Pheasant hunt offers Lone Star power

Jan. 25, 2014 @ 06:06 PM

As we worked our way towards the edge of the field, I called to Cherie to keep her eyes open. We were hunting pheasants in Tulia, Texas on CRP fields, bordered by wheat fields and cow pastures. The cover in the CRP plots was heavy enough for the pheasants to slip ahead of the dogs, but once they reached the fence line, they’d be forced to either double back between the line of guns and dogs or flush and make a break across the field.

When we were still 25 yards from the fence line, a rooster took off with a clatter even I, with my poor hearing and the blustering wind, could hear. The clattering cry of pheasants only comes from roosters and his long, pluming tail confirmed he was what we were looking for. Dane Swinburn, our host for the hunt, was calling “Rooster” as I was putting pressure on the trigger of my shotgun and the rooster was folding up as the word left his lips.
On the report of the gun a hen erupted in front of Cherie, and Dane quickly called out “hen” to let her know not to shoot. As he said the word, a rooster bounced out of the tumbleweeds and sedge that provided cover in this corner of the field and Cherie was on him. I was reloading my gun and Dane’s Lab was returning with my bird, when the third rooster got up, Cherie and I shot about the same time at him and we heard more shots down the line as other birds flushed in the pandemonium. With four shots, we’d put three roosters on the ground in probably less than 15 seconds. This is what a Texas CRP Pheasant drive is like.
Our Texas pheasant hunt, at Tule Creek Outfitters, was our last hunt of our three week trip across America. We had hunted bobwhite quail in Alabama, at Sweetwater Preserve, wild Gambel’s quail in Mayer, Arizona, with Gio Scianna, and visited with our friends at the High Desert Hunt Club, where they were holding the Ken Middleton Youth Pheasant Hunt. We’d also climbed a mountain in the Arizona desert to explore a cave at the top, spent a day on the Boulder City Gun Club Range shooting everything new the gun industry had to offer, and walked the 13 miles of aisles of SHOT Show, the biggest shooting, hunting, outdoor show in the world.
While we didn’t walk 13 miles, the CRP fields we hunted were a little tougher walking than the carpeted aisles of SHOT Show. Most of the fields we hunted were small enough for only two or three passes of our total group of eight guns and two dog handlers. Pheasant drives are an orderly way for several hunters to enjoy an upland hunt in conditions as safe as a two man quail hunt. The guns and dog handlers line up in a straight line about 15 yards apart with the dogs working the area just in front of the advancing line. Dane’s pointers worked the whole line running back and forth in front of the advancing line while the two labs in the group covered less ground and were ready for retrieves of downed birds.
While there was sporadic action all the way across the field, the real action was most likely to happen as the birds realized they would have to double back between the dogs and guns on foot or take to flight. Pheasants are noteworthy for running ahead of dogs so they tended to be pushed along in front of our group until forced to flee or fly. While all our hunting was on CRP land, Dane also has good success all around his area, including  grain fields, shelter belts, tree rows, fence lines, rangelands, old homesteads, cattle pens, hay lots, drainage ditches, tail water pits, creek bottoms, old farm implement lots, and playa lake bottoms.
Like hunts in areas where pheasants traditionally reproduce, we only shot roosters. Dane seeds the fields with hens and roosters in the early part of the season and finds the pheasants seem to have some success in reproducing in this part of Texas, so hens are off limits.  Adding the required identification of the birds adds a quality of excitement to the hunt, that doesn’t happen with quail or chukar hunts or even most game preserves that do pheasant hunts.
Besides pheasant hunts, Tule Creek Outfitters also has waterfowl hunts. The majority of the waterfowl hunting depends on playa lake bottoms to feed, roost, or both. Playa lakes of the High Plains are temporary wetlands that play a crucial role in the migration of up to 2 million waterfowl each year.  Playas are very wide-ranging, and all vary from one to another.  Most are relatively shallow, so dry seasons like this year, have an adverse effect on the hunts. Duck species normally encountered are mallards, pintail, widgeon, and teal. Lesser Canada geese also frequent the area with some snow geese, white-fronted or “specklebelly” geese, Ross’s geese, and a few blue geese.
Tule Creek also guides big game hunts for mule deer, white tails, and hogs. On the way back towards Dallas, just a couple of miles from the lodge, Cherie spotted a huge mule deer along with three other bucks. It was the last hunt of a trip of almost 6,000 miles. In Alabama, Cherie seriously outshot me. She didn’t hunt the desert of Arizona, but I did some great shooting there. I wound up with a better average than her at Tule Creek, so if we’re being competitive, and of course we aren’t, it’s pretty much a tie.
Maybe we should plan at least one more hunt before the season closes… just in case.
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for several NC newspapers as well as national magazines and websites.  If you’d like to have him speak to your group, he can be reached at offtheporch52@yahoo.com or offtheporchmedia.com