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Pheasant For Thanksgiving

9 min read

Thanksgiving, in my house, has always been involved chilling out, watching the parade and some football, snacking on nuts and veggies all day, and then, around 4pm, eating a big old turkey dinner. I imagine this isn't much different from most other peoples general experience. However, this year, we flipped the script a bit and did everything a bit differently. First off I was sick - as sick as the proverbial dog. My head was stuffed like the thanksgiving turkey and my throat felt like it had been attacked by the windshield ice scraper on a frosty morning. Instead of letting this bit of illness interfere with my plans I tried my best to ignore it by drowning the symptoms in cold medicines.

We normally celebrate Thanksgiving in our own home but this year we had coordinated with my dad to head to his house. He had been remodeling his kitchen over the past few weeks and my step-mother, Patty, was eager to show off his handy work and her design ideas. My dad also had a new Thanksgiving activity to add to my daily itinerary - pheasant hunting. I've never hunted game birds before. Well, technically, I've never really hunted anything before. When I was a kid I accompanied my dad on a couple hunting trips but I never carried a weapon or shot at anything. I was just there to hang out at the camp ground and do my own thing. This year, however, I was being invited on the hunt. The closest I'd ever been to hunting was hunting people during training exercises in the Army while I was a light engineer or an OP-4 (opposing force) in El Paso.

We went to my dads house on the evening before Thanksgiving (Wednesday) and had a light dinner and then chatted for a bit before I attempted to hit the hay early since I was sick and we were getting up to hunt at around 4:30am. However, I couldn't sleep at all. Sure, I might have snoozed for a little bit but, overall, I didn't feel rested at all in the morning. Lisa was cool enough to wake up and make my dad and I breakfast before we headed out so at least I had a nice full belly with some good warm food. I also had plenty of clothes on including two knit caps. It was freezing out (18° F) so I was wearing about 6 layers of clothes on my torso. We went hunting with my dad's friend Shannon (a guy), Shannon's nephew, and my dad's other friends Pharral, Matt, and John; so there were seven of us in all. We drove about an hour to just outside Chillecothe, OH where there was some state owned property. The state of OH department of natural resources had released a collection of pheasant on the land the night before. We got there, found a place to park amongst the masses of trucks laden with other hunters, and then waited until around 7:30 for official sun rise. At that point we started to march through the brush.

I had no idea the brush would be so incredibly thick or thorny. I was wearing some of my old winter weight Army BDU's (Battle Dress Uniform - Camoflage) pants and my dad tried to get me to wear some chaps to help protect my legs from the brambles. I declined (plus I wasn't wearing a belt) and fortunately my pants held up admirably. Throughout the 4 hours of hunting I only felt one thorn in my legs. We crossed a few different fields throughout the day. In the first field a group off to our right managed to flush two birds but their entire group failed to hit either one. A little later Shannon's dog flushed a bird but Shannon missed it; however Matt was quick to follow up and get our first bird of the day. We then circled back around on that field through some woods into another field before heading back towards the main road we had parked on, crossing it, and then entering the biggest field on the upper level of the land.

As we trudged through that field another bird was flushed out of the woods to our far right and flew straight at the end of our line that was manned by Matt. The bird was only about 10-15 feet in the air and it turned about 12 feet away from Matt giving him a perfect profile to shoot at. He missed. I was second in line and I readied my weapon, took it off safe, and began to raise it to my shoulder while waiting for it to clear Matt completely so i wouldn't hit him with any spray. Suddenly, a second boom from Matt and the bird was down. It all happened in about 1 second. I hadn't expected him to get a second shot off so quickly because my weapon was a pump action shotgun. It turns out his is an automatic and thus he was able to squeeze off a second round almost instantly. While hunting these birds I can see how useful an automatic shotgun would be! Matt put the bird in my coat's game pouch so that we could keep hunting with him. I think it was OK to do so long as we took the bird against my limit of 2 for the day and in the end it wouldn't have mattered really considering I didn't shot a single bird. In fact, the pheasant that Matt put in my pouch was a close as I got to even shooting (I took off the safety).

After we patrolled that field to completion we headed down to the lower level of the land to traverse two more fields. As we finished the first field we had to go through some incredibly thick growth to get to the second field so I offered to take my Dad's spot in the line so he could go through some substantially less thick stuff. While I fought through nearly impassable growth the pouch the pheasant had been put in was revealed to be not a pouch but instead some kind of waterproof seat that folds off the coat so you can sit on it. The growth had grabbed the material and folded it down and the dead pheasant got away. So, not only did I not shoot a bird I lost a dead one. Of course I didn't notice the loss of the bird until we all regrouped at the far end of the next field so backtracking and finding the bird was nearly impossible (I tried and failed to find the bird).

As we turned around after the regroup another bird was flushed and started to fly away behind us. Shannon shot, Pharrell shot, Shannon's nephew shot, and the bird kept rising and flying away. It was nearly 70 yards away and Matt shot, the bird flew about 10 more feet and then, suddenly, it fell from the sky. It was over 70 yards away from Matt, Shannon, Pharrell, my dad and the nephew. John and I were quite a bit further away so we kept heading back across the field but the others went in search of the bird. They had to traverse a wood line and then entered some really thick overgrowth. Shannon wasn't even sure the bird would have been able to fall to the ground there was so much growth. They search for about 10 minutes then decided to give up. Just as they did Matt's dog, a Brittany Spaniel, pointed on the bird. It had managed to fall to earth and work its way through the growth into a cave of brush. Eventually they caught back up with us; then we headed back up to the top level to get back to our trucks. However, Matt's dog had gotten sidetracked somewhere down below so Matt had to go back down to find Cooper.

The out of state permit for hunting cost me $40 for a 3 day permit. However, for me it was really just a half day permit. While I had a lot of fun just being out there with my dad, and I'm really appreciative of him inviting me, I'm not sure I could afford to do it very often. $40 a pop is a pretty steep price tag. However, had I brought home some birds to eat maybe my opinion of the price would be a bit different.
Once he found Cooper we headed out and drove back to Dad's. Once at Dad's I was supposed to take a nap but I wasn't sleepy. So I just chilled out (didn't watch any parades or football). Dad took a little nap then setup the grill to rotisserie the turkey. Joe had made an apple pie, Lisa a pumpkin, and Patty a tiny mincemeat. They had also made some cheesecake, some veggies, salad, and stuffing. Overall, though I wasn't very hungry, dinner was pretty good and obviously, filling.

A bit after dinner we piled into the family cruiser and headed home. Why? Well we had to get some sleep so we could wake up bright and early to witness Black Friday first hand. Joe stayed at our house to watch the girls so Lisa and I could head out at 6am. The stores actually opened at 4am but as tired as I was there was no chance that was going to happen. The mall parking lot seemed pretty full but the mall itself didn't really seem that crowded. It felt no different than a normal Saturday afternoon. I imagine the lack of crowd was a sign of the economic times. If so it was magnified by the pending closing of many stores in our mall. We are losing a Linens-n-Things, a B. Moss, a Circuit City, a Value City, Steve and Barry's, and maybe an Old Navy. Our mall isn't all that impressive in the first place so losing all of these stores is not a good sign.