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Archive for Sunday, March 3, 2002

Pheasant rumor was no Lost Dutchman

March 3, 2002

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— There's a pocket of pheasants up in Nebraska, I was told a number of years ago by a reader willing to share some fortuitous wealth.

It was a little out of the way, though, and generally overlooked by hunters bound for McCook and other officially designated hot spots.

"No, it really is something special," he assured, sensing a grain, maybe a ton, of skepticism. "You won't believe it. There's only one condition. ... You can't write about it or tell anyone else about it. Promise?"

Well, OK. One isn't offered a map to the Lost Dutchman mine every day. Even if it turned out to be a wild goose  uh, wild pheasant  chase, what was there to lose?

"Sure. I promise."

One minor detail remained in question: Where, exactly, was this little mother lode of ringnecks?

"Get a map," my benefactor directed. "Look for ..."

At this point he muttered the name of some obscure wide spot in a road, where both town limit signs might have been on the same post.

"That's all I'll say. When you see the road-kill pheasants, you'll know you're there."

Now, what could be more precise? More credible? If Army intelligence had information that good, Osama bin Laden would have been flushed, shot and retrieved long ago.

I checked and rechecked a Nebraska map. Found what sounded like the sweet spot. With the Ritz dog in tow, I went in search of the promised pheasant land.

The wide spot in the road  a grain elevator in the middle of cow country, where overalled locals answered inquiries from strangers with surly grunts, if they spoke at all  presented several interesting choices: the four points of the compass.

I drove east through pasture land. South. Even the Sioux might have abandoned such pheasantless landscape.

Presently, I topped a small hill. Tall wheat stubble lay before me. Other farmed fields spread out beyond. And the cover! Roadside ditches were choked with weeds, with mature waste wheat. Best of all, the pivot-irrigated cornfields had calf-high wheat stubble in their corners.

Maybe that hidden-pocket-of-pheasants tipster really had known his stuff. But where were they?

"Not here," the man answering the first doorbell asserted. "I don't own any farmland, and besides, I don't think there are any pheasants around here."

Oh, yeah? I'd traveled too far to be so easily deterred. The surroundings simply looked too good not to have birds. I approached a run-down old farmhouse, knocked on its particle-board front door, was met by a short, thin, white-bearded man wearing a wool hat with ear flaps that might also have been worn by Elmer Fudd or one of the Grumpy Old Men.

Pheasants?

"They're in those trees," he replied, motioning toward a wind break at the edge of a nearby field.

"You can hunt 'em there ... and you can hunt 'em there and there," he offered, pointing to more prime acres than could be covered in a long hunting day. "Just not in that line of trees behind my house; those are my pets."

The pheasants were in the trees, all right. They were in the corn and in the wheat. I shot a limit and returned the next day for another. I've been back every year since, though the ringneck numbers have seen some ups and downs.

It's become tradition, no matter the prospects. I closed the season there a few weeks ago.

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