Of all of the holidays, Thanksgiving is my favorite. For us birdhunters, what better symbol of a holiday is there than the wild turkey, the noble game bird? Like everyone else, I dig the groceries, but more importantly, Thanksgiving is truly a day of gratitude, a day to count my many blessings and to give thanks.
To celebrate, every Thanksgiving morning for the last ten years, I have established a tradition of hunting pheasants with my birddogs. On these occasions, it always feels like an opportunity to experience nature’s bounties one more time before Ole’ Man Winter sets up shop. For some reason, that morning hunt just makes the later meal with family that much sweeter.
Every year, my wife and I alternate whose parents we spend Thanksgiving with. In the past, Kristin’s Dad, Doug Empey, has hunted pheasants with me on Thanksgiving on numerous occasions. We have had some memorable hunts. Notably, in 2006, Doug and I took my daughter Emma, and Kristin’s niece and nephew, MacKenzie and James, pheasant hunting with us for their very first pheasant hunt. They were all too young to hunt, but wanted to come along for this novel adventure.
The impassable canal.
As we pushed to the end of a small standing corn field, we spied multiple roosters, crossing a two track road into a willow thicket bordering a broad canal. My Brittany, Sunny girl, and I pursued the birds into the dense cover. At the edge of the canal, Sunny got birdy, and a big raucous rooster ripped up through the canopy presenting only a quick shot. Hastily, I raised my gun, slapped the trigger, and the bird crumpled on the other side of the canal. In the tangle, Sunny could not see across the canal to make a retrieve and the canal was too deep for me to wade across.
In light of the crowds of flourescent orange hunters, we decided to hunt through the end of the cover to see if we could find some more birds and then make our way over to the other side to locate the fallen rooster. About a half an hour later, we released the hounds on the opposite side of the canal to make the retrieve. Believe it or not, the “birddog” who found the fallen bird that windy morning was MacKenzie, my niece, not Sunny or Dusty, my dogs. I was more thrilled for MacKenzie’s and the other kids’ excitement and enjoyment of the success of the hunt than for myself. To preserve this moment, I took pictures of all three of the kids with their first rooster.
MacKenzie, the “birddog” of the day.
Last year, for the first time in years, I could not hunt on Thanksgiving because of lower back problems. It was definitely a dark and trying time for me and I really missed this special tradition.
Having had a successful back surgery earlier this year, I am happy to report that I will take to the pheasant fields once more with my father-in-law on Thanksgiving. I am really looking forward to it. Whether I harvest any birds or not makes no difference to me. This year,there is so much to be grateful for! The words of the hymn take on new meaning:
Come, ye thankful people, come
Raise the song of harvest home
All is safely gathered in
Ere the winter storms begin . . . .
Emma and the windy rooster.
One rooster: Three happy kids.
I bet Sunny girl loves Thanksgiving too.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!