If there was a dream shot to be taken during this past weekend’s Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener in Nobles County, it wasn’t to be done with a gun.
Nope. I had a camera.
My dream shot was to get a hunter perfectly poised, aiming his gun toward a beautiful ringneck pheasant as it took flight over a field in its attempt to escape.
Leave it to an award-winning photographer from the Mankato Free Press to burst my bubble (or perhaps take the self-imposed pressure off!). John Cross — a graduate of Worthington High School who worked at the Daily Globe early in his nearly 40-year career as a newspaper photographer — told me it’s easier to shoot a pheasant with a gun than it is with a camera.
Nevertheless, I tried my best. (That’s all the Chief asks for, right?)
Clad in a bright orange sweatshirt that made my eyes hurt, blue jeans, a worn-out pair of walking shoes and an awesome pheasant-adorned, blaze orange cap courtesy of Runnings, I set off with my hunting party minutes after Saturday’s 9 a.m. Pheasant Opener start.
Pheasant hunter and habitat promoter extraordinaire Les Johnson served as our hunting guide, and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz was among those carrying the guns. Cross and I followed along with our camera gear; and Johnson’s dogs, Darby and Brandy, led the hunt as they sniffed out and spooked up more than a dozen pheasants, albeit mostly hens.
I’ve always considered myself an outdoors person, so to be walking through tall stands of prairie grasses like Indian Grass and Big Bluestem that towered over my 5’8” frame, I was as happy as a lark … or perhaps more appropriate for this adventure, as happy as a pheasant hen.
We’d traversed more than a quarter-mile of land before we saw our first action. I was in awe as Darby bounded through the grass, his nose seeking, then finding the scent. The faster his tail wagged, the more imminent the potential for a bird to flush, I learned.
I was so mesmerized by the dog that the first pheasant to fly out from under cover flew off into the distance without so much as one click of my camera’s shutter. I think I forgot what my job was to be on this hunt!
I’ll be ready next time, I declared, as visions of blank newspaper pages flashed before me. Yes, I must get a shot — a good shot.
We kept on walking through brief clearings and thick brush as Johnson and Walz talked about government funding for habitat and the array of wildlife on the land, mixed in with occasional praise of the hunting dog.
After joining other hunters in our group, we divided up again. Johnson and Brandy walked through the cornfield, and I trailed behind Walz along the field’s edge. Hunters to our right had four working dogs to help scare up the birds.
We hadn’t walked far when Johnson shouted that a deer was on its way out of the corn field.
The thought of being pummeled by a 10-point buck immediately interrupted the serene feeling I had about connecting with nature.
While I missed any photo ops with deer, I captured a few shots of pheasants in flight — and missed the closest opportunity of all. A hen flushed about two feet from my walking shoes, scaring me enough to elicit a scream. Walz laughed at the surprise encounter and said we were close enough to feel the breeze of the flush.
Yep … that wasn’t all I felt!
All in all, it was a successful hunt — the gun-toting members of our hunting party bagged three beautiful roosters; the photographers had opportunities aplenty; and our First District Congressman experienced a hunt on some amazing Reinvest In Minnesota prairie ground in Nobles County.
Kudos to all of the people who made the 2014 Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener not only happen, but one to be proud of. It was well-organized, educational and fun, and Mother Nature did her best to provide perfect conditions for a hunt … whether we carried a camera or a gun.