My son Daniel and me
Yesterday we left Traverse City in the early morning and drove a couple hours to Morley, MI, to hunt pheasants at Haymarsh Hunt Club (www.haymarsh.com). Before anyone asks, there is fantastic hunting all around Traverse City, but woodcock season is already finished for the year and grouse are at the bottom of their cycle, and probably the main reason was that we were taking my son, Daniel, on his first hunt over dogs, and common sense told us it would probably be easier and more gratifying for him to hunt pheasants in more open cover than breaking bush all day long in the hope of a couple flushes from almost invisible birds.
My friend Randy Halseth arrived on Friday afternoon and we had dinner before Daniel arrived past 11:00 PM. We started the Saturday (yesterday) morning driving to Meijer's so Daniel could buy a Resident Small Game hunting license, and then we drove south on Garfield Road to meet the other members of the expedition, Del Whitman with German Shorthairs Zap and Gina, David Reed with Vizsla Oliver and Gus Newbury with English Setter Pepper.
We arrived at Haymarsh around 10:00 AM, were guided to our fields and even before parking saw three roosters walking across the road. We backed up, parked, got dressed, released the dogs and went after the colorful roosters.
As we started down the road a rooster flushed wildly and Del got it with a crossing shot while the dogs pointed another one. Every body motioned Daniel forward as it was his first pheasant hunt. Daniel walked behind the dogs and when the gaudy pheasant flew his gun did not fire and I took it with the right barrel from my BSS 20 gauge.
It was a great start, but anyone that taught that we would have an easy hunt was deeply wrong. The cover was dense and in a lot of places it looked a lot more like grouse and woodcock coverts than pheasant country. We went south against the wind to give an edge to the dogs and crossed some wet ground from where besides bagging some more pheasants we flushed several whitetail deers.
After a couple hours we came back to the vehicles for refreshments, both for dogs and hunters, drop a heavy load of birds, rest some tired legs, lie about great shots and the normal things we all do when hunting with friends.
We went back to the north field and very soon we had a double point along the tree line and within seconds of each other two hens flushed, David got one and Daniel and Gus hit the other. Along that edge, all the way to the end of the field the dogs pointed and we eventually flushed several woodcock. Too bad the season was already closed or we could have supplemented our bag with several gorgeous timber doodle.
At the end of the north field Pepper, Gina and Zap came to a beautiful point, and as Del, Randy, Gus and Daniel approached a large dark feathered rooster flushed into the trees. Gus hit the bird twice, but it continued to fly and Del dropped it with a shot from his twenty-eight in a relative open spot. We all marked the spot, but three dogs and five men were unable to locate it. After almost a quarter hour we gave up, all of us with broken hearts.
We started again walking the big field with the wind on our faces and flushed several other woodcocks. At one point Pepper and Gina got very birdie near a ditch and after relocating several times a hen flushed very near me and I got it with a single shot.
We were all getting tired, especially the dogs that were running a hundred yards for every couple yards we walked, but before we got to the cars the dogs took us again to the heavy cover in the south field, and again after relocating multiple times Pepper, Gina and Zap cornered a rooster that took off wildly. I hit it with my first barrel and missed with the second and saw where the bird landed. Soon after Del was there with Gina, Zap and me, and after a couple minutes the rooster flushed a second time and came down hard after I fired the right barrel.
We got back to the cars around 2:00 PM and counted fourteen birds, equally divided between roosters and hens. After the photo session and splitting the birds Del was the first to leave as it was his birthday and he had to take his wife for dinner.
We stopped at the Moe-Z-Inn tavern for something to eat, and after the two hour drive we all, minus Del, arrived at my home in the Old Mission Peninsula for an improvised wild game dinner. The Big Green Egg was going in no time and I quickly had some venison kaftas (venison, garlic, onion and pistachios) and black bear back straps going while I cleaned some spruce and ruffed grouses that I brought from Canada. I seasoned the grouse with garlic, kosher salt and olive oil, and while we waited for the meat to be ready my wife served some mashed potatoes and beef pie.
To help the meal we had a bottle each of Stags Leap Cabernet, Dona Paula Malbec and Renwood Zinfandel, and to close the night just the right amount of Sandeman's Founders Reserve Porto.
Overnight I smoked a large piece of bear and Randy, my wife and me had some of it for breakfast this morning. It is wonderful the magic that salt crust and hardwood smoke can perform on a good piece of wild game.
Even if Daniel was absolutely safe during the day and got his first pheasant I guess that he was not prepared for the hunt. He went to bed at 8:30 PM last night and only woke-up around 11:00 today!