Our Outdoors: A Wet & Wild Time

Two on the Tailgate.  The author’s 12-year-old lab, Gunnar, looks after the pair of roosters he rousted on a wet and windy afternoon hunt.

By Nick Simonson

It’s well established that I hunt and fish more than most people, and part of the reason for that is my very tolerant spouse.  While bargaining with my wife (and I don’t like to call it begging, it just sounds…wrong…though that’s probably what it is) for a couple extra hours in the field on Saturday, I caught myself mid-presentation.

“Fool, why are you trying to secure from two to five in the afternoon, when you could have asked for four to sundown, the best hours of the day for pheasant hunting,” my debate module questioned in the back of my brain.
Frustrated with the slip, I tried to shift the time-table portion of my presentation midstream, but my wife – an even more talented and very experienced debater in her own right – wasn’t having it.  A mid-afternoon hunt was what it would be.  Cutting my losses and cursing my declining extemporaneous preparation skills, I loaded up the truck and headed to a small swath of grass south of town.  While I beelined down the blacktop, drops of rain decked the windshield, and I winced as the downpour began in earnest while unloading the dog in the parking area. With twenty minutes gone for travel, we set out into what would be a very wet balance of our three-hour afternoon.
Winding through the eastern edge of the field grass and dried sweet clover stems, we followed the meandering trails taken by deer and coyotes in days past.  My old lab lazily sniffed along the front portion of the walk as we trudged into the north wind which carried the light rain in at an angle.  In no time, we were both soaked from the damp ground cover and the additional precipitation coming down.
Gunnar sniffed the wind in an attempt to locate some scent, as his days of rapidly quartering, running out and back, scanning the ground for some olfactory-based sign of birds in the area are well in his past.  Instead, his ability to check the breeze gives him an energy-saving advantage in his old age, and when he does detect something, flashes of youth return and he engages in a gear rarely seen except when hot on the trail of a fleeing pheasant.  But for the first thirty minutes it was a meandering march into the falling rain.
We walked out and back, covering the eastern half of the terrain before making the turn back up to the north along a small draw littered with pockets of cane and patches of green field grass.  As we turned, Gunnar raised his nose into the wind and took off, winding into the stalks and stands of vegetation, sending sprays of water from the bushy blonde tops of the plants.  Seeing that he had found his other gear, I popped my 20 gauge off my shoulder and into a more ready trail carry position just in time to see a rooster thunder out of a small brushy clump to my left.  My first shot whizzed behind the bird, but the second was true and soon Gunnar was on the downed bird and proudly returned it to hand, as if to say: “I’ve still got this.”

He shook twice to send the soaking rain out from his coat and cleaned the side of his feather-filled mouth with his tongue before turning back into the wind and heading up the draw, giving me just a moment to admire the bird and tuck it into my vest.  It wasn’t long until he was on point on an unusually dense stand of still-green grass.  He dove in and a pair of hens jumped up from the far edge of the ten-foot circle.  But something tried to evade him, and he turned, placing the wind at his back while inhaling all of the scent trail that wound up the hill and away from the draw and the small grassy patch.
In a frantic sprint from days past, with nose thundering and legs churning, he made his way up and over a small ridge littered with old rock piles before slanting down a hill, about fifty yards away from the draw and I doubled my pace to stay with him. A hen popped up and took flight, but he only paused a moment in his pursuit before spinning and winding back on the trail.  Another buff bird took flight, and then another, and another before I made the call for color.
“There’s gotta be a rooster in this mess, stay on him,” I encouraged my dog as I readied my gun.
Sure enough, Gunnar doubled back and caught the wind and in the process nearly caught the young rooster in his gnashing teeth as it took flight between us, rapidly closing the yardage and shifting my shot before banking out and away from my position.
“Wait…wait…wait…okay, now,” I thought as I traced the path of the airborne bird and the shot finally presented itself.
Gunnar trailed the downed rooster and was quickly on it, bringing it back and dropping it at my feet.  I unloaded my gun and hooked it over my shoulder as I praised the pup that sat before me, disguised by the twelve-year-old body he resided in at that particular moment.  I checked the time on my phone – 3:27 p.m. – and let my wife that I’d be home soon. She was pleased. I attempted to bank the remaining hour or so of unused hunting time for another rainy day down the road, but she didn’t respond to the request.

With our limit of two in the bag, we had certainly made the most of the moments I had bargained for on the wet and winding afternoon, and that’s all anyone – hunter or dog – can ask for…in our outdoors.

Simonson is a syndicated outdoors journalist from Marshall, Minn. who also serves as President of LCPF.  From time-to-time he shares an installment of his weekly column, Our Outdoors, with the chapter.

