I mention this because I have returned to earth. My spot on the map is San Diego and the nearest destination for me to pursue roosters is about 100 miles away in the Imperial Valley. Pheasant are not abundant there, but they are present as they scratch out a living in less than ideal conditions.
I sat out the season opener for a variety of reasons, most of which lead to the inescapable conclusion that I am an elitist when it comes to pheasant hunting. I don’t like crowds and don’t care to be around most opening day hunters, many of which will not make another appearance until the next opening day. I’m not that excited about the uneducated young of the year birds that account for most of the opening weekend’s bag, and I hate walking in the fresh boot prints of someone else. It gets even worse when I see a freshly spent shotgun shell on the ground and unbearable when I come upon the discarded remains of recently cleaned rooster. My rooster.
With that background out of the way, I can begin to tell you a bit more of the story and maybe even manage to make a point that matches the premise of this post’s title.
Gus and I have been to Imperial Valley twice for the purpose of chasing ringnecks and have managed to put a rooster in the bag each day. On the third day of the season, we worked pretty hard. I should clarify that comment – Gus worked hard while we followed along. His work consists of plowing through steep and deep weed-choked ditches for the purpose of picking up a whiff of a hiding rooster, flush it within gun range and then to find and retrieve it in the unlikely event our shot is on the mark.. Ours is to walk along the dirt roads that border the ditches and when the time is right, pull the trigger.
The best thing about our first Imperial Valley hunt of the season was that we were joined by our friend Russ who comes down from Oregon for a few days each season and our son Ryan. Ryan has a full schedule these days, teaching during the day and officiating high school sports most afternoons and evenings. Fortunately, the third day of the season was Veteran’s Day and a holiday for Ryan.
Late in the afternoon, and after hours of working the ditches we started down a relatively clean ditch that ran from east to west. Russ was on the south side of the ditch while I walked down the north side. Ryan served as our “blocker” at the end of the ditch. With so little cover, Gus was working through it at a pretty fast pace, but stopping to check out every bit of vegetation big enough to conceal a rooster. There were several patches of dead cattails and as he went past one, he kind of turned in mid-air and dove back into them. It was evident he’d caught scent of something he liked. He started back down the ditch for about five yards before returning to savor one last sniff. At that point, he became a dog on a mission and with his nose to the ground went directly to another patch of vegetation.
A rooster burst forth between Ryan and I and was headed north. I missed with my first shot,but caught up to it with my second barrel at the same time that Ryan fired. Given the bird’s angle of flight between Ryan and I, Russ did not have a shot.
Despite the fact we “doubled” on the bird, it still had plenty of life, but was not going anywhere. Gus had seen the bird go down and was on it quickly. He struggled with it before getting a good grip and finishing the retrieve.
We took a few minutes to admire the bird, note that it was a mature specimen with long, sharp spurs, and praise Gus for his hard work. It had been a long day, but that one rooster had made all the difference in the world. It made the day a truly memorable one for us – which I think brings me to my point.
I know of many hunters who would scoff at the idea a single rooster would make their day. I know of some who would not be happy without being able to say they shot a limit and a few who would only be satisfied if they shot a few beyond the limit, but most of them hunt in areas where pheasants are a lot more numerous than they are in Southern California.
I’ve also hunted in areas rich with pheasants where a limit could be expected every day and often very quickly, but I’ve hunted entire seasons in Imperial Valley – a poverty area when it comes to pheasants – without the pleasure of a single pheasant dinner.
Once the season is underway, most of the uneducated young-of-the-year birds have already been bagged or have received enough schooling to make them wary and wily enough to survive the rest of the season.
On this day, hunting with an old friend, my son and our dog – one rooster pheasant was enough to make our day a memorable one.