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Wiltz: A potpourri of pheasant thoughts

On the afternoon of Nov. 14, Dave and his dog Kate, Don and I went pheasant hunting. Mild temperature, little wind, great dog work and tight-holding birds made for an enjoyable, easy limit.

As we trudged through a half mile of waist-high CRP cover, Dave commented, "Hey, we have a hawk blocking for us down at the end!" Dave was right on. There was no doubt in my mind that the hawk was forcing the birds to hold tight. I've noticed a regular pattern when I hunt ring-necks. Hawks appear out of nowhere, and they are quick to pursue the first birds I flush.

Some people mockingly refer to another as a "bird brain" when something not too intelligent is done. As I recall, I was often referred to as "bird brain" in my high school Algebra II class. Well, as small as a bird's brain may be, the birds on both ends of the above scenario displayed some pretty impressive thinking.

The hawks know that hunters will flush birds. Some have learned that they don't want to get too close to the hunters. Before you jump to any conclusions, I can honestly tell you that I have never known any of my hunting partners to open fire on a raptor. The pheasants have a tougher decision to make. They are thinking: "If I fly, that hawk may get me. If I hold tight, whatever is marching toward me in this field may cause me harm. What will I do?" Enter the dog. The bird no longer has a choice.

Birds of prey can sometimes do a good job of irritating landowners. They like to devour their pheasant prey on conspicuous places such as a combine hood or center pivot, leaving feathers, wings and entrails as testimony to their prowess. Do they do this intentionally like a cat who lines up his trophies on the back step for all to see?

n I've been doing something this year that I've not done before. I sit down at the kitchen counter after the hunt and completely de-bone and de-tendon the entire pheasant. I then place the meat in a plastic sandwich bag and put it in the freezer. Betsy cares little about those rooster heads peeking at her when she opens the freezer, and she doesn't like those tough, inedible pheasant legs. The quality of our pheasant meals, including pheasant ala king or pheasant stir-fry, has improved dramatically.

n Under-power loads cripple pheasants. When you buy 12-gauge pheasant loads, make certain that the box states, "Three and Three-Quarter Dram Equivalent." This refers to the powder charge. Pheasants are tough, and even though the box may say something like "maximum velocity," don't buy it. The "Three and One-Quarter Dram Equivalent" does not give you the necessary penetration. A full power 20-gauge load has a "Two and Three-Quarter Dram Equivalent" with an ounce of shot.

n If I were to collectively list all the shotguns I've used for any duration in my life, I'd list the Model 97 and Model 12 Winchester pump guns, the Model A-5 and Model 2000 Browning autos, and a Ruger Red Label, a Browning Superposed, and an array of Browning Citori over-and-unders. Those guns had 28- and 30-inch barrels. I believed I could shoot farther and aim better with the longer barrels.

Last winter, while checking over the used shotguns in Cabela's, I picked up a 12-gauge Browning Citori. It had a straight English stock, interchangeable choke tubes and a 24-inch barrels. When I pointed it, it felt like an extension of my arm. I wanted that gun, but I felt 24-inch barrels were just too short. After some deliberation followed by negotiation, I bought the gun. If I couldn't hit anything with it, I'd simply return it.

That nifty lightweight gun has changed an over-the-hill shot-gunner into a senior version of "The Quick and the Dead." My preconceived notion about short barrels was almost totally wrong. If the gun has a weakness, I may not be as good at long, high, pass shots with it as I am with my longer-barreled Superposed. The longer barrel does give a longer sighting plain on pass shots, but on flushes, I have the confidence of Matt Dillon.

n Nov. 20 provided an interesting opener for my East-River deer hunt. Doug and I were sitting along a trail near a heavily wooded crick bottom when two young mule deer bucks came up the trail. Instead of spooking when they saw us, they kept coming. While the second buck eventually turned around, the first buck came within 6-7 yards of me, stopped to look us over, and eventually ambled off. My camera was in my pack, but unfortunately, it wasn't out. Both wore a pair of forked antlers.

Two personal acquaintances have shot what may prove to be the biggest whitetails taken in South Dakota this season. I personally saw one of the bucks. I'm considering a combined feature on these bucks for a future column -- perhaps next week's if they don't mind the notoriety.

See you next week.

Roger Wiltz writes a weekly outdoors column for The Mitchell Daily Republic.