Opening Day on the Prairie

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After a fairly productive morning of hunting northern bobwhites somewhere in central Kansas, the dogs and I returned to my pickup truck to rest for a while. It was still early in the day and I could already tell it was going to be an unseasonably warm day for November. I stripped off a few layers and put away my shotgun as the dogs enjoyed a well-deserved dip in a water trough. All three dogs, Ranger, Ruby, and Pearl had exceeded my expectations on their first hunt together. Each one did their fair share of pointing, backing, and retrieving. I wish I could say this quality had persisted for the duration of the season.

We ran to town to grab lunch from the local pizza place and escape the heat of the day. The parking lot was mostly empty except for a single pickup truck loaded down with an aluminum dog box. Once finished with lunch, I struck up a conversation with the only other patron in the restaurant, a man in his mid-40s donning an orange hunting cap. I have found this can be a good way to learn more about the area and birds you are hunting, who knows you might even make a new friend. However, this conversation was brief and rather gruff. The only information I was able to glean from it was that, to my surprise, the hunter had spent a good portion of the morning searching for a place that someone wasn’t already hunting. I had not seen another human, let alone another bird hunter, since I arrived in Kansas the evening prior.

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That afternoon, I decided to shift my focus to ring-necked pheasant, a species that none of my dogs had ever been exposed to. Returning to the field, I began exploring the mosaic of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) plots and croplands for a piece of public land that pheasants might call home. Much to my dismay, the first 4 Walk-In Hunting Areas (WIHA) were surrounded by bird hunting rigs. I began to understand the frustration displayed by the man from lunch. More and more hunters and vehicles emerged from the woodworks.

Several hours later, I finally located a quarter-section of unoccupied WIHA. Though, based on the number of boot and paw prints, I had not been the first hunter to step into the field that day. As I walked across the piece of CRP, the low rumble of distant gunfire could be heard in every direction. Trucks, evidenced by billowing trails of dust, crisscrossed the patchwork of central Kansas. From a bird’s eye view, the rural landscape must have looked like a freshly disturbed ant mound; it was alive with blaze orange and bird dogs.

Predictably, the afternoon hunt was uneventful, completely opposite from our experience earlier that day. Leaning against the tailgate, I held a bobwhite harvested that morning, turning it over in my hands. Admiring the intricate plumage of this rufous little gentleman, I pondered the way the day had unfolded. I was astonished by the hunting pressure I had witnessed. It was and is the most intense pressure I have seen in my short tenure as a bird hunter.

Concerned, I called up a friend and Kansas resident. His response was short and simple. “Yep, that’s opening weekend.” I was dumbfounded. Somehow, unbeknownst to me, I had stumbled upon a major bird hunting holiday. I can assure you I won’t be making that mistake again!

Trey Johnson

I was born and raised on a small ranch Northwest of Fort Worth, Texas. From a young age, nature always provided an outlet from reality. I have continued to cultivate this passion through formal education and creative writing. When I am not working as game bird research assistant, you can find my bird dog and I in the field chasing birds.

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