Mixed bag hunting

One of a hunters most important traits, is versatility. I take that to heart every time I am in the field, especially in the middle of the fall hunting season when so much game is in open season. I went out to explore some western Minnesota public land that I hadn’t put eyes on before, with the hopes of chasing some pheasants out of their morning haunts. Spike (my golden retriever) and I failed miserably on pheasants, but we rebounded by bagging a woodcock and a rabbit, enough to fill up the dinner table!

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A mixed bag of game … Hen of the Woods mushroom, a woodcock and a cottontail. -Photo © Nick Schneeman

The plan for the day was to explore a pair of Wildlife Management Areas west of the Twin Cities. I loaded up the car the night before and hit the road bright and early. Knowing that the goal was to spook up some pheasants, bright and early meant I took my time with my coffee, and stopped for donuts on the way!

When I’m approaching a new piece of land, I find it best to try and drive around it to get a feel for what types of cover are available to wildlife. While I’m doing the lap I’m dividing up the property into sections in my head, with ideas of what I think I’ll be able to run out of each chunk. I’m always hopeful for a mixed game bag.

This particular property was dominated by upland grass, a lowland riparian zone along one side, a small marshy section, and some interspersed young growth oak forest. And its 650 acres meant I wasn’t going to hunt the entire thing in one go. The grasslands on two sides were bordered by standing corn in two private fields, already a bad sign for my hopes of a pheasant dinner.

Spike (my trusty golden) and I started by pushing the edges of the grass, zig-zagging through the heaviest cover. After an hour of working the grassland areas with nary a bird, it was time to change tactics.

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Spike working the fields. We found our odds of game much better along the wooded edges of the grasslands. -photo © Nick Schneeman

By switching from the fields to the forest edges, we shifted our sights to woodcock and  grouse. With in 15 minutes of pushing some young aspen along the outside edge of the oak, we had a woodcock up in the air and in the bag. I have to admit, I was surprised my strategy worked, and even more surprised I made the shot, this being the first time I’ve ever actually gotten a woodcock up in the air.

By sticking with the strategy for two hours I got to take shots at three more woodcock. But I only brought home two birds on the day. Woodcock flush from cover much like grouse — a fast buzzing of wings, erratic direction and low flight paths. They present very difficult shots. I found my best bet, was to wait on my initial shot till I’d drawn a bead on the bird, and then follow through, by dragging my barrel along the flight path of the bird while I fired.

By mid day I was thinking about packing it in, but knew we had to pass by a small stand of pines and mixed debris – a likely rabbit hold. I know, I know, why hunt rabbit in the country? They are all over the city! And rabbit? Do you really eat rabbit? YES! Rabbit makes a whole bunch of delicious stew meat, fried meat or sausage, and is lean, and tasty. Besides that, they are easy to clean. I highly recommend it.

On this particular day, we were in luck. A pair of rabbits took off running through the pines immediately upon our invasion. Unfortunately I was unable to fire off a shot. Spike did manage to force a third rabbit out the side of the pines and I dropped it with a single shot as it fled out into the grass. Mission accomplished! A mixed game bag.

To make matters even better, as we tramped our way back through some oaks on our way to the car, I managed to spot a hen of the woods growing on the ground. It pays to keep your eyes open while hunting. As a new hunter and forager, I treat every hunting trip as a foraging trip. Not only can it be helpful to recognize sources of food that game might be feeding on, its just plain fun to create a meal out of meat and vegetables that you’ve found in the field!

Happy hunting friends! Nothing like a successful day and a bag full of mixed game!

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