Whether you hike September grass for chickens or stomp January snows for heavy-cover ringnecks, an annual bird hunting license in the Sunflower State entitles you to partake of all the upland bird action you want for 138 days. Throw in dove hunting and you gain an extra 15 days. Oil the shotgun and stock up on shells because you’ve got some adventure coming.
You can’t beat the feeling of freedom when hiking vast, rolling grasslands for September prairie chickens. These native grouse live in family coveys at this time of year. Ma is still teaching her chicks, now nearly as big as she, the fine art of bug and seed hunting. It takes a pair of lungs and matching pair of legs to walk up chickens, and if you really want to succeed, invite a sharp-nosed, big running pointing dog to join you. If the pooch will hold point, the chickens will hold tight. Walk up and be prepared to sample the kind of upland bird shooting pioneers enjoyed while bison were still grazing these hills.
After October has cooled things down, the November quail and pheasant seasons open. Bobwhites along a brushy creek or at the edge of a milo field have the explosive potential to discombobulate the most assured shooter. One second you have your pick of a dozen whirring quail. The next second you have an empty gun and firm resolve to pick just one target next time.
And when your dog again locks into a classic pose, you clearly see your “next time” is just moments away.
But the best of all possible moments comes at the end of a snowy stubble field, a mile of cut wheat stems through which you’ve dutifully followed three-toed pheasant tracks for twenty minutes, gun at port arms, hands sweaty, nerves ready to explode with the leap of your quarry. And now those tracks disappear under a low tangle of tumble weed. And they don’t come out. You know he’s in there. You know he’s going to come roaring up, whirring and cackling. But he’s not going to get the best of you. Not this time. You know all his tricks, the way he holds like a tick, makes you start second guessing, wondering if you’ve overlooked departing tracks. And then you step over him and he blows up behind you, nearly three-pounds of wind blown, hard spurred, drought-tested, wild bred Kansas ringneck. Here is dinner on the wing, a kaleidoscope of colors beating the dust with his two-and-a-half foot wing span. His lips are flapping, cussing you for the persistent predator you are. His resplendent tail is fishtailing and corkscrewing as he reaches for that blue, endless Kansas sky.
And without even knowing it, you’ve swung your gun with him, through that impossibly long tail, through those blurred wings, past that white necklace, beyond that yellow beak and there was a pop and a jolt and that precious piece of hunting gold plummeting, feathers floating on the happy breeze.
Celebrate. And thank God you’re a Kansas bird hunter.
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Check out Ron Spomer’s blog and videos at ronspomeroutdoors.com and look for his new smartphone app, Whitetail!