Brad Cummings, IAFF Local 3234
Thomas Jefferson once said, “I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” Most people wouldn’t consider themselves lucky to dig their Suburban out of 3-foot snowdrifts in freezing winds, but we couldn’t have asked for better luck during our do-it-yourself Kansas pheasant hunt.
Three a.m. came early Monday, Dec. 7; I didn’t sleep a wink. Part of the problem was the weather forecast for Central Kansas – snow, and lots of it. As much as I love hunting, I really love hunting in the snow.
Planning a Great Plains pheasant hunt requires attention to detail since the weather in December can vary drastically. The harder you work (plan), the more luck you’ll have. In this case, bringing the right equipment for the conditions was key not only to our success but to simply being able to hunt.
Vinnie’s house was dark when I pulled in but, as firemen, we’re used to getting out the door quickly. While we loaded his gear, he noticed I had packed a grain shovel.
“In all the years we’ve hunted in Kansas, I never brought a shovel,” he said.
This was his polite way of telling me I over packed, but he entertained me and threw it in. Then we headed to the firehouse to pick up the third member of our party, Glenn. This would be my first pheasant hunt in real pheasant country. The wild pheasant population has declined in Northern Illinois since changes in agricultural practices removed much of the pastureland and fencerows. Kansas has the habitat pheasants need, and the population shows it.
We were on the road by five, and the 10 hours passed quickly as we tracked our route in the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks 2009 Fall Hunting Atlas. This publication shows the location of public land available to hunt. Most of the pages are covered with yellow blocks of land indicating WIHA, Walk in Hunting Areas.
The snow hadn’t begun to fall when we settled into our motel that evening and searched for The Weather Channel. They predicted 8-12 inches overnight with an additional 2-4 on Tuesday. The temperature was to be on a steady decline coupled by a wind chill below zero. The forecast was unusually accurate.
Traveling became more difficult, but our desire to push on was fueled by our success in the field. Due to the deep snow, pheasants were holding tight in any bit of cover above snow level. They rose in intervals reminiscent of popcorn kernels. We picked out a rooster, marked where it fell and watched as more birds rose in all directions.
Our Wednesday plans were slowed by a frozen starter on the Suburban. Its undercarriage was packed with snow that froze into a solid mass of ice. Luckily, there was a garage nearby with a heated wash bay and a friendly owner. Forty-five minutes of 190 degree, high pressure water had us back in service.
We packed plenty of water and food and headed out with our phones fully charged in case of trouble. The well-traveled highways were relatively clear, but the side roads – where the pheasants would be – were another story. Powdery snow created large drifts in the ditches and across fencerows making movement more time consuming.
Several times, the Suburban rode up on a snow drift, and we deployed the shovel, but one drift took a bit longer to dig out of. A local stopped to help but couldn’t get close enough to reach us with his 20 ft. chain. He offered to drive around the block, which would take 15 minutes in good conditions, and come in from behind. We were sure we could dig ourselves out more quickly, but he took it as a challenge.
Just as we were finishing, we saw him appear over the hill behind us only to get stuck in the same spot we just dug out of. This time, we were able to back in close enough to hook the chain up and pull him out.
Wednesday ended with tired hunters and a tired dog but a full bag of 12 pheasants and a few quail. Pheasants that fell were nearly impossible to see until we located the tell-tale hole where they had fallen into the snow. Retrieving was more difficult, but cripples weren’t able to run. On Thursday morning, we decided to call it a successful trip and head home.
A bit of planning can provide a successful “on your own” Kansas pheasant hunt for minimal costs. The adventure is ready for the making.