hunt. Reader Scott Casper (pictured on the far left here) whose name was drawn in August as the winner of this hunt, joined me, along with a buddy of his from Denver, Dave Simonson (Center) to travel to Colome, South Dakota to be the guests of Neil and Stephanie Weidner of Dakota Prairie Ringnecks for a weekend of pheasant hunting on the great plains.I traveled with one of my regular hunting partners, Mark Wilkins of Omaha, through a cold, and blustery afternoon on the Friday following Thanksgiving last month, over 400 miles from Omaha to reach Neil's folk's ranch in south central South Dakota, the headquaters for his hunting operation. The ranch sits smack in the middle of one of the most legendary pheasant hunting regions of the country. Since I drew Scott's name back in August, we had all be anxious to make the trip. We would be in good hands for this hunt and any Y2K bugs that may strike on this weekend were doomed to crash as our host, Neil Weidner, is a manager for "a large midwestern computer manufacter" (how many of those are there?...think cows) and Mark Wilkins, one of my "partners in crime" here in Omaha who joined us, is in charge of IS in Omaha for an international insurance company. There would be no computer crashes around us this weekend! As we crossed the endless miles of rolling prairie heading north and then west,it appeared that we would not be done in by Y2K bugs, but man's oldest nemesis, the weather.
|Scott, our eager winner and Dave were already dry and snug in the ranch house by the time Mark and I pulled in. (I'm pleading the fifth on my sense of direction!). As we stood a feedlot driveway, finally getting a chance to put faces with the email addresses we had only known each other by for the last few months, it was evident that we had assembled a very eager group of pheasant chasers. I feared however, that we would need all of that enthusiasm and more to hunt pheasants in the weather that appeared to be facing us. After getting the dogs squared away for the night, the drive tooks it's toll and we all crashed and burned in our beds. But first, I dug out my rain gear and was very thankful for my new boots. My fears turned out to be unfounded as Saturday morning broke high clouded and dry. One of the nice things about hunting in South Dakota is that you can't start hunting pheasants until late morning-10 a.m. in our case- and that gives you time to get a nice leisurely breakfast under your belt. After a chowing down at "Linda's" (one of those small town cafes that are among the best things about being a bird hunter) we set out in search of ringnecks.|
|Neil and his family have made a great efforts to provide for the needs of the pheasants on their ranch. We drove by one great looking field, slough and shelterbelt after another as we rode out to our first spot, a long slough that Neil told us had been a real mother-lode for several groups of hunters earlier in the season. We would have to wait just a bit to get the dogs into some birds and throw some lead at those beautiful South Dakota ringnecks. As we lined up and turned the dogs loose, I had observed an even better indicattion that our hunt would be a memorable one; three of the five of us were holding our guns left-handed, finally, the righties were outnumbered!! Us lefties are good luck, you know! As we pulled in, there was a large herd of cattle in residence in "our" field. A quick once through by the dogs proved that the activity of the cattle had driven all the birds out of that little corner of the section. I kidded Neil that I thought it was really generous of his dad to stock such nice big and slowing moving game for us, but since the dogs wouldn't point them and couldn't retrieve them, we had better look elsewhere.|
|But as I said, earlier, Neil had no shortage of good spots for us to try. As we drove the rode back towards the ranch to our next spot, roosters and hens darted into the ditches at several points along the way. We got our first taste of the birds in one of the large, heavily treed shelter belts that are prominent features of the ranch. Although the night's rain had vastly improved the scenting conditions for the dogs, it was evident these birds were giving them fits as they skittered down the rows of cedars and through heavy weed patches ahead of the advancing line of hunters. The is no better test of bird dogs than hard hunted pheasants. As we neared the halfway point of the shelter belt, there were sounds of pheasants busting out the sides, the end and behind us as we rousted them from their morning loafing.|
|Shouts of "hen!! hen!!" were heard up and down the line as the dogs searched forward, trying to get even one rooster pinned down in a solid point. Beeper collars would briefly sound off in point mode, only to fall silent as the prey slipped off into the shadows, leaving the four-footed and two-footed pursuers to have to take up the trail again. As we neared the end of this first shelterbelt a shot rang out followed by a cry of "Get heeemmm!!" and the sound of fleeing wings (again I take the fifth on missing the first bird of the weekend...) "Get ready.." I hissed to Scott, on my right, as the dogs intensified their search for skulking roosters right in front of us. There was suddenly a cackle and a flash of color rocketing up from the ground in front of me, I swung the gun but could not shoot as the pheasant had put a big dead tree between he and I (I have asked Neil to consider removing all such obstacles for me ahead of time for next year..) as he left for Northern Nebraska. Scott's 12 gauge barked and the rooster folded and crashed into the top of another big dead tree. The rooster bounced to the ground, where he was met by a swirl of dogs and was gleefully retrieved to hand by both of Mark's excellent German Shorthairs. (If we learned anything on this weekend, it was that 2 dogs retrieving one bird does not necessarily make for a retrieve that is twice as good...) By the time we had worked the shelterbelt to the end a half-dozen more roosters had shown themselves for brief chances at shots. None of them had been pointed by the dogs and a scant brace were in the game bags. In the next spot we tried, a more open CRP type field lined with stands of huge old oak trees the dog's efforts started to pay off. As pictured above, Mark's dog Yogi pinned down the first rooster to be pointed of the weekend. This rooster fell hard in a cut bean field, having been "tag-teamed" by Mark and Scott.|
|The dog work quickly got much better from this point on and very shortly we were treated to a truly fine display of pointing dogs in action. As we neared the end of a finger of cover that Freck was working out, she suddenly spun and slammed into a point near a clump of trees.|
|You can just make out her orange collar in the picture above as she keeps this bird pinned down for us. Off to the right, you can see Mark's 7 month-old GSP, Ginger. She had approached the scene from out in the cut corn and froze into a perfect honor as we came up. All without a word from her handler! Now see, I told him to buy that dog!!|