The grass was about waist to chest deep and with a low morning sun, was as gold as gold can be. It, the grass, was thick, there was an under layer that was at least 30 inches deep that would shield off most cold northern winds while at the same time providing a base of cover against any and all predators looking for a meal. Food plots were scattered throughout the 440 acres; standing beans, milo, sorghum and corn to mention a few…certainly enough for any gregarious bird to scarf down a gullet full pretty quickly then return back to the grass for cover. Shelter belts adorned several ridges, providing both overhead cover from hawks, etc…and a spot to snuggle up against when the cold winds and snow blows from all directions. No, I wasn’t in Nebraska, not Kansas or Iowa, nor South or North Dakota…but the plot of land I just described…well, it sits just north of the small Indiana town of Attica. I call it the pheasant farm!
I was hunting once again at the invitation of my good friend, Jim Merten. I have written about Jim in previous columns…but let me tell you right up front that I am lucky for getting the invite as Jim and his partners have taken a rough piece of ground and over the last 18 or so years, turned it into “A pheasant mecca” as was so well put by our other hunting partner for the day, Jim’s nephew, Jeff Fisher. It is so fun and frankly has been for many years…to watch this property evolve and grow from one that couldn’t hold many birds, to a large tract of land that for all intents and purposes…is a ‘pheasant farm’.
As the three of us strolled around the property watching Royale, Macy and Pappi zig and zag from spot to spot, we not only talked about the past and what it looked like…but Jim discussed with us his insight for the next year or few years. The farm would no longer be farmed. It would be enrolled in a couple of land subsidies provided by the government and lobbied and supported by PF (Pheasants Forever). Jim and his partners would now be paid for planting grasses, food plots and shelter belts…and not just for a year or two, but for the next couple of decades!
Jim’s nephew Jeff, was not only a great and classy guy but hadn’t ever had the chance to follow or see more than one pointer work at a time. My three, while not perfect, were very admirable and provide some awesome shooting for us. I knew that Jeff was an experienced hunter and decided to just let the dogs do the talking…and talk they did. Our first couple hundred yards proved to be quite exciting as the dogs moved from one point to the next; we moved and pushed a rooster well over one hundred yards before Royale finally pinned the bird which made an exit beside Jim; a one ounce load from Jim’s 20 gauge found its mark and our first bird of the day was in the bag.
We dropped down through a wet area and turned back due west and into some spectacular grass. Jim and Jeff were to my right, the dogs and I were coursing the grass, slowly, methodically from left to right, then back again at a 45 degree angle from right to left. After 30 plus years of hunting pheasants It is very apparent when we are ‘pushing’ birds…or birds are running in front of us and there was no doubt that indeed we had ‘runners’ up ahead of us. Jim had cut a big strip about halfway across this big section of grass and as we neared all three dogs came to an abrupt stop. I snapped several photos and then moved in and flushed a gorgeous Manchurian Pheasant, or sometime referred to as a ‘mutant’ bird. Not only was it dark, but it stood out so vividly against the golden grass…the bird gave quite a cackle as it left the cover. Jeff through his Ruger/20 gauge to his shoulder and in a split second the bird folded; what an awesome sight to see Pappi returning through the cover with this splendid trophy in his mouth. The three of us took a minute to enjoy the beauty of the bird; both Jim and Jeff also took the time to comment on how good the dog work was and that is always sweet music to a proud papa.
We hadn’t even finished our talk when Royale’s beeper collar once again began to beep, beep, beep…I looked up and she was only a few feet away and backing Macy, Pappi had delivered the bird and fell into honor behind the two girls. Once again I snapped a couple of pictures and moved in to flush; I hadn’t got too close when a rooster exploded up, rising skyward and cutting between both Jim and Jeff. They both fired one shot, the bird slowly fluttered down about a hundred yards off and once on the ground was moving like Forest Gump…’he was a runnin’! I could see that Macy marked the bird and was in hot pursuit…seconds later she came bolting back into the cover with a big ringneck draped across her mouth. As I have said so many times through the years…a good bird dog is the best conservation tool a hunter can have.
Our day would prove to be more and more of the same. A farm for pheasants…well, yes, for sure. I am not easily impressed, but each year, after leaving Jim’s Pheasant Farm, I have to take a few minutes and just soak in the day we just had and today’s day was as good as it gets. Not only was the dog work great, the cover was second to none, the weather was pleasant, but my company today was the icing on the cake. Both guys were true sportsmen who knew that we were having a special day. There was no spoiled whiners along on this day…which would be a day to remember…and a day to Enjoy the Great Outdoors.