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WOSTER: Memory of pheasant openers always perfect

Terry Woster

Opening day of pheasant season in South Dakota has always been an incredible spectacle.

It was pretty cool to be a young guy hanging around with the adults and mentally ticking off the minutes until it was legal to start shooting. The shooting during the first day, first weekend, was usually pretty intense when I was younger. There always seemed to be plenty of birds around, and even in the days when the limit was four roosters (which I remember mostly because I once got a limit with four shells, so I thought I was a pretty incredible hunter until it never happened again), most of the hunting parties I remember from the days on the farm were able to limit out the first and second days.

Later in the season, we would encounter more runners, but on opening day, the birds seemed always to take to the air, and as often as not, just in the right range for a decent shot.

The first day or two, roosters were plentiful and, frankly, not all that bright.

I don't know what it's like these days. I haven't carried a shotgun in the field since I was a freshman in college, and that was back in the fall of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It's been a number of years since I even walked the fields with relatives, and when I did, I carried a camera instead of a shotgun and usually forgot to raise the lens for any sort of images of the folks actually doing the hunting.

The last time I actually walked a field, my younger son was with me. He was carrying a gun, and we were both having a grand old time kicking through the weeds and corn stalks on some of the same land where I grew up. My son didn't get a chance to know the place.

He and his older brother and sister were a generation late. He's heard the stories, though. He spent that hunting day enjoying not only the chance to shoot at some pheasants that day but also the opportunity to walk the land I did when I was his age, and the land a Grandpa Henry he never knew walked as a young man.

My son had a little different experience than I remember from my pheasant-hunting days as a kid. Whenever I think of the season openers I knew growing up, the skies are blue, the sun is bright but not uncomfortably warm and the winds are light. In my memories, in other words, every opening day is picture perfect. Every bird flushes well in range and every shot is true.

(Now, I know that can't be so. If I work at it, I can conjure up images of long, galloping chases through the corn stalks after roosters that were knocked down but not finished. I can pull up vague images of members of hunting parties sweating after a pass through a field, and I can recall dimly some days when the wind blew so fiercely that the roosters hunkered down against the earth, taking to the sky only if a hunter actually stepped on tail feathers. It couldn't have been perfect. It was the Woster place, not Norman Rockwell's homestead. My most vivid memories, though, would have you believe I grew up with Mr. Rockwell).

The first time my son hunted at our old place, the sky was gray and as heavy as the coats the hunters were wearing to keep out the chill. A couple of times during the afternoon, the clouds opened and leaked rain all over us as we walked the stubble or stood at the edge of a field of tall cane waiting for the signal to start walking into the cover. I've seen far better days, but the kid was happy when it was over, and that was all that mattered.

I won't be among the hunters today, but I don't mind saying that I hope the weather stays decent, some birds fly right for them and, when it's all over, the kids among them are happy. That really is all that matters on opening day.

Terry Woster's columns are published on Saturdays and Wednesdays in The Daily Republic.