By Nick Simonson
My favorite places to hunt are those familiar ones, but not everything is the same from season to season. A look back, and ahead, gives insight into why we hunt the spots that we do…in Our Outdoors.
A familiar result. Adam Marthaler of Prairie du Chien, WI and his lab Kensi picked up this rooster on the north end of a Lyon County, MN Wildlife Management Area.
“Things never happen the same way twice,” explains C.S. Lewis, via the great lion, Aslan to young Lucy in the book Prince Caspian. The Narnia Lucy returns to some 1,300 years later in the third book of the series, is the same, but also very different; and the way the Pevensie children and Aslan helped change the history of the magical realm in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, will not be the way it was done in the first book of the series. The Narnia collection holds a special place in my heart, as my grandmother would frequently read them to me in front of the large living room picture window when I would visit the farm in western North Dakota as a child for Thanksgiving, or when dad and his friends would head up to hunt and I would tag along.
I found myself in that same farm house last weekend, but it was very different place with my grandmother’s passing two years ago. The hallway walls once filled with family photos were bare, and while the occasional print still adorned the living room wall, and the hand-knitted pillows and afghans were still stacked and folded in the corners of the couch, it was decidedly different. The place was noticeably empty, despite the five guys occupying each room with a bed or a couch that could double as a sleeping space. It was the same lively atmosphere at daybreak and lunch time and dinner but, without grandma there, it wasn’t.
As I walked the fields around the farm and waited for pheasants to flush in familiar places, it seemed as if they too were just a step off from where I had experienced the rush before. In the spot where my very first rooster boisterously cackled its way to the top of the gray-green Russian olive trees and toppled after a blast of gray smoke, a hen skittered up over the tips of the low grasses and flew away unscathed. While pheasants flushed frequently on familiar walks, none of them left me with that sense of déjà vu that I expected to feel.
Heading back to the bluestem acres of a favorite WMA for the Minnesota pheasant opener this weekend, I found myself retracing steps from previous seasons with a buddy also working his way back east after our North Dakota hunt. We wound our way through the bluestem, which was seven-feet high in some places, to a clearing where the tall brown vegetation gave way to low green field grass. The season before, I had taken a rooster in that very spot, and I paused to watch my dog meander through the opening without so much as a switchback. We continued on around the public parcel to the edge of a corn food plot, where the rooster I had been looking for cackled its way into the air and fell down on the sounding shot from my friend’s 12-gauge over-under. My dog retrieved the bird for him, and we admired the rooster’s color. It was the same sense of success, just coming in a different place within the small grassy kingdom the bird once ruled.
As opening weekend closed, we crested a hill in my truck and the gravel road rolled out between a small sliver of recently-planted prairie mix and brush that comprised the north portion of a WMA and the larger southern section of slough wrapped in field grass. With clouds rolling in on a strong southern breeze and a slight mist covering the windshield, we set out on the smaller section, flushing a hen from the east end of the prairie planting before turning and catching the northern brushline back.
Halfway through the shrubs, I found an opened milkweed pod and plucked it from the brittle gray plant. I peeled a pinch of the parachute-bearing seeds and tossed them into the air, watching the gusts lift them up and over the greenery to my right, as my buddy and his dog worked their way along the north edge of the parcel. I reached for another pod, but instinctively shouldered my 20-gauge as a blur of blue and orange feathers thundered from the cover and cut to my left, interrupting my planting efforts.
The shot sounded and the bird toppled into a brushy thicket and was deftly retrieved by my friend’s lab. In the small area which I had never visited before, I formed a quick memory of the slight break in the brush before the narrow drain by replaying the flush, the shoulder and the shot over and over again on the way back to the truck.
As we wrapped up our weekend on a high note, I looked at my buddy and said, “now I’ll always expect a bird in that spot.”
At this point in time I should know better. While future moments in that space, or back on the farm, or my favorite WMA might come close, and certain points on each piece of land will trigger a flushing response from pheasants, thanks to all the variations from season to season and day to day, things never happen the same way twice…in our outdoors.