By Steve Weisman
Last Monday and Tuesday, I had the opportunity to experience first-class pheasant hunting in western Iowa, outstanding accommodations and participate in an extremely beneficial “Private Lands Conservation Tour.”
It all came through an invitation from Kristyn Brady representing the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP). Two other outdoor writers ((both from Minnesota) and I were invited to the outing.
Although the opportunity to pheasant hunt was at the top of the list, I was also interested in touring three private parcels of land in Plymouth County where the landowners have enrolled in a voluntary, incentive-based conservation plan that benefits not only the landowner, but also wildlife and sportsmen.
