Last Sunday, I had the honor of spending the morning with 20 veterans from this area in a very wet farm field on a very special pheasant hunt.
The opportunity was the result of an invitation I received from Tom Georgia of Tribes Hill to attend the fourth annual Veterans Pheasant Hunt sponsored by the Montgomery County Republican Party Club. I quickly accepted.
The hunt began with a great home-cooked breakfast at 6:30 a.m. at the Sand Flats Orchard in Fonda. And if you’re ever out that way, I highly recommend their apple cider donuts.
I’m sure that the weather kept some of those who were going to attend at home, but we still had about 20 hunters there willing to brave the downpour that lasted all morning.
At breakfast, I spoke with Georgia about the hunt. He said that there were veterans in attendance who saw action in all of the conflicts from WWII to the current day. And this included two disabled veterans and multiple Purple Heart recipients. Also in attendance at the shoot was state Assemblyman George Amedore, also an avid outdoorsman.
There were more than 60 birds supplied by Reynolds Game Farm near Ithaca. Reynolds is also the major supplier for the DEC pheasant stocking program. The birds were released on a large farm in Montgomery County a week before the hunt.
It was about 8 when we left Sand Flats Orchard and headed for the farm to hunt. We divided into several groups, and each group would hunt a different field. The fields included both standing corn and alfalfa, and the rain made it a bit uncomfortable, but for the next three plus hours, I never saw one hunter who wasn’t laughing and enjoying the “wet” hunt.
Fortunately, a number of those there had bird dogs which made it a better hunt. Some of the dog handlers hunted, others just worked their dogs. The rain never interfered with their work.
My group started out on the higher ground field, a perfect place for pheasants to hide. Most of it was heavy brush, impossible for humans to navigate, but not for the dogs. They managed to get into the thickets, and soon I heard, then saw, a beautiful cock pheasant break from cover. He was a bit too far for my 28-gauge, but he wasn’t for another hunter and the first bird of the day was retrieved and tucked into the back of a game vest.
Off in the distance, we heard a volley of a half-dozen shots from the other side of the farm, and we assumed they’d busted a small covey of birds.
As we moved along both sides of a hill, the dogs never overlooked any of the cover, and about 20 yards from me, one of the labs went “birdie” — his nose buried in the thickets and his tail spinning like a propeller — definitely on a bird. But that one was a runner. When it broke cover, one of our veterans was right on it, and No. 2 for our group went into a game vest. Often, pheasants in that type of cover will run until there’s daylight overhead, then go airborne.
Our next drive was a large alfalfa field. It didn’t take long for the canine brigade to get the scent of a pheasant, but when it went up, it was a long shot and the hunter missed. Just a few minutes later, my little 28-gauge rewarded me with my first pheasant of the day. It was a big cock, brightly colored with a very long tail. Then I also had one in my bag. It’s amazing how one can forget about the weather when the shooting is good. In spite of the rainsuits most of us were wearing, we were getting wet.
One of our hunters, Pete Vila of Hagaman, a hunting companion of mine, showed me a new way to shoot a flushing pheasant while sitting in a mud puddle. I was about 60 yards away when I heard, “The dog’s on one,” and I watched Pete shoulder his shotgun, pull the trigger and then sit/fall down on his rump. It was a perfect landing, and he got the pheasant.
We moved to another alfalfa field and hadn’t gone far before I got another chance. Shadow (a dog) was definitely “birdie.” His determination put the cock pheasant within range of my gun, and I added the second to my bag. My group got three more by the time we reached the end of the field.
As we started to leave, we heard a series of shots above us and watched a half dozen fly down into the standing corn next to us — time to drive the corn. All four dogs, Shadow, Tanner, Parker and Tear, along with several handlers entered the corn while watchers on both sides walked the edges of the corn.
We hadn’t gone far when I heard the cackle and then saw the hen coming right at me. I hate these shots, and neither of the two I fired touched a feather. But minutes later, two other hunters in my group got one and then a second, third and fourth, and several more pheasants were shot in the next half hour.
It’s ironic that when the hunt was over, we all stood around in the pouring rain, talking about how much fun we had had — true bird hunters. As for the tally, our group collected about 14 pheasants, not including the four caught by the dogs. Each dog caught a live pheasant in the corn and brought it back to their owner. Who could ask for anything more?
It was undoubtedly the best pheasant hunt I’ve ever been on, and I can’t wait until next year. Thanks to Tom and to all who made this event happen.
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