Anytime someone tells me they have just killed a limit of pheasants in Idaho, I have to call into question their honesty. Are they hunting the same birds and places that I am hunting? I guess this could happen occasionally on opening day with naive birds-of-the-year or on a WMA, but I am willing to bet that it never happens with three wily old roosters, and never where Matt and I hunted yesterday.
For the past three years, Matt Lucia and I have hunted the gnarliest cover in all of the world– a place so steep and nasty that it had to be carved right out of hell. In fact, though it has a name, Matt and I call it the “Hell Hole.” The entrance to this godforsaken place is so steep it would seriously help to have one leg shorter than the other. Just pray that the shorter leg is on the uphill side as the footing is terrible and it is a long, long way to fall. The steep places I have pursued chukar in the past have nothing on this spot! The Russian Olive and willow patches are choked with scary plants that grab, poke, scratch and trip. This covert is not for the faint of heart.
And the devil and his minions live there too. A rooster pheasant has an appearance too gaudy for the real world. Pardon me, but with all its seductive colors and glamour, it reminds me of a woman of the oldest profession of the world. When the writer Proverbs wrote the following, he could have been describing the Chinese rooster pheasant:
And, behold, there met him a woman with attire of an harlot, and subtil of heart.
(She is loud and stubborn; her feet abide not in her house;
Now is she without, now in the streets, and lieth in wait at ever corner.)
Over the years, Matt and I have taken a serious beating by these evil pheasants. In 2007 and 2008, we came home empty handed. Because of our bad luck, we call it “the Curse of the River Roosters.” More than once, Matt has declared: “I have hunted pheasants all over the West, including South Dakota and Kansas, and nowhere have I found more difficult birds than here. To be sure, the birds are here, but they are the wiliest, wariest, runningest, and fast-flying birds I have ever hunted.” Having now experienced the curse three years in a row, I have to agree with Matt’s assessment. These birds will kick your butt and take names. When hunters brag of their pheasant hunting prowess, I want to take them here and watch them eat a fat slice of humble pie.
Yesterday morning, not long after we dropped off the near vertical rim to the brush patches below, Sunny locked up on point on the topside of an impenetrable willow tangle. Over a three minute period, she relocated numerous times to try to get a better bead on this tight holding devil bird. Meanwhile, I was telling Matt, “Sunny has this bird nailed. Get ready!” Matt’s yellow lab, Darby started to crash her way up to us through the thicket and Sunny pushed her way toward the source of that mesmerizing scent. Soon the stubborn bird had had enough and flushed hard and fast presenting me with an easy shot. Of course, I missed with both barrells and so did Matt! “These phantom birds are supernatural,” Matt yelled in frustration. These roosters truly get into your head!
My friend Matt is one of the best shots that I know so it seriously surprised me when he missed another close flushing rooster with both barrells. With a perfect view of the whole fiasco, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. “Sorry for laughing. You know you’re the best shot I know, don’t you?” I hollared up to Matt to try to salve his battered ego.
As we hunted up this densely vegetated hollow, I took the left side and Darby and Matt worked the bottom and right side. From my perspective I watched birds run and flush ahead of Matt, which he could not see. One rooster flushed near him, but he never saw it because of the foilage. However, as we scratched our way through tangle, Matt caught a glimpse of a flushing rooster and folded it midair into the cattails below. “Finally, I broke the curse!” Matt jubilantly stated. When he found the downed bird, he reported that it was a bird-of-the-year. Multiple hens flushed wild at the end of the draw, but no more roosters.
After hunting the whole day, Matt and I hunted another steep hillside with a manmade canal carved in such an unlikely place. The canal and its surroundings hold some birdy cover for pheasants. With the half-inch skiff of snow, we could see tracks from pheasants running ahead of us. Multiple times, I witnessed birds slinking off uphill in the distance. Pheasants were definitely there in abundance.
The dogs were down with Matt, so I just followed some tracks along a well developed trail following the canal. Pretty soon the tracks left the trail and headed uphill. When Matt, Darby and Sunny caught up, I stated, “Matt, send Darby up this hill into that thicket, I know there are some birds up there.” Sure enough, one rooster flushed a little beyond my range, but I sent out a salutory shot anyway. Seconds later another rooster flushed. Matt shot first, but missed, and the bird fell hard at my shot. “Good shot!” Matt congratulated. We both thought this bird was dead in the air. I hussled down to where I had marked the bird. We instantly found feathers, but after looking for almost an hour with the help of the dogs, we never found that wily rooster. I went from the feeling of elation to dispair in a matter of seconds. These river roosters will do that to you. For me, the curse continues.
In the timeless words of the writer of Proverbs, I warn all who pursue the feathered harlots of Hell Hole:
Hearken unto me now therefore, O ye children, and attend to the words of my mouth.
Let not thine heart decline to her ways, go not astray in her paths.
For she hath cast down many wounded, yea, many strong men have been have been slain by her.
Her house is the way to hell, going down into the chambers of death.
Yep, that pretty much sums up the experience of hunting the Hell Hole. But you know what? After the glaze of time softens the blows and heals the wounds, I’m sure Matt and I will be back next year for some more punishment. Maybe, one day I’ll even break the curse. Wish me luck. Heaven knows I need it!