The sun faded from the sky on Sunday evening with hunting season officially going with it for many people.
Some will shift their focus to hunting predators such as coyotes and fox through the winter, but those in search of deer and pheasants are now looking ahead to next fall.
Bow season officially ended on New Year’s Eve, and by all accounts it was a good deer season for many. Harvest numbers were up almost everywhere in the state, according to numbers released during and after firearms season by the Department of Natural Resources.
I’ve heard personal accounts from a handful of hunters who said they saw great deer activity throughout bow and firearms season. I can’t say the same. “Unusual” would be the adjective I would use to sum up what I saw in the woods.
Deer sign in the form of scrapes and rubs never did materialize that much on the land I hunt. Not at all like it did during the 2014 season.
I’m not sure what the reason is for that, but it seemed like there just weren’t as many deer on the property as a year ago. Corn surrounded the land this fall and an early harvest should have meant that the deer would start showing up on game cameras by late October.
They never really did. A few nice bucks appeared and there were some nice ones taken during firearms season. Bow hunting proved to be a challenge with the last buck I saw coming on Nov. 6, the day before shotgun opener.
Slow deer movement in early December gave me incentive to get out in the pheasant fields more often during the late season. It’s easy to put bird hunting on the back burner when I still have a deer tag to fill, but having a dog that lives to chase roosters leaves me feeling guilty when I spend too much time in a tree.
Ole and I gave it one last try Dec. 29 during a hunt that encompassed all the fun and frustration of pheasant hunting.
We walked some snow-packed grassland along a field edge when a rooster flushed and flew to my right. Sam Kremin, a friend of mine who was home for a few days from Washington, D.C., took aim and clipped a wing. Ole was right on his tail as the bird hit the ground running. One last long retrieve for the season.
After lunch, we went down to a couple lakes and broke through the cattails. There were birds, but they were jumpy.
Tails wagging let us know we were pushing pheasants as we worked our way through the rushes. A rooster flushed out of range as the dogs continued to scurry back and forth.
Ole got near the area where that rooster had flushed and locked up on point. Just scent, I figured. It had happened many times before. Sam and his dad, Marv, kept following their dogs as I hung back, just in case.
Ole didn’t flinch. Maybe there is a bird. I took a couple steps forward and Ole dove under the rushes.
A rooster came flying out and sent me stumbling as I shouldered my shotgun. The first rushed shot missed before the second hit its mark. Another lesson learned — always trust the dog.
We worked our way down into a small slough as the daylight started to slip away. It was just me and Ole now as Marv and Sam hunted the rushes around the shoreline of the second lake.
A rooster flushed as I took aim. Boom, boom. Cattails flew as the bird disappeared over the horizon. I was replaying the shot in my head when another rooster bolted to my right. Same situation, same result.
With that, I headed into the offseason. A few roosters to show for it on our final hunt. A few misses to keep me looking forward to next year.