By Nick Simonson
As the leaves turn their yellow, gold, red and brown, another change in color signals the shift toward fall. In the morning, along any given gravel road, should the conditions be just right and a recently-harvested field be available in pheasant country, it’s easy to see the transition in the bird population as the newest crop of roosters begins to ditch the buff hues shared with their young-of-the-year sisters, and instead don the bronzes, golds, reds and maroons of adulthood. It is a sign, much like the quickly departing leaves on the trees, that autumn has arrived and pheasant season is just around the corner.
For many new hunters, the pheasant season and particularly the youth pheasant weekend of Oct. 3 and 4 in North Dakota and youth pheasant week from Sept. 26 to Oct. 4 in South Dakota, provides a chance for them to don a new color as well and join our orange-clad culture. Helping novices make the transition from their spring or summer hunters education courses to those exciting moments behind a field dog in pursuit of roosters in the coming weeks is perhaps the best spent time in the outdoors for an experienced hunter passing on the tradition. What follows are tips to make the most of it and set new hunters on the path to a life-long pursuit.
Focus on Safety
In a controlled environment, say at the patterning board or behind a trap thrower, safety rules are generally easy to recall and enforce. Add in the elements of a chilly morning, a stiff breeze, a running dog or one in an adrenaline-inducing point, and things can become overwhelming for new hunters. Be certain to remind them that not taking a shot is okay. Whether they know it isn’t safe when a bird doesn’t get up high enough, they just couldn’t click their safety over in time, or perhaps just didn’t feel right about the shot for another reason, letting new hunters know that the shot is theirs to take – or not – is key in taking the pressure off of each outing.
Additionally, share the idea that not only is blaze orange a perennial fashion color this time of year, it serves a purpose as well. Stress that more of the safety color is better, and be certain to model that behavior by wearing your vest and hat, and share one or two of the dozens you likely have accumulated over the years to help reinforce the idea that visibility equals safety.
Prepare for the Shot
Before the hunt, explain to a new shooter how your dog will work the field. Is it a flusher, a pointer, maybe a little bit of both, depending on the birds? Talk about cues from the way the dog moves when it is on scent to the time it goes on point or puts a bird in the air. Before entering the field, explain that “ground pounding” roosters is a big no-no, and letting them get airborne with blue sky behind them is the best possible scenario. Address the commands that are common when in pursuit of pheasants – from “whoa” to “go” – so that everyone is aware as to what is going on.
From those cues, be they from a circling flushing dog to a hard-holding pointer, new hunters will learn what to expect leading up to the shot. When the moment comes, help make the call of rooster or hen, and let a first timer take his or her shot at the bird in flight as they identify it, mount their shotgun and squeeze the trigger. Especially in the early youth season, these moments are the ones that help cement new hunters and future conservationists into the sporting fold.
Just the Start
These days in the early season are only the beginning, not just for the three months of hunting ahead, but for a lifetime. A mentorship doesn’t end with just a day in the field but continues throughout the fall and for years to come, particularly until a young hunter is capable of heading out to the field alone. With each day as the season progresses, remember how birds adjust to pressure and the elements and share those tips and suggestions and the lessons learned along the way. As birds become brightly colored and winter sets in, it’s likely that a young hunter will be gaining the experience necessary to predict and adjust to these changes. With a little help and a focus on safety, how things work in the field and what’s to come throughout the season, that process will seem to happen as quickly as a bird takes to the wing.
Featured Photo: Almost There. A young rooster pheasant begins to grow into his adult plumage with youth pheasant seasons just a few days away. Simonson Photo.