One of the most looked forward to events every year in the state of Kansas is the opening weekend of Pheasant Season. For every person it has a different meaning; for some it means tradition, for others it’s the start of the fall hunting season. This year found me with friends starting a new tradition in Western Kansas in the small town of Tipton. Tipton, like many other Kansas towns, has an economy based mainly on agriculture, but with a strong subculture of hunting. Tipton’s hunting roots run deep, and include well known outfitters such as the famous Ringneck Ranch and Quail Quest. This was my first time joining this group of friends, who have a long tradition of hunting together on some private family ground located mostly around the western part of town.
We got to town Friday afternoon and scouted most of the fields we had permission on, trying to make our plans of where we should hunt the next day. After all the fields were scoped out and decisions were made, we settled into the rental house that one of our farmers let us use. Nothing fancy, but well enough for five guys to spend a weekend at and stay warm and dry. After we were all settled in, we headed into Tipton for the annual Stag party held in town for the locals and out-of-town hunters. This was a great event where you could enjoy food and beverages along with a heavy dose of camaraderie, all while in support of a local charity. Old friends were made new again and new friends were made for the first time. After A couple hours of indulging in great food and conversation we headed back to catch a few hours of sleep in anticipation of sunrise the next morning.
5 a.m. came awfully early for us as we jumped out bed and headed into town to meet our friends after a quick breakfast at the house. 17 different people from across Kansas had all come together to spend a weekend doing what we all love to do. Our age ranged from 6 years old all the way to mid-seventies, including families that had three generations of hunters/walkers. The morning started off cool with the first heavy frost of the season and temperatures in the low 20s making a white blanket of frost everywhere.
We quickly gave a safety lecture and made plans of how to attack the first field. Being eager to get our first look at what the 2016 pheasant forecast had to offer, we quickly lined up and word was sent across the lines – it was go time. For me, luck would have it I harvested the first rooster of the season halfway into the first field. I came over the top of a little grass terrace covered in frost with the sun rising in the background he popped out right at my feet. He started to my left then banked to my right in front of me giving me a very nice left to right shot. One crisp crack and the first bird of the season hit the ground. As we worked through the field we raised up about 20 birds here and there, allowing others hunters their crack at a first bird. As we were walking out the end of the first field I was getting ready to unload my gun and cross the fence when the person to my right yelled out rooster. I looked up quickly to see a pheasant banking right to left at about 25 yards over the top of me, I drew up very fast and threw the shotgun out in front of bird and with one more shot my second bird hit the ground in less than 5 minutes. Two birds in one field for me is a great way to start the 2016 pheasant season as far as I was concerned, but I did take some ribbing about it.
After we spent first light in the grass we then proceeded on to start working milo fields hoping to catch the birds snacking. I have to say the 2016 milo harvest produced some of the best cover I have ever seen in all my years of hunting in Kansas. The milo was as thick as CRP grass and almost as tall as my waist everywhere we went. We quickly found out that the birds were not running all that much in the Milo but were actually holding fairly tight, just like they would in grass. We worked multiple fields the rest of the morning that produced 12 roosters before lunch, and about a half dozen quail.
After lunch several of the hunters split off and decided to take their boys to do other things, leaving about half of the original group. We cleaned our birds from the morning, teaching some of the younger hunters how the proper way to field dress a bird by leaving a leg on the carcass for the way home so they can safely be transported around the state of Kansas. The afternoon walk found temperatures warming up to the mid-fifties with a hard south wind, meaning the birds were flushing a little more wild and not allowing us to get quite as close. We walked a few more milo fields and we are able to finish the end of the day with six more roosters and a handful of quail. 18 birds is not a bad start for the 2016 hunting season.
And in true Kansas fashion that evening we all gathered back together at a fire pit To tell lies and celebrate with beverages on what ended up to be a wonderful day Outdoors.
Sunday morning rose with temperatures not quite as cold as the morning before, but still enough of a chill to provide a crisp Kansas sunrise. We were a little late getting to the field and didn’t quite catch the birds where we thought they’d be, in the grass. It didn’t take long for Gary and I to double on the first bird of the morning. The bird happened to have one of the prettiest crowns I’ve ever seen on the head of a pheasant. Gary and I both got a little piece of the bird so we claimed him together.
The rest of the morning we spent working multiple fields of all different cover, some milo, some grass, but everything seem to hold a few birds. We never did hit the mother load of more birds than you can count in a field, but everything seemed to be pretty steady. We also seem to find a good covey of quail in most of the fields we worked. One of the neatest parts of this hunt was one of the gentlemen I got to know this week brought along his six-year-old son. With my amazement the young man walked almost every field with us step-for-step just behind his papa. I don’t have kids yet but I can only hope that if I’m ever lucky enough to do that I will have a young man just as awesome as that little guy was.
At the end of the second day, since we all had long drives, we decided to call it quits at lunch. We were lucky enough to get 6 more birds that morning, not a large number, but enough to call it a success along with a handful of quail.
One of the greatest things about a pheasant opener is the new people that you get to meet, as well as the old friends you get to see. For me I got to meet many new people and a lot of new farmers that I now count as friends, who welcomed us with open arms.
Kansas offers some incredible hunting, both early and late in the season. If you take the time to get to know the farmers and do the right thing and respect their wishes and their land, they’ll welcome you back with open arms. This trip is a perfect example of the hospitality of what Kansas offers, incredible people that will go out of their way to make your hunt successful if you take a little time to invest in them. This trip ended up being more about the people that I got to know and the tradition I got to be apart of than it did about the birds we killed. In all, it was a wonderful trip, but it was also really hard for me. You see this is the first year I’ve not had my lab Dakota out there to hunt with me. She is 13 and doesn’t get around too well now. I had to watch other people’s dogs and it made me realize how much I’m going to miss her when she’s gone. But that’s a post for another day. Here’s to a great start to the 2016-17 Kansas pheasant season.