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NateKat · Iowa

Iowa

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It’s officially an annual tradition!  Second year in a row that my dad and I have left sunny southern California for a wintry Iowa to do some pheasant hunting.

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Last year we tried to visit some old hunting grounds that we used to cover while I was a kid, but recently there has been a sudden decline in the pheasant population so we ended up at a pheasant reserve.  This year we decided to stack the deck in our favor and just head for the reserve for two half day hunts.  This allowed us to go in early March, which is a nice time after all the holidays, but if you know Iowa the weather doesn’t always cooperate.  Some how we got lucky picking a weekend with 40 degree temperatures, a few inches of snow on the ground and blue skies!

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We arrived late Friday night/ Saturday morning got a few hours of sleep before we picked up Ken and headed to the reserve!  Ken is an old friend, local Iowan, and avid big game hunter, but is always up for the challenge of knocking down a pheasant.

Ken taking his best shot at a passing rooster

The reserve guarantees birds in the field, but Paul Wehr our professional guide and his dogs guarantees birds within range. Although it wasn’t guaranteed we got our limit both days and gave the meat to a couple local friends.

Paul Wehr and his German short-haired pointers

Can you spot the hen in the brushes?

Last year I tried to juggle a shotgun and a 5 pound camera and ended up missing a lot of good photos.  So this year I made the tough decision, on the first sweep of the field to leave the gun in the truck and head out into the field with only my camera.  The photos that I got this year were well worth the sacrifice.

Dogs on Point

My Dad Knocking Down a Rooster (full sequence in the gallery below)

Retrieving A Chukar

The second time out in the field I traded my Canon for a Beretta and had no problem knocking down my limit of birds.  The first day was perfect; good weather, lots of roosters and good company.  We spent every hour out of the field traveling house to house seeing old friends and catching up on the local news.

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The second day my Dad and I spent the day shooting birds over Paul’s dogs.  I’m guessing we were the most dedicated photographers Paul has ever guided in the field, but luckily he’s also a photographer and was patient with us as we traded the shotgun for the camera back and forth getting some great action shots, we could have only wished for more roosters.  Although it’s legal to shoot hens on a reserve the feeling and photos just aren’t the same.

Hen Busting Through the Weeds

Hen Jumping Out in Front

You have to click on this picture to see the hen flying up behind me!

Leaving No Tree Line Untouched

We kept the tradition of hiking mile after mile leaving no bush or tree line untouched and after returning to the lodge we were teased by the elusive rooster that always knows when the hunt is over.  I think next year if there are more roosters in the field I might have a chance at a Pheasants Forever photo submission!

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Even though we traveled thousands of miles and spent lots of money to recreate a weekend past time the memory for this year is the hours spent in the airports.  Of course the plane delays and layovers were miserable, but if anyone knows my parents they are goofy and when goofy is mixed with hours of waiting and an audience, hilarity will ensue.

This time it was my dad and I playing on the moving walkways in the Denver airport.  We theorized, could two long-lost friends see each other on opposing moving walkways and some how maintain a conversation?  We soon found ourselves walking in-place on opposing treadmills trying to keep a conversation while weaving between confused stationary travelers.  I’m sure we got a few looks, but it was hard to tell trying to look to the side while dodging people.

Per usual my dad wanted to see if he could get a reaction out of any of the serious travelers so he briskly walked against the flow of traffic on the moving walkway with serious, but worried look on his face mumbling “I’m not going to make my flight” as he kept looking at his watch.  He got a couple puzzled glances, but in today’s society most people are trained not to show any expression.  All was not lost as we boarded our plane and while standing in the plane’s aisle a lady pointed at us and said “you two are hilarious and made my day!”  We smiled and thanked her as we loaded ourselves in the last row of the sardine can.

Some of the photos in the gallery are a series of shots and are best viewed in order, enjoy!

As most of you know I grew up in Iowa and every fall my dad and I would go pheasant hunting.  We didn’t always have the best luck finding the pheasants but it was always fun to tromp through the weeds and watch our dog work the fields.  Since my family has moved to California we haven’t both been in Iowa during hunting season for almost seven years.  Every year we would talk about it but one thing or another always came up.  This year we decide to go ahead and book a trip and let everything else work its self out.

Pheasant Walking Along Side the Road

I also wanted to visit Ken and Claire, who I haven’t seen since they moved from Los Angeles to Iowa.  While I was in college I would do construction work for Ken and help Claire organize family counseling workshops.  I also spent my Friday nights over at their house eating pepperoni pizza and watching TV.  I’ve learned a lot from them over the years and they have shaped my career and outlook on life.

While Ken and Claire were in LA they were working on the plans for the house they were going to build in Iowa.  It was fun to finally see their house after years of planning.  One of the incredible features of the house is the hand hewn wood beams.  The beams were made without any electricity by an amish carpenter in Missouri.  The drill that was used to make the holes were actually powered by a team of horses.  The beams look incredible and have an interesting story.

Amish Hand Hewn Beams

Ken is more of a big game hunter, but who can pass up a nice walk through the Iowa countryside?  The past few years have been rough for pheasant hunting due to loss of habitat and poor weather conditions.  The first place we went was our old hunting spot less than a mile from our old house.

Without Leaves on the Trees or Snow on the Ground, Iowa is a little bleak

My Dad and Ken

We surprisingly flushed two roosters within range without a dog but were not able to get either of them.

The second day we went to Highland Hideaway Hunting, which is a hunting reserve where you pay for a field to be stocked with pheasant.  It’s kind of like fishing you know the pheasants are there but it doesn’t guarantee you’ll get any.  We were also fortunate enough to visit their pheasant operation.

I think the freed or wild pheasant like to taunt the caged ones.

The red thing on their beak prevents them from hurting each other.  Pheasant roosters have an amazing array of colored feathers.  I recommend clicking on the photo to see an enlarged image.

We also paid for two dogs and a guide which really helped comb the fields and find the down birds.  The guide and dogs were really good and watching well trained dogs work a field is always exciting.  Someday I hope to get a hunting dog that I can train and use in the field but of course that will probably mean I should live somewhere I can go hunting regularly.

During our hunt we asked Ken about the 20 gauge he had been using.  He told us a story about how his dad taught him responsibility and hard work.  When he was pretty young his dad branded a calf that marked it as his.  After raising and taking care of the calf it was sold to market and Ken got to keep the earnings.  He went right to the local gun shop and bought the 20 gauge that he still uses today.

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I am always amazed by how well guns are made, the stories behind them, and the history they carry.  The shotgun my dad used during this trip was mine that I had bought.  During the one month winter break in college I returned home from California and did drywall with my dad.  Most of the money I earned that month I took and used to buy a 12 gauge semi-auto Beretta.  It has been a great gun but also has sentimental value to me as a reminder of doing drywall in the dead of winter with my dad.

Ken and Myself with Our Earned Shotguns

I was really hoping to get more photos during this trip but as I mentioned in my Quail post I usually get caught up in the hunting excitement and the time passes too quickly.  Next year I hope to have the discipline to pick up the camera and get some great hunting action shots.

While in Iowa we also had dinner and brief visits with some family friends where I showed them wedding photos and exchanged stories.  We were only there for a couple days but it was fun to reconnect with a few people and live out a dream to go pheasant hunting in Iowa.  I hope this dream becomes more of a tradition.

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