Sunday, November 2, 2014

My First Pheasant

This past weekend I went pheasant hunting for the first time in my life. Well, actually, I went hunting for the first time in my life (not counting that time a friend and I went walking in the woods for an hour with guns looking for grouse and didn't see even one).

Hunting seems to be one of those familial pastimes that gets passed down through the generations, primarily from father to son. My father didn't hunt but he did fish on occasion, so I grew up fishing on Minnesota lakes a few times a year but never really got into it.

In my youth, my hunting opinion was shaped by those around me who I saw go hunting and it wasn't pretty. In my high school it was mostly the stupid or underachieving kids who hunted so I did not view it in a favorable light. Hunting seemed like more of a redneck lifestyle (and undoubtedly it still is for many rednecks around our nation).

But over the years I met more gentlemanly hunters who changed my view. In Montana, virtually everybody has a gun and hunts no matter their political leanings. Hunting is seen there as an honorable way to spend time outside with family gathering food for one's table.

A few weeks ago my good friend Andrew invited me to join him pheasant hunting on some land his family owns around Onida, South Dakota. I was excited to get the invitation as I've been wanting to explore this sub-culture for some time now.

Onida is right smack dab in the middle of South Dakota, 30 miles north of the capitol of Pierre. It's a small town of 750 people that has one really great little bar and a pretty active "business district".

The house we stayed in belongs to Andrew's aunts and was conveniently located 1 block off Main St. and within spitting distance of the excellent Blue Goose bar where Thursdays are $1 Busch Light days.

I think this land is beautiful -- the golds and greens and browns and blues and greys reflect the simple beauty of the people who have farmed this soil for generations.

Sunset is particularly spectacular but this was the best my simple phone camera could capture. I'd fired a shotgun for the first time on that grouse excursion a year ago and in Utah had a friend who took me to the pistol range a couple times, so I'm not unfamiliar with guns. But shooting at a moving target proved to be something of a challenge for me.

The first day I went out with Andrew and the two of us walked tree lines and fence lines and ponds -- the breaks and inconsistencies in the otherwise farmed landscape -- looking for those places where a pheasant could hide in some long grass or reeds. We saw about 15 male pheasants and I was 0 for 20 in my attempts to bring one down.

But Friday morning brought better luck. We were now a team of five hunters and one dog moving between several different property locations around Onida. Around lunchtime I finally got a lucky shot and brought down my first bird. In fact, this was the first creature I think I've ever killed that's bigger than a mosquito. The thought of killing didn't really bother me because I knew I'd be eating it and, after all, isn't it important for us to all understand that the chicken at the grocery store wasn't just created under plastic wrap like that?

I shot one more that afternoon and another on Saturday and was thrilled with the experience. First of all I spent time walking some gorgeous country with good friends. Second, I got to interact with people that I normally wouldn't come into contact with -- the residents of small town rural South Dakota. I think this was the longest amount of time I've ever spent in a town that small. And third, I actually got me a couple birds.

Will I be running out tomorrow to buy myself a shotgun? No, but I do believe I'll hang on to my paradoxically blaze orange- and camo-colored truck stop hunting cap.

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