Opening day of Wisconsin's pheasant season was almost an afterthought. My mind on this bright cool October day was on building a new mountain bike trail at Levis Mound. The trail system in south west Clark County was in need of a new swoopy downhill and I knew just where it should go.
The location in the county forest had been scouted years ago. A draw, or valley between two high bluffs was perfect for a back and forth ten turn downhill run which we could ride year around. Yep, all my attention for the past couple weeks were focused on getting this done before snow flies.
A good crew showed up and with the help of a scout troop, we accomplished the task. Check that one off my list.
Then there is this hunting thing-so much to do and October is all too short-the yearly dilemma. A week ago, the temps were in the high 70's and fall colors could not have been more brilliant. Days like those lead me to the kayak or onto the bike, even with several hunting seasons I love already weeks old. I need this month to be eight weeks long.
After the last chain saw was stowed away and trail tools hung up, the truck turned away from the trailhead. A few hours left in the late afternoon and our task of singletrack building done a bit early.
Nearly forgetting, I realized the pheasant opener started a few hours earlier at noon. The central part of the state really doesn't have any native birds, but the WIDNR does stock some state property, which I enjoy getting the lab onto. Decision made-run home, grab the dog, a vest and the double 20 gauge.
It was almost a relief to now have a plan for the rest of the day.
By Molly's vigorous tail wagging, she knew what was up. She sprang into the back seat like a kid and we were off-billows of gravel dust clinging closely behind.
It's a short 30 minute drive to the public land and on this day, a beautiful ride -with afternoon light and tenacious leaves still holding on painting the landscape brilliantly. Molly's panting became deeper for she knew we were getting close.
The property usually has pick-ups with eager dogs bouncing inside parked and waiting an hour before twelve. When the allotted time arrives, it's almost a race to grab the nearest field and begin the chase with shots ringing out soon afterwards. I usually avoid that rush. After the first weekend, the enthusiasm wains for the most part and many cold late autumn days Molly and I have it all to ourselves. The birds by then much more wary and scattered to the thickest edges. Those are the days I relish.
Arriving late in the day, I was surprised/happy to see my favorite one vehicle parking lot empty. No doubt, during the day, the large prairie behind it was scoured thoroughly by anxious dogs and hunters. No matter-we would work our way into the wind or wherever the dog's nose takes us.
Indian grass and big blue stem towers 6 or more feet above the ground so I keep track of Molly by the ting of her brass bell threading through the grasses. She leads us across 80 acres or so of field mixed with brush and thorny stands of prickly ash. Not pleasant there, but escaping birds like the cover. Molly does too and starts quickening her pace-a sure sign she's picking something up. The tail whipping around in circles means this is no false alarm and she buries her muzzle into several thick clumps of grass, vacuuming the scent. Two cat-like pounces followed and my thumb slid up to the safety. It's only a matter of time.
An explosion of color, tail feathers and cackling erupted from the grass dead ahead-the dogs nose proved correct. A straight away shot, the report of the gun and the lab was on the downed bird. The hunt was quickly over.
Taking the rooster from the dog, I admired it for a few seconds-albeit with some malaise and respect, as it should be.
Friend and outdoor writer Mitch Mode made the same observation in a recent piece-
"There are TV shows that I rarely watch in which the death of bird or stag is celebrated in whooping and hollering and much carrying on. I have not use for that. When one kills game it should be a private matter and if one does not feel a measure of remorse in that killing then I have no use for them. I pocketed the birds; moved on."
I followed suit-peace was made and the bird slipped into my vest, the gun broken across my elbow. “Good girl Molly, Good girl.”
Maybe my body language said something or the double barrel cracked open across my shoulder-not sure, but Molly seemed to know our limit was filled and I wouldn't be shooting again this day. I'd hoped she might pick some up and get “birdy” on the long hike back, but her interest had subsided and she mostly trotted alongside.
Shadows were long arriving back at the truck and the sky started to flush out with color. We'd sit here for a bit and savor it. The dirt bank of the parking area would make a good seat and having a black lab at my feet resting was a perfect end to the hunt.
These October days need to be longer-the weeks multiplied. The bike, the boat, a treestand and a shotgun with a prancing lab would all pull me in every direction starting tomorrow again. Deciding which way to go will be hard. For this day, I chose well.