Ole anxiously worked his way along the top of the bank that surrounded a watering pond for cattle where grass bordered a small tuft of cattails.
His yellow coat was soaking wet now after busting through the snow-covered slough for the last two hours. Roosters were plentiful here and the promise of another flush pushed him through any fatigue he might have been feeling after a couple straight days of hard hunting.
We already had seven birds in our vests when Ole locked up on point right where the cattails met the grass. My dad, Gary Morken, and I got in position right behind him. Our buddy, Steve Leitch of Willmar, was watching below in an opening on a dry basin.
Ole didn’t flinch as he stood face-to-face with the bird. Finally, the rooster couldn’t take it anymore.
The bird bolted from the rushes and flew to my left. I swung and folded him with one shot before Ole retrieved him and brought him back to my side. It was a perfect way to end another memorable pheasant hunt in South Dakota.
There aren’t as many pheasants to be found where we hunt near Clark as there were 10 years ago. Flocks that seemed to reach 100 birds would sometimes erupt from the cattails back then. Now, it’s more along the lines of 20-30 birds in a big group. That’s still plenty to make the trip worthwhile.
Birds seemed to be more plentiful this season than the last, much like what I’ve seen while hunting in Minnesota, after a mild winter and a favorable nesting season.
Our friend, Marv Kremin of Cottonwood, joined us for our first day out there with his two dogs, Shelly and Maggie. The private land we have to hunt is almost entirely cattail sloughs, which made this a wet weekend during a mild December.
There was enough ice covering the shallow water to hold birds, but it wasn’t thick enough to keep us from breaking through. It’s tough going for hunters and dogs alike. The way the dogs work through these conditions is a testament to the incredible drive they have.
Ole, at 4 years old, has taken another step this season. Things have clicked for him now. He’s all business, and it’s only a matter of keeping him reined in sometimes when the birds start running.
Steve’s dog is just getting her feet wet. Izzy, a chocolate lab, is 4months old and blew us away by how well she did in her first trip to South Dakota. She figured out quickly what we’re out there for. That’s step one.
A fresh inch of snow gave away the birds’ location during our Sunday morning hunt. Tracks would appear and so would the wagging of tails with fresh scent in the area.
Izzy and Ole were right on their trail as we came to a narrow stretch of rushes. A rooster flushed in front of us and fell after a few shots. I had the barrel broken on my Browning Citori to reload when a second rooster flushed in front of me.
Steve waited for me to shoot before realizing he better take matters into his own hands. He took aim and knocked down the bird into some thin cover. Ole was in the process of retrieving the first rooster and didn’t see this one go down.
We called both dogs to the area where we saw the bird hit the ground running. Ole went one way and Izzy went the other. It wasn’t long before the rooster jumped up, an excited ball of brown right on its tail feathers. It was Izzy’s first time finding an injured bird for us.
She wasn’t done. We were nearing the end of our hunt when Ole got hot and busted a rooster off the edge of the cattails on Sunday. Dad was manning the edge and his gun got caught on his coat as he went to shoulder it.
By the time he got the shot off, the bird had gained some distance. The first shot sent feathers flying, but the rooster kept going before landing in the cattails a couple hundred yards in front of us.
We walked that way, figuring the dogs would pick up the scent once we got there. Sure enough, Steve briefly lost track of Izzy only to find her tugging at the dead rooster when he came upon her.
We finished our hunt with seven birds the first day, six the next and eight during a three-hour hunt that Sunday morning. We had chances to get closer to our limit if not for a few missed shots that should have been gimmes each day.
That’s par for the course in the pheasant fields. Misses are part of the memories.
They never outweigh the fond ones of watching good dogs work and hunting with friends and family.