Skunked!

It was absolutely unique among the more than 50 pheasant season opening mornings I can remember.

Columnist and pup Beau with the last wild pheasant Scammell bagged in 2007 — the last good year.

Columnist and pup Beau with the last wild pheasant Scammell bagged in 2007 — the last good year.

It was absolutely unique among the more than 50 pheasant season opening mornings I can remember.

Mercifully, Mac Johnston and I were merely in transit, not already down at Brooks to start hunting bright and early, because it was foggy, raining, sleeting, snowing and getting worse the farther south and east we drove.

Somehow it seemed appropriate, because the occasion was somber for another reason: James T. Mah Ming, QC, friend to us both, once law partner to me and current law partner to Mac, had died somewhat unexpectedly two days before.

For Jimmy, no death could be more untimely, because he lived for hunting seasons, particularly waterfowl and big game, and, Mac said, was planning to get out and at it soon; he never made it. So, as we went, we reminisced about Jimmy and sifted the many stories about him to glean which might be appropriate for the “lay” audience to Mac’s eulogy at the funeral.

After lunch the weather seemed to be easing somewhat, so we shortcut from Bassano to Patricia to get out and at one of our favourite huge tracts of prime upland habitat.

The cover was lush from the rains all spring and summer, but, although he was enjoying the roaring around, Beau, my Brittany, was telling us there were no birds, no pheasants, no Huns, no sharptails.

Maybe it had been hunted earlier in the day, we soothed ourselves, little knowing it would be near sundown the next day before we realized what a total disaster this pheasant season is.

Over my many seasons I have never had much luck hunting pheasants in wind, rain and snow. We should have waited for lunch at the Patricia Hotel which, we were told the next day, was full of hunters blaming the weather for their skunkings and vowing “to give ’em hell tomorrow.”

As we drove in to the Tel Star Motel in Brooks, we did see our only pheasant of opening day, a cock hanging by its heels from the hand of a hunter in the roadside ditch opposite land where the Canadian Pheasant Company plants hatchery birds and conducts hunts.

Second day of the season was perfect for pheasant hunting, cool and crisp, but sunny and with little wind. Early on Mac, Beau and I joined forces with Mike Shaffner of Calgary and Mijo, his young female Brittany. Mike probably knows the vast tract of private land we were hunting at least as well as I do, I have just been doing it longer. But no matter where we went or what we did, we saw no upland birds whatever.

After lunch at the Patricia Hotel I led us all to a small gem of pheasant and Hun cover, an isolated oasis on the baldheaded prairie. Before we got our rigs stopped, three sharp tail grouse flushed wild, madly off in all directions. At the very end of the small strip of cover Beau’s beeper sounded its hawk’s cry 17 times, indicating the dog was solid on point in the thick stuff down near the lake. But before anyone could get down there and flush, probably a cock pheasant, the bird escaped.

From mid-afternoon on, we hunted a magnificent tract of bulrushes, willows and long grass on the rim of the badlands. In the willows Mijo rousted a rooster that ran far out into the grass, and then flushed out of range of anyone. That was the only live pheasant we saw in a day and a half and Mac and I were worn out. On the way back into Brooks we drove by the Millicent Designated Pheasant Release Site. It was crawling with hunters, few with birds: this dumpsite needs a fresh transfusion of cannon fodder from the hatchery “chicken” wagon.

We decided it was not worth staying over for some Sunday hunting.

We had seen three wild sharp tails, one wild pheasant, no Huns, Beau had one point and we had not fired a shot. This one ties for the worst pheasant season opening I have experienced. The other vintage worst was the second season after we committed the stupidity of legalizing the shooting of hens.

The last good season down here was in 2007, the third vintage pheasant seasons in a row. Since then, harsh winters have killed adult birds and long, wet, cold springs have all but destroyed nesting success.

I have known some great natural shotgun or rifle shooters (meaning untaught shooters who seldom practice), but Jim Ming was the finest natural shot I have ever known with both, and he purely loved shooting.

We could never talk Jim to sign onto our crew as designated hitter for one of our annual wild pheasant forays. Eventually I asked and he explained why: “because there’s too much hunting and too little shooting.” That may be harsh judgment in vintage, good, or even average years, but it is the perfect epitaph for pheasant season, 2010.

Bob Scammell is an awarding-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.

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