2016 Mentor Hunt Magic

LCPF Press Release

Twelve participants joined mentors and volunteers from Lyon County Pheasants Forever (LCPF) and Redwood River Sportsman’s Club (RRSC) on Sat. Oct. 22 in what was for many their first trip into the field for pheasants on lands located just southeast of Marshall, Minn.

The annual LCPF Mentor Hunt event was once again held at the RRSC clubhouse and shooting range, and was open to hunters age 17 and under, inexperienced female hunters and inexperienced families looking to get into hunting. The event kicked off at sunrise with 10-clay sets of trap to help participants shake the rust off and get them ready to shoot at an airborne target.

“Taking advantage of the trap house really helped get the participants ready for those roosters that would flush later in the morning,” explained LCPF Vice President, Johnny B.

Before heading out to the field, Minn. DNR Conservation Officer Matt Loftness took time to talk safety and regulations with the participants and answer their questions on topics ranging from what one should do if they see a violation, how to properly account for birds in the bag, and what happens when more than one bird flushes.

Participant Nick Atcher of Marshall with his group’s first bird of the day.

At opening hour, the participants broke into five groups with three to four mentors and their dogs in each group and departed for a number of hunting areas around the RRSC clubhouse which consisted of over 2,200 acres of private land and more than 2,500 acres of public land.  Immediately, participants were seeing birds as they set off into the fields.


“We flushed a rooster as we closed the doors on our pickups when we arrived at the [Gerry] Bue lands,” said LCPF President, Nick Simonson, “it wasn’t long until 9:00 a.m. was upon us and the first rooster was in the bag about 10 minutes later!”

Good reports came in from most of the groups, which were aided by light west breezes and cool starting temperatures, making conditions ideal for the mentors’ hard-working dogs.  In total, over 60 birds were flushed before noon, including nearly 15 on a walk through the lands immediately adjacent to the clubhouse as part of the popular “noon walk” the groups go on together before lunch when they return after their morning outings.

Hunters and Mentors take to the field along Amiret WMA near the RRSC Clubhouse.

Through beautiful waist-high CRP and clumps of sweet clover planted eight years ago by RRSC which connect the habitat of Rooster Flats WMA with Amiret WMA on either side of the property, members of the reunited groups and a number of mentors and their dogs flushed six roosters, and participants bagged two in addition to the eight they had picked up in their separate walks in the morning.  On top of the great shooting, participants were very safety conscious and respectful of each other’s firing zones.


With a number of birds on the table after the lunchtime presentation, LCPF Treasurer Ron Prorok set to work showing participants and their parents how to properly clean birds for transport in Minnesota and helping a few who bagged birds get “hands-on” with their quarry.  He reminded those watching that each bird must have a leg with a spur, the feathered head or a whole wing still attached so it can be properly identified if a Conservation Officer requests.

Participant Zach Marr readies himself to take aim at a flushing rooster.

Following the cleaning presentation, the participants had the chance to shoot trap on the RRSC ranges and talk to mentors and volunteers on how to improve their aim.

“The Mentor Hunt is a great opportunity to introduce young people to the shooting sports as well,” said Kevin Kayser, RRSC President, who helped the new hunters take better aim on the trap stations.

After time on the range, the hunters went out for an afternoon hunt to destinations on private lands around the Lyon County area.  While hunting was a little bit slower in the warm temperatures, a few roosters were seen, and the groups bagged two in the afternoon to bring the event total to 14, tying a recent high number of harvested roosters with 2014’s event.

Hunters walk a transition area on Brakke WMA. 

Thanks to the generous offering of access from area landowners, hunters were able to pursue less-pressured birds and have a great experience. Those allowing participants on their land for this year’s Mentor Hunt were: RRSC, Louise Van Moer, Tom Hahn, Ted & Janet Schotzko, Donata DeBruyckere, Ken Noyes, Ken Bossuyt, Loren & Marci Peterson, Gerald Bue, Tom Barber, and Kenneth Schultz.

“We can’t thank these landowners enough,” said Simonson, “by allowing access to their acres; they made it possible for five brand new hunters to bag their first birds; helping cement them as sportsmen for the rest of their lives,” he concluded.

Volunteers for the event included Mark Radke, Kevin Kayser, Mark Peper, Kyle Andreska, Dave Simonson, who kept the food coming for lunch and the trap stations firing out orange targets all afternoon for the participants.

Participant Jamie DeBruyckere pauses for a photo with a rooster she harvested on an afternoon walk.

