Friday, November 11, 2011

Thanksgiving Pheasant Hunt

Isaac and I recently participated in an experimental Department of Fish and Game program designed to allow the hunting public to harvest game using alternative methods, specifically the use of high powered center fire ammunition normally utilized for large North American game such as elk or bear.
We had made reservations at Raahagues Pheasant club, one of our favorite haunts, knowing that the DFG program would be in place for this single day of alternative hunting practices. The Humane Society, which now has a seat of the DFG Board of Directors, had criticized the traditional use of shotguns in the taking of these birds, as it often results in the need to wring the necks of wounded birds after they have taken flight, are knocked from the air and then seized by a dog before getting whirled about by their human predators (and how would you like it if they did that to you?).
When we signed up for the program, we were told to bring center fire weapons, with a minimum caliber of .243, which is the standard instruction for wild boar hunting operations, but an unusual choice for upland game. We also brought our trusty, but aging pointing dog Victor, who always gains instant youth and sets to jumping about with joy when he sees guns being brought out.
After inhaling a hearty 6 am breakfast at Goodfellas coffee shop in Norco, we proceeded to the supervised sight-in at Mike Raahagues Shooting Enterprises. Isaac was using his sister’s BAR .308, with a Bushnell Elite 3x12x40 scope. He got it zeroed in at 150 to 200 yards. I did the same with my Winchester Model 70 .30-06, mounted with a Nikon Monarch 2.5x10x40 scope. We then proceed out to the fields, where we got a lecture from the Humane Society representative, Linda Katehi. She was wearing a DFG uniform, Sam Brown belt and gun rig, including an economy sized canister of Defense Technology 56895 Mk-9 Stream 1.3% red band/1.3% blue band pepper spray.
We were advised that we were not to shoot our weapons above the horizon, since instead of our normally short-range shotguns, we would be employing long range big game cartridges capable of killing an elk at 700 yards, where over-penetration might be a factor. The birds were all fitted with reflective tape collars. Officer Katehi advised us that after the birds were released into the field, they would hunker down in the thick cover and would not be visible. We were told to remain on a hilltop some 100 to 400 yards above the seeded field while our dog was let loose to quarter and pick up scent below us. We were instructed that it was essential that our dog not break point and flushing dogs were not acceptable for this type of hunt. Victor always maintains point, so we were very confident that we had the right tools for the job.
Officer Katehi then drove down into to the edge of the field with a crate full of reflectorized pheasants. She attempted to release them, but they continued to occupy the crates without leaving, as though they sensed their predicament. She removed the canister from her belt, and casually hosed down the closed end of the crate, which resulted in the pheasants leaping out of the crate and scattering into the field.
Even though we saw them fly into our field, they instantly disappeared amidst the heavy brush and became essentially invisible. The officer drove back up to our hilltop position and told us we could release Victor. At first, Victor was confused that we were not following him into the field, but then he caught the scent of the birds and proceeded in to the field below, quartering just like in the good old days and looking back over his shoulder with some skepticism at our absence.
Suddenly, he tensed up and went into stalking mode. After a few steps, he locked into a classic point. We trained our spotting scope on the heavy brush immediately ahead of him and picked up the glint of the reflective tape on the nervous bird hunkered down in the foliage. Isaac took the first shot from a seated position, using the rifle sling across his forearm and elbow to brace out a steady platform from which to fire an accurate shot, as our dog was in some peril because of the angle of the point.
The .308 crackled loudly and the spent casing twirled upward into the early morning sunlight. We called out “fetch” to Victor and he plunged into the brush, returning with a large hen that was virtually intact, except for the head, which had been cleanly removed by the 150 grain sierra boat tail ballistic tip bullet.
After that initial experiment in ballistics, we adjusted our shots to strike below the tape so that the neck and head remained in some form on the shot bird. The 30/06 ammo I was using had 180 grain soft tips, which really did not deform significantly upon penetration of such a light target.
We eventually got five pheasants and 3 chukars intact, although we also had a couple of shots that resulted in ruined birds that were left for the coyotes and turkey vultures. Most of our shots were between 125 and 200 yards, with the longest being about 275. Without the dog pointing and the reflective tape for shot orientation, I doubt we would have been able to pick out any of these rather large roosters, let alone the more camouflaged hens and chukars.
In evaluating this DFG sponsored experience, I would have to say that I will not do it again, as we much prefer hunting close to the dog and shooting the birds out of the air, as opposed to taking them in a static position from long range.
When we got back to the Raahagues clubhouse, our birds were cleaned by the always cheerful Paul. Linda drove up to chat and even took our picture with the days harvest, as you can see.
I questioned the use of such heavy ordinance and offered up to officer Katehi that it seemed that .223 or even .17 HMR might be more appropriate for such light targets. She responded that the Humane Society had conducted extensive experimentation and had determined that the potential for stray shots caused by wind drift on bullets lighter than 110 grains made the use of these calibers too hazardous for agricultural areas.
After the birds were cleaned up, Linda offered to spray the carcasses with another blast of pepper spray to start the seasoning process since we intended to smoke them at our neighbor’s party. We accepted her offer and I must say that this pepper spray, which is a food product, according to Fox News, is a great way to evenly season any game animal, or even just torch off into a big bowl of beef stew. You can spray it on salads just before serving, but you do have to take care not to do it in the immediate area where people are trying to eat.
These birds are really big this year and they are first quality. We got many compliments at the party, so it was another successful completion of the Circle of Life.
This is a great season for quality birds and if you like big ones, get out there before the club season closes in March. I recommend making sure that you go on a regular shotgun hunt and check in advance to make sure that it is not a special Humane Society hunt, unless this center fire style experience sounds right for you. If it does, call the DFG to find out the dates and location for these types of hunts and I am sure they will be happy to hook you up, as they exist to serve the needs of the hunting public.
Anyway, we hope all of you have a very Happy Thanksgiving.
These are the Days.

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