Riege: Opening Day

Published 8:45 pm Wednesday, October 12, 2011


The pickup truck rolls along a gravel road early in the morning and crunches to a stop in a farmyard surrounded by corn, soybean fields and slough grass. The hunters crawl out of their vehicle and shake hands, greeting people with hugs and smile. The wafting smell of fresh baked bread and coffee pours from the farmhouse with the help of the screen door. The newly arrived hunters quickly unpack some items and allow their stiff-legged dogs to run free in the yard. The talk that filters from the group mentions such things as posting, pushing and what other areas look like. Jim asks “what is the ditch like down at dead end?” and Kirk asks, “where do you want me to go?” I asked; ” if everyone had enough Remington shells this year?” In previous years some of the party discovered that opening day you have a tendency to go through more shells because of lack of practice and excitement. It is a “homecoming” the beginning of many days when friends and families reunite. The opening day of the season – any hunting or fishing season – is always a big event. In any given state we have perhaps a dozen openers for which we may participate.

But when you say, “The Opener” you must be talking about the pheasant season. I know that there are other candidates. Fishing season for trout and walleyes or bass are celebrated after months of staring at ice lock lakes. In fact, the spring “openers” take on a sort of mysticism that corresponds to the time of year. Still, every other opener falls short of the first day of pheasant season.

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The hunters make some final stretches and load their guns. They assemble at the edge of the field and someone checks his watch, “time to go” and the “Opener” is officially under way. As the hunters enter the field, the young red dog freezes and his eyes burn holes in the grass that borders the edge of the field. As the red dog creeps forward the hunters steady and two young roosters spring from the cover and cackle at the dog and hunters. Shots ring out and the two young roosters fall to the guns of the hunters. The young dog makes a double retrieve on the birds and for sure the “Opener” has begun. Within the next half an hour the hunters hear distant reports from other parties of hunters and they are envious of the success.

The others are hunting another area and I am alone with my favorite hunting companion. The increased tempo of Laddy Boy’s tail brought me back to reality and I realized that a bird was near. He too, would not miss the “Opener”. He has been on at least six of them.

The smart old rooster held his ground until the cold nose of Laddy Boy inched towards the tail. The big rooster rose from the cover in a rush of wings and a raucous cackle that startled both Laddy and I. As I recovered from the excitement of the bird flushing and composed myself, I leveled the Remington Special Field at the head of the rooster and my shot caught the pheasant before it could clear the edge of the field. As always Laddy was there to make the retrieve and we added another rooster to the bag.

Depending on where you hunt, the opener might last from half a day to a full week. A lot of variables come into play. If the roosters get “educated” the opener is usually over. If your area has had a wet fall and the crops have not been harvested, the opener can stretch into the second weekend of pheasant hunting.

The key to a good opener starts with scouting before the season and locating good places to hunt. You should stop in and talk to the farmers before the opener and ask permission well ahead of time. I always like to take along a little gift to give to the farmer for allowing me to hunt on his property before the season begins. Likewise, you might ask if the farmer needs a helping hand around, (if you are willing) and exchange your labor for some hunting privileges. Above all please ask, it is not only a common courtesy but in many states it is the law.

Most hunters will find some really good hunting if they key in on the two distinct areas. Public hunting areas, though overrun with hunters during the season, are good areas to walk especially after the first two or three hours. By this time most of the hunters have left to other areas and the pheasants can be easy pickings with good dogs. The other overlooked area is Roadside ditches. These ditches offer a great deal of habitat that is close to food and they can be easily walked with a good dog. A word of caution, if you do hunt this way check game laws in your state to make sure hunting roadsides are legal. Good dog training on your part will prevent your dog from entering the roadway with traffic.

The pheasant holds a special place in the heart of many Midwestern hunters. Today, when all the birds that were shot, return to the farmhouse, with all the hunters the stories and memories will live on. The hunters will tell and retell stories of this day and days of yesteryear. As my dad use to say “the pheasants are shot once and then reshot again when the hunters return”.

As wonderful as the opening day is, it never balances the scale of how I feel when it is over. The “Opener” is special and it only occurs once every year. Until the next Opening Day….

This year is a very special “Opener.” The very first Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener will be in Montevideo, Minn. Watch next week’s column for an update.