OK, not quite, but it was the first time I’ve hunted pheasant since I was stationed at Ft.Riley, Kansas about thirty-five years ago. It all started when I was getting my deer tag at Cabella’s. The nice lady behind the counter asked, “Would you like Small Game and Migratory Birds?”
“Sure,” I said. “Why not?”
Well, because it got a lot more expensive. When Linda heard what it cost she said, “That’s it- you’re going hunting. Figure out what you need to do and do it.”
Uh… darn? OK, when I was stationed at Ft.Riley Kansas I hunted Prairie Chickens and Pheasant. Not a lot, but I enjoyed it. Of course living in the barracks I had no place to keep birds so one of my colleagues, whom we called The Great White Hunter, had to Tetris them into his already stuffed chest freezer.
When I got out of the army I never got back to bird hunting. OK, I shot some grouse back in the eighties, but that hardly counts. This consisted of walking down a logging road. The grouse would spot us and either stand there staring at us with their beaks literally hanging open until we shot them or they would run away. Straight down the middle of the road away from us. Until we shot them.
One time when we were driving in we ran across a group of six or so. They saw the jeep and ran. Straight down the middle of the road. We followed them for about a hundred yards. “Do you suppose,” I said, “That at some point it might occur to them that they can fly?”
It didn’t, so we stopped, got out and shot them. Stupid birds. Anyway I hadn’t done any wing-shooting since Kansas. I have some nice antique doubles and had been intending to go hunting. Y’know, some day. OK, looks like that day had arrived. Of course I had no idea how to go about it. Fortunately we live in the internet age. Pretty quickly someone said, “I could probably take you out on JBLM”
This is Joint Base Lewis Mchord, a very large military installation south of Tacoma. There was a certain symmetry to it since last time I hunted Pheasant was also on a military base. Linda was keen on it; she liked the idea that I would be in a controlled space with folks that knew what they were doing. It appealed to me, too. My host JB is active duty stationed there and explained the process. Basically I had to go to the Skeet range on post, register and pay a fee. That turned into a whole adventure all by itself but we don’t need to go into that.
There was an issue- you can’t use lead shot on post and none of my shotguns are good for shooting steel shot. I can order Bismuth on the internet but it’s heinously expensive and wouldn’t arrive in time. Fortunately JB had a gun I could borrow, so I picked up some #2 steel shot 12-gauge loads. Good enough.
There is a process for hunting on JBLM. First you need to look up where you can hunt what. Then you need to call the day before the hunt and make a reservation. I was advised to call in early, and be prepared to redial a lot. So I was up at 6 am. and started dialing. Over two hours later I finally got through- it turns out the system was down. Oh. Anyway when I finally got in I discovered that JB had already made my reservation. OK then. He also sent me a link to Google Maps that would take me directly to the designated hunting area.
This morning I put on thermals, a t-shirt and jeans and grabbed my ‘please-don’t-shoot-me-orange’ fleece pullover. I took extra layers in case they were needed, clean socks and shoes to change into on the way home if needed, water, a knife, a cooler etc. A 53 minute drive later and I was there- too early but no problem; I brought my Kindle too.
JB showed up and we chatted- nice fellow. He provided me with a Tri-Star pump shotgun in tasteful woodland camoflage. He also brought a pair of dogs. In fact most people brought dogs. I’ve never hunted with dogs before, but it’s not complicated. I mean it isn’t when it’s not your dog. The primary rule, as you might imagine, is ‘Don’t shoot my dog.” I had kind of assumed that, but I can’t blame JB for mentioning it.
At 1PM we were lined up along the road at roughly 100-foot intervals. Everyone loaded their guns, let the dogs go and we started walking. The area was pretty open- the occasional old tree or stump but mostly wrinkled land covered in grass and low bushes. They guys hunting were great, communicating and making sure everyone was staying safe. When one fellows dog was working a bird too close to use he told us to take the shot. Now that’s a gentleman!
Now, on Ft.Riley we basically just walked through a field until a bird got tired of running away through the grass and took flight. Here the birds don’t flush unless you practically step on them. How stubborn are they? Two dogs actually got hens before they could flush. The dogs were absolutely necessary, and watching JB work the dog was an education. He kept it about 20-25 yards out with verbal commands, and he read the dog like a book. He knew when the dog was onto something, knew where to direct it and could reel him in with a word when he went too far.
Before long people were shooting, and then we flushed a bird. I shouldered the gun, fired… and missed. JB loosed a couple rounds, which also missed. There seemed to be a lot of that going around, which made me feel a little less like an idiot. After two misses I realized I was leading too much. The next two birds I knocked feathers off of but didn’t drop them. JB shook his head and wondered if the birds were in Kevlar. OK, at least I was in the ballpark. Then a bird rose and cut across right to left in front of me and I dropped it. A nice rooster, which the dog obligingly fetched and brought over. JB knocked down a nice hen, but that was the last shot of the day for us. Around three we called it a day and headed back to the parking lot.
I felt pretty good; I hadn’t shot birds on the wing for 35 years. It would have been nice to take a second bird (there’s a two per day limit) but I was pleased enough. JB actually gave me his hen as did another fellow- damn nice of them! We arranged to do it again next saturday, and I have to say I’m looking forward to it. A nice day out, pleasant company and the added spice of taking home food that I shot myself. Well, a third of it anyway.
On arriving home Linda and Tony took charge of the birds, peeled them, cleaned them and cooked up an excellent dinner.
Linda dredged the pieces in flour, browned them and simmered them with white wine, salt, pepper and onions for an hour. Not very tender, but very tasty. With a serving of my home-made coleslaw on the side it was wonderful. I’d forgotten how much I like pheasant, and Linda is already planning how to cook the next ones…
To top off an already great day a Facebook friend asked if I might be interested in hunting some geese this week. Yes. Totally. This will be a genuine first since I’ve never hunted waterfowl before.
“You’re going to need a gun for shooting steel shot,” Linda said. “That bismuth shot is just too damn expensive. We should swing by Ben’s tomorrow.”
So she insists that I go hunting, cleans the birds when I do and says I need another shotgun. Yeah, she’s a keeper.
A special thanks to JB, who walked me through the set up, was good company on the hunt and basically went above and beyond to make sure this old veteran had a great experience.