Late-season pheasant hunting is that time in the sportsman's calendar after rifle deer hunting ends and open water turns to ice.
In south-central Minnesota, hunters will find the birds in larger groups, and public land becomes one of the first, best places to hunt. Reports from the field point to an abundant population of roosters waiting for pursuers.
The anticipation seems endless until 9 a.m. - shooting time. One November morning, you're gazing out over south-central Minnesota countryside, admiring hard-working farmers' newly harvested corn fields. Weeks earlier, fields not yet picked frustrated even the best hunters and their canine friends.
Sipping on that last cup of coffee, you make plans for the assault. Then the clock strikes 9 a.m. - time for man and dog to go, eager to collect a few birds for the table.
In my youth, I grabbed the shotgun and a few shells and traveled with our trusty, black Lab Cindy to most of the best pheasant-hunting places in Minnesota and North Dakota. We knew the frozen sloughs and draws would be more productive after corn fields are picked.
It was always good idea to trail Cindy, let her nose lead and watch in readiness. Her tail's side-to-side tail wagging indicated that a bird was ready to burst out of cover.
Those years, we put a lot of miles on our boots chasing the cunning rooster.
Mom looked forward to the days we went pheasant hunting, if only because leather walking boots replaced the smelly, duck-hunting hip-boots and waders by the door. It kept us off early-season ice, about which, mom knew, any words of caution would be ignored.
She liked pheasants for their colored feathers in holiday centerpieces, and for how good they tasted. Forever and a day, she was willing to prepare lunch for her hungry hunters.
The Friday after Thanksgiving meant leftover turkey sandwiches, always with a dash of salt and freshly baked bread. Before one pheasant hunting outing, mom loaded up our lunch bags with leftover turkey between two slices of fresh bread. Snacktime was the just reward for harvesting a couple of birds.
This trip, a friend of ours accompanied us with his young dog. While we prodded the cover, his playful best friend stayed in the pickup. Thanks to the pup, the sandwiches were gone in short order.
Dad loved to be in the field with Cindy and his boys. His role evolved into being our ambassador, greeting farmers that came by and stopped to watch us work a stretch of cover. Each time, he offered a hot cup of black coffee, coaxing them to stay and visit. A genuine farm boy by upbringing, he knew all the right words to strike up a conversation.
In the twilight of Dad's hunting trips, it did not matter to him how many birds he shot. Rarely did he pick the best spots to stand. Wily roosters flew by, unnoticed and out of range, while he and the farmer talked about the good old days.
Frustrated as we were, we accepted Dad's contentment at his time of life, when more hunting trips were in his rearview mirror then ahead.
Minnesota pheasant hunting only gets better until it closes on Jan. 1. Today, from Dec. 1 to Jan. 1, 2019, the limit changes to three birds daily and nine in possession. Shooting hours are 9 a.m. until sunset.