By Nick Simonson
The recent mornings have at least brought a taste of cool autumn air mixed with the above-average summerlike afternoon temperatures the region has experienced at the start of the season. In those chilly stretches around dawn, whether walking around the block with the dogs or running along the edge of town, I can sense the approaching pheasant season and the onset of October, despite the mercury later in the day getting into the 70s, 80s and even 90s, making for sweaty evening bow hunts and afternoons too warm for my oversized (but fit for his size) Labrador retriever to pursue sharptailed grouse, here in what can only be called the pre-season.
But the change is coming, with a big red circle on the calendar, pheasant opener will be here soon enough and with it the meet ups with friends and family, new places to explore and favorite hikes with the usual spots to inspect along the way as the slightest cool autumn breeze carries the scent to my dog’s nose and changes his angle mid-sprint will all be part of it. These are the days I live for, and oftentimes by myself, I witness the grandest displays that nature has to offer.
From the sun rising purple, blue and pink in my side mirror as I hope to be the first orange-clad hunter in front of a yellow triangle on the open prairie to my west to the last of the brown and yellow leaves holding on to the cottonwoods and ash trees along the river, the scenery sets the stage for a bird that bears as many colors as the landscape. Out of the truck, it’s beige field grasses, dried black wildflowers and an undercarpet of the season’s last green plants that hold the roosters’ scent which my dog is quickly on. Down slight funnels and up steep hillsides we’ll go, and somewhere in the mix of rising and falling terrain, brush and grassland, the season’s first bird will flush before us. With each wingbeat the door of the season will be opened, regardless of how hot or cold it’s been, how green the landscape is or how dry things are, and whether we’re on private land or public spaces. We’ll take aim at the exciting moment that will kick everything off, and spin time into a fast-forward blur through fall, a season that seems to me moves twice as fast as summer.
There aren’t enough days at the end of the year it to fit in everything I’d want to do, but priorities take hold and upland trips become the primary focus. With a young, able and more than willing dog that whines anytime I come upstairs in a pair of beige pants even remotely resembling my field pants, every day spent out of the field in the fall seems like a tragedy. Even substituting a deer hunt during firearms season or on the bow stand feels like a betrayal as his sad brown eyes attempt to determine whether my garb for the day means his kind of hunting, or some other inferior form. While they happen from time-to-time, based on the date and conditions, those outings often take a backseat to upland adventures, at least from mid-October to early November and then again after Thanksgiving.
It’s all familiar, and it’s all coming fast, borne on the early morning breezes as we battle through the warmth to find some pre-season time in the field which I can bank for those later efforts that don’t involve a shotgun. Soon the trees will be bare, the fields will be cut, and the brightest color we see will be that on the feathers of a rising rooster. The countdown is on, single digit days are close at hand, and pheasant season is just around the corner. We’re more than ready for its return…to our outdoors.
Pheasant season opens in North Dakota on Oct. 9 and in Minnesota on Oct. 16.
Featured Photo: Rooster pheasants keep fall’s bright colors going into the white and beige of late season. Simonson Photo.