Holiday Bird

I went with the old reliable: pheasant

By Rob Breeding

I’ve never killed a turkey, wild or domestic, for a holiday meal. When I was a boy, our neighbors purchased a live turkey for Thanksgiving. This was in suburban Southern California, so our neighborhood was abuzz with Beverly Hillbillies tinged gossip.

The story we kids told one another was that after the head was guillotined, the zombied turkey body would run about the yard for a good half minute before it too succumbed.

We were eager to witness such a thing, but the Clampetts made clear no viewing party was planned. We plotted to watch the spectacle through knotholes in the fence, but the bird’s execution came off without an audience just after dawn, while we youngsters still slept.

I’ve hunted wild turkey, unsuccessfully, but only so in that I didn’t kill a bird. These were fine times afield, so unsuccessful seems awfully harsh.

I have killed my own holiday bird, however, many times over. Sometimes it’s smaller covey birds like quail or chukars. In such cases it takes on the plural form, holiday birds, though if pressed, I could get by on a single chukar. Thanksgiving is as much about the sides anyway.

Quail require two or three per person, no matter how much stuffing you eat.

I’ve spent the last few Thanksgivings with my vegetarian daughter, so a brace of quail has been plenty. But they are scarce this fall, so I went with the old reliable: pheasant.

We’ve been fighting the weather. Lots of dry wind and unseasonably high temperatures. Things finally cooled just before the holiday, and while the wind was still blowing harder than I cared for, at least it lacked sufficient force to uproot prairie farmhouses and deposit them in Oz.

I let the dogs out of the truck a bit too soon. While I still piddled with my gear, an impatient Doll started working the field. I tried calling her back, once, twice. It always takes at least two. If a third call is required, it usually means she’s distracted by scent. Sure enough, as she trotted back toward the truck, with the breeze blowing over her left shoulder, she suddenly spun back into the wind and locked up.

I grabbed my gun and headed for Doll, still frozen but for how long? The spinning point left her in an awkward position, her nose high but her back end crouched close to ground. A younger Doll could hold such a pose for as long as it took for me to hurry across the 50 yards between us. This time, as I grew close, I saw she’d allowed her haunches to drop and she was pointing from the seated position.

Her hips are now 10 years old. If any dog has earned a pass for not holding that hyena pose, it’s Doll.

Once the puppy noticed Doll’s point she froze as well. She seems a ready backer. We’re still working on whoa, but at 5 1/2 months she is already solid when honoring the Big Dog’s points.

The bird was still there, though just a hen. It flushed out over the prairie in a curving arc. It would have been a great opportunity on a rooster, but I called “hen” and watched her fly.

Later in the day Doll got birdy in some tall grass and went on point. Jade, a few steps behind, also froze. The look on her face suggested she still wasn’t exactly sure why, but she remained motionless until I flushed four more hens.

As the day wore on, Jade went on point for the first time. I couldn’t kick up a bird so it was probably old scent, but a dang encouraging sign nonetheless. She’s hunting with her nose now, and not just her legs.

By then we already had our Thanksgiving bird in the vest. The pup on point was simply gravy.

Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.

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