“The event is a great time, not only for the hunters but for us as mentors,” Johnny B, “getting new hunters out into the field is a big part of our chapter’s mission, and the mentors really stepped it up this year to make it a great hunt, so we owe them a lot of thanks for their efforts.”

Mentors for the 2016 hunt included Simonson, Johnny B, Prorok, Arlyn DeBruyckere, Troy Dale, Loren Peterson, Kelly Novotny, Jim Breczinski, Kevin Mayer, Tanner Bruse, Dave Scherf, Gary Gilbertson, Steve Gnoza, Paul Schuld, Gabe Pieper, Tim Moberg and Dave Verschelde.

Participants included: Matthew Podas, Dustan Wilmer, Nick Atcher, Connor Gabrielson, Even Greenfield, Carter Gabrielson, Tate Walerius, Zach Marr, Joe Speltz, Pete Braun, Hanna Lavoie and Jamie DeBruyckere.



All participants had a chance to take a shot at flushing birds, and many got multiple shots off during their hunts.  Mentors reported that the hunters were safe, conscientious and high-spirited throughout the event.

Next year’s Mentor Hunt is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017 and registration for the event will open in late August, 2017.  For updates on youth events and other activities through LCPF people are encouraged to like LCPF on Facebook, follow the chapter on Twitter (@lyoncountypf) and bookmark the chapter’s website.

Our Outdoors: Changing Conditions for Pheasants

From Snow to 70s in 36 hours, and back again in as many more. Conditions can change fast, knowing how the weather affects pheasants will help increase your success.

By Nick Simonson

North Dakota’s pheasant opener started cloudy and cold, a half inch of snow clung to the yellowing leaves of the crabapple tree in the front yard of the old farmstead and coated the still-green grass of mid-autumn like white frosting on a cake.  The truck registered 27 degrees on the in-dash thermometer as we set out to walk familiar acreages.  Flash forward to the second day of the season, and we began to pull the dogs back on wild chases over the countryside, through the winding bottoms of cedars, caragana and buckbrush.

Their panting intensified as the sun beat down, and after a pair of roosters ran on them, we called the day early as all four labs belly-flopped and sat in place, lapping up gallons of water before loading up and heading back to the farmstead.  As we pulled into the drive at around 2:30, the truck thermometer read 72.

As the saying goes in the upper Midwest, “if you don’t like the weather here, wait five minutes, it’ll change…then you’ll really hate it!”

We were treated to a season’s worth of conditions in a matter of 36 hours on opening weekend and were reminded of how those elements of the weather – precipitation, temperature and wind – impact how pheasants relate to their habitat, and how best to hunt those areas.  Knowing what to do when conditions shift is key to success, and using elemental cues will help hunters bag more birds.

Hot Stuff. These roosters came in short grass during a mid-day warmup.

Cold Conditions

In the chill of late autumn and early winter, pheasants will hunker down in any vegetation that provides them with thermal cover.  Common options on the landscape for these birds include dense stands of cattails adjacent to lighter cover for when things do warm up, and a food source nearby.  Additionally, stands of trees, particularly low brush formed by plum and chokecherry thickets or stands of junipers and cedar trees provide excellent areas for the birds to hole up in.  Man made shelterbelts of pine and spruce, and tangled overgrown deciduous tree plantings are also frequently used on the landscape. Low branches and surrounding grasses provide great protective cover, and leave a number of options for a hasty exit.

Warming Up

As cold mornings progress into temperate afternoons, pheasants – like most game – look to take advantage of the strengthening sun.  Grassy southern slopes of hills adjacent to cover, or with escape routes like draws and ravines nearby, bring birds in as they look to warm up.  Pinning the birds into the rising slope, or chasing them up a rising ravine can result in explosive flushes and great shooting-gallery style opportunities in the field.

Too Hot

On days of above average heat, birds will often be loose and wild and can be found in some of the lightest cover.  Grassy stretches and areas where light cover quickly gives way to cut fields are prime spots, particularly at the start and ending of the day.  Walking these areas, covering ground and letting the dogs do their thing when they get on scent will push the birds to transition areas or to rises and trigger flushes.  Be aware of warm conditions, particularly at midday and afternoon, so that dogs don’t overheat and remember that pulling out of a hunt is sometimes the best decision if temperatures begin to soar.

Whatever the changing conditions might be, whether it happens over a couple of days or several weeks, adapting and knowing where pheasants hold in the elements and finding the cover that provides a buffer for them gives hunters a head start…in our outdoors.

Nick Simonson is a syndicated outdoors journalist from Marshall, Minn., also serving LCPF as president.  From time-to-time he shares an installment of his column “Our Outdoors” with the chapter.  Read more from Nick at nicksimonson.com 

Rally at Varsity Pub & Extra Innings for Pheasant Opener!

