Well, I no longer have to speculate about the late date of this year’s killing Jack Frost. Mr. Frost dipped into plant-deadly depth on the night of November 12. It wuz 25 degrees when I got up that morning. That late killing frost date is absolutely the latest date in my lifetime.
Last Saturday wuz the opening date for Kansas pheasant hunting. It’s with a twinge of sadness that all the pheasant hunting I can do anymore is in my memory — but, oh, what memories I have, of friends and family, loading up pickups and dog trailers with shotguns, ammo, snacks, dog supplies, ice chests and all our sundry needs for several days of hunting.
Usually we arrived at our hunting destination in time to participate in the local evening celebration of opening pheasant season — meal and drinks at the local Elks or Moose lodge, followed by card playing and good-natured banter until at least midnight.
I still recall fondly crisp western Kansas mornings when my hunting buddies and I filled our lungs with cold air, released our eager Brittany bird dogs, shouldered our guns, and headed into the frost-laden habitat eagerly anticipating the first cackling rooster pheasant to falling to the crack of someone’s shotgun.
Hopefully, and usually, the day ended with heavy hunting vests and bone-tired legs from trudging through harvested grain fields or through weed-choked draws and odd-shaped parcels of land that drew and held pheasants.
By the time the pheasants were cleaned, the dogs fed and snug in their kennels, and supper eaten, we were all happy to fall into our beds and relive the day’s hunt in our sweet dreams.
Those were the days that will happen no more, but I still got a bit of a pheasant-hunting thrill this year. The fella who bought Mandy, my last Brittany bird dog two years ago — ol’ Aimen Fyre, from Paola, Kan. — gave me a cell phone call upon his return home from a pheasant hunt near Beloit, Kan., and gave me a report on Mandy’s performance.
It wuz topped off with a tale that made me grin about Mandy chasing a hot-footing winged pheasant rooster into a standing field of grain sorghum and emerging with her retrieve several minutes later with the still-alive pheasant in her mouth.
Aimen said it wuz such a perfect retrieve that he rewarded Mandy with a night on the cozy motel bed with him and letting her share a stiff drink of cold Crown Royal in celebration. Aimen’s somewhat of a BS’er, so I doubt the veracity of the Crown Royal story, but believe every bit of his description of Mandy’s memorable retrieve.
Aimen’s story brought back into my mind the last bird hunt I had in the breaks of the Snake River where we lived in Pullman, Washington, for two years.
My good buddy, S. Teddy Walker, and I were hunting our Brits along the rim of a steep brush-choked ravine on a snowy day. It wuz prime pheasant habitat. My best bird dog, Ginger, went on a strong point right in front of me and, when we flushed the rooster, it flew straight way — an easy shot.
But, what I didn’t know is that some of the snow had melted on the shells in my hunting vest and dampened the powder in some of my hand-loaded shotgun shells. So, when I pulled the trigger, that shotgun shell went off so softly and quiet-like that I could see the shot and the wad leave the barrel.
But, the bird wuz so close that I winged it anyway and it flew erratically downhill into a thicket of brush and brambles at least 100 yards downhill. Ol’ Ginger carefully watched the bird land and headed downhill into the thicket after it.
I watched her memorable retrieve enfold below me. It didn’t take her long to locate the still robust bird, but it took her a while to run it down. I could follow the chase from above her by simply watching the snow fall off the vegetation. In a minute or so I heard the unmistakable cackle of the rooster pheasant as Ginger finally ran it down.
A minute of so later, Ginger emerged from the weeds in front of me with that rooster pheasant firmly clamped in her jaws, but still very much alive. She held it tight until I grabbed it, rewarded her with the fresh pheasant head, and stuffed it into my hunting vest.
It wuz the last pheasant I killed in Washington state, but it provided a hunting memory I will never forget.
I raised Brittany bird dogs for more than 50 years. I even field trialed a few of the best. I’m sure I can’t recall all the ones I raised and hunted, but I can recall a lot of them. Here’s the partial list: Ginger, Carrie (mother of two field champions), Jill, Flash, Rags, Ranger, Deacon, Casey, Zip, Suzie, Gracie, Hot Rod, Cindy, Goldie, Luke, Zach, Topper, Annie, and, finally, Mandy.
That many Brittanys provided a lot of hunting memories — both good and bad, but I’m glad and thankful, I got to have the experiences.
Words of wisdom for the week. Before 2020, we were pretty wild. Remember how we all used to eat birthday cake after someone had blown out the candles on it? Crazy times! Have a good ‘un.