The rooster pheasant had given away his location by cackling and crowing lustily in a small meadow.
We swept in where the bird had sounded off and in a drumbeat flurry of wings he rose from the grass, his bright colors contrasting sharply with the muted browns and greens of the country around him.
With a single shot 13-year old Tyler Howard, a student at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, had dropped the bird cleanly. However, when we walked to the spot the bird had fallen, we could not find him.
“That bird didn’t go anywhere,” I said. “He’s got to be here.”
My Labrador retriever was sweeping the area, but had not come up with the bird. Suddenly he locked up smartly. Right below his nose I could see the tail feathers of the bird sticking out of the smallish clump of grasses he was tucked into. It never ceases to amaze me that a bird so bright and gaudy can disappear into nothing at all.
“Get him Tito!” I commanded.
The dog jumped in and the cock bird exploded from the brush trying to run. He didn’t make it far before the dog had him. That bird wasn’t hit as hard as we thought, but with a good dog handy the retrieve was made. Young Mr. Howard had his first pheasant.
The youth pheasant hunt kicked off this last Saturday for local residents at the Vancouver Lake Unit of the Shillapoo Wildlife Area. Offered by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and coordinated by the Vancouver Wildlife League, young hunters, dogs, mentors, and parents had a good day chasing the pen-raised pheasants that the league had planted the day before.
The day started in the early morning as young hunters signed up for the event. It was a sight to make an old hunter happy. Hunting dogs of all breeds capered about greeting each other surrounded by orange-clad hunters and parents. While the older folks swapped stories the youngsters stood about anxiously, awaiting the start of the day’s fun.
After the sign-up, hunters got a review about safety and rules from state Trooper Tom Moats. At eight o’clock the horn sounded, and the groups headed into the field, where 150 pheasants were out there waiting. It wasn’t long before the first shots rang out.
Future of the sport
I was paired with Tyler, a young man that had gotten his first taste of hunting the year before after he had completed his hunter safety training. He liked it so much he spent the next year saving up for a shotgun of his own.
Obviously, he had practiced enough with it to make good on his chances.
This is what these hunts are all about: fostering a love for the sport of hunting. When you see a young man embracing the sport as he did you realize that the traditions will continue.
These youth hunters are the future of a sport that once was a larger part of the rural American landscape. It is comforting to know the traditions will be carried on by yet another generation.
That is why the volunteer efforts of so many people that put on this event are so important. If one young man or women responds to these youth hunts enough to spend a lifetime following it, the art of hunting will live on.
The Vancouver Wildlife League volunteers step up every year and donate their time to make sure youngsters have a chance to do just that. Countless hours are spent preparing for and holding the event.
Over the course of the weekend, a total of 39 kids took part, including a pair of youngsters that were invited by former youth hunt participants. The youth hunters took a total of 31 pheasants.
The day finished with hot dogs and more for lunch, cooked up by the volunteers.
The seniors and disabled hunters pheasant hunt takes place over the course of this week, and on Saturday the pheasant season opens up for everyone. The state raises pheasants at the Bob Oke Game Farm near Centralia, and releases them at 25 different release sites as part of the Western Washington Pheasant Release Program.
A Western Washington pheasant license is required to hunt pheasants in western Washington. The cost is $84.50 for adults, and $40.50 for youth 16 and younger. A small game license is not required. The bag limit is two pheasants of either sex per day. Non-toxic shot is required.
Terry Otto is The Columbian’s Outdoors writer. Reach him at 360-735-4555 or firstname.lastname@example.org