Lyon County Pheasants Forever (LCPF) will be hosting its Rooster Rally Social from 6 pm to 10 pm on Friday, Oct. 14 at Varsity Pub & Extra Innings on the corner of Main Street and E. College Drive in Marshall.

Come meet up with LCPF members and fellow hunters to talk pheasants, shotguns, dogs and more, while checking out area maps and getting tips from members on where and how to hunt in Lyon County this opening weekend.  What’s more, by dining at Varsity Pub & Extra Innings, you’ll help support LCPF as the establishment will make a donation to the chapter for every Buffalo Chicken Panino and Leinie’s Oktoberfest ordered this month!

As an added bonus to celebrate the start of pheasant season, present the coupon below and receive ten percent (10%) off your order at Varsity Pub & Extra Innings this Friday, Saturday and Sunday!  So come join us for great food and drink and enough pheasant talk to carry you through opening weekend.


Our Outdoors: Mighty Preparations

By Nick Simonson

With the opening day of pheasant season just a week or two away, there is plenty to be done to get ready for the big event.  From stepping up physical and shotgun preparations, to packing the things that all hunters and their four-legged friends will need in the field and after the hunt, getting everything in order not only ensures a successful start to the season, but it also helps pass the last few days leading up to the first flush, thundering wingbeats and boisterous cackle of autumn.

Walk It Off


The smile of success.  Being ready for opener is multi-faceted; having the gear, the physical readiness and the confidence in your shot can come with a little preparation, even in the last few days before the season starts.

Few other outdoor pursuits require as much walking as upland game hunting, and as a result many hunters enter the field a tad out of shape, even for those who normally walk their local sidewalks or have a consistent exercise regimen during the off-season. Even the flattest stretches of grassland can present all sorts of challenges, with uneven ground and various varmint holes being just a couple; add in some cattail sloughs, inclines and other obstacles and stiff legs and sore hips are all but guaranteed.  Hunters can prepare for the terrain by taking their dogs off-trail in the days leading up to the opener by hiking state park trails or areas specially designed for trail running.  Don hunting boots for these off-road adventures to get feet set for the challenges to come, and make sure to break in a new pair before opening day. A few quick stretches before and after each walk will help ease the after-effects.

Under the Gun

Most hunters also make it a point in the off-season to keep their aim sharp, but if you haven’t been to the trap range since the company fun night in May, there’s still time to warm up the barrel before the season starts.  A few rounds of trap, skeet or sporting clays – or all three – will prepare shooters for a variety of near-future scenarios in the field.  Before, during and after these events check to ensure proper shotgun condition along with fit and comfort, and in the final round or two, don a field vest to simulate hunting conditions.  Once tuned up, inspect shotguns for wear and clean them prior to opening day to ensure everything is in order.

Geared Up

When arriving at a hunting site, or unpacking after traveling to a destination for pheasant opener, there’s nothing worse than realizing that a vital piece of equipment, clothing or gear was forgotten.  Make a list not only for those things you need, but also the food, medicine and equipment your dog might need, along with those just-in-case items to deal with emergencies.  Blaze orange clothes to match the weather, a shotgun (and a backup if traveling away from home) cleaning tools and equipment and electronics and their respective chargers are all must-haves for opener.  It’s a good idea to buy ammo and any out-of-state licenses you might need now, to avoid the last-second rush and supplies that get skinnier as the season approaches.


Make sure to pack plenty of food and water for dogs and all medicines that might be necessary.  It’s a good idea to find a nearby veterinarian’s office if you’re traveling away from home for opener and enter the number in your phone prior to your arrival.  First aid kits for both people and animals should also be packed and at the ready.  In the coming days, make a list of these items and everything else you might need to be set for the season.


Map It Out

Finally, reach out to landowners of the areas you will be hunting, or those farmers who reside near public lands to find out habitat conditions and what they’ve been seeing throughout the summer and how recent weather may have affected the lay of the land – particularly with recent rains across much of the region raising lowland water levels.  Check out topographic and satellite maps and draft a game plan for any wind or weather conditions which might change the way you walk a certain parcel.


Luck is the residue of preparation, and getting ready can be part of the fun and ensure a safe and successful first day in the field.  Take the time that remains between today and your respective pheasant opener to get ready for whatever might come in those initial exciting moments of the season…in our outdoors.

Simonson is a syndicated outdoors journalist from Marshall, MN who also serves as President of Lyon County Pheasants Forever.  He shares a copy of his column, Our Outdoors with the chapter on a regular basis.  You can read all of his works at www.nicksimonson.com