Youthful springer leads the way to Pennsylvania pheasants
A few weeks ago I wrote about the many hunting and fishing opportunities October brings to outdoor people in Pennsylvania. One of those prospects, of course, is pheasant hunting, and I mentioned how I was looking forward to spending some time with a close friend and his springer spaniel in pursuit of those colorful and tasty birds.
Well, late last week, after a morning of unsuccessful archery hunting for deer, we changed outfits and headed for State Game Land 280, a Berks County 2,552-acre layout of public hunting grounds, to spend an afternoon trying for ringnecks.
Because of earlier knowledge of the land, we chose a spot that would take us somewhat off the “beaten path” away from other hunters. We did pass a few parked vehicles, but that number was small compared to the throng that sweeps over just about the whole game land on a Saturday.
The springer – Ginger – was virtually uncontrollable, as she always is, on the road trip there, and was a bouncing package of energy when she left the truck and we headed to our hunting spot.
We crossed a small creek that ran through soggy bottomland, walked a short distance to an access road open only to Game Commission personnel, and trekked a few hundred additional yards along the road till we reached the first location of cover.
Like all state game lands where land-management crews implement their tedious efforts, SGL 280 is a wondrous splattering of thickets, briars, broad and fat edge rows, full bent grass fields, harvested crop fields, plus some crop fields still to be harvested, and scattered areas of woodlots. It is hilly in spots and even at others, and requires a good effort to hunt properly.
Only a few feet into the first edge row we entered, the springer began a fast tail wag plus a circling body motion with her nose close to the ground. She was already on a bird. Seconds later my friend raised his gun and stopped a cock bird that was fast fleeing on foot in heavy cover. One bird in the bag quickly. Three more to go.
We moved uphill into an edge row that bordered fields of corn stubble to both sides The dog hunted the cover thoroughly, but showed no sign of crossing fresh scent. But when we reached the end of the edging, the dog went into another edge that ran counter to the one we just hunted. She got “hot”, and soon a cackling rooster was skyward. My friend offered a quick shot, but the bird flew untouched to another area.
We then went to another edge with a field thick of briars and low hanging vines on one side, and short heavy grass to the other. Ginger moved two more roosters from the thick field, but they chose to lift off out of range on my friend’s side of the edge, offering no chance for a shot.
From there we kept moving in an uphill direction through a couple more fields and edges, but found nothing.
We sat and took a break, giving the dog and ourselves some needed water. We then moved into a semi-circle of heavy cover that bordered a field of corn stubble with short stalks of emerging winter wheat.
Below me my partner yelled that the dog was “on one.” Suddenly, a pheasant flushed and was headed behind us. I swung my body and gun and dropped the cock with one shot. A few seconds later my friend also shot. He now had his limit and I had my first.
As we reached the end of this particular place of cover, the dog flushed one more bird, but it flew into the sun and was quickly out of range before we could determine its sex.
At my urging, we headed in a downhill direction back toward the truck. I was greatly satisfied with the hunt and willing to call it a day when once again Ginger found a bird along a thick edge row we passed. However, I was not ready and missed the shot.
Not far from a path that would take us to the truck the dog went into a small but thick field. I followed, and to my surprise the springer quickly moved two cackling birds into the air. On my second shot I dropped one into the heavy cover. Ginger was on it quickly, and happily brought this bird for my own limit back to her master.
During the short trip to the truck the dog flushed two more birds we had to allow to escape, bringing a total of 12 ringnecks motivated to move by one vigorous black and white hunting dog.
A beautiful autumn afternoon, on a Pennsylvania game land, carrying a limit of cock birds back to the truck. Lord I was happy it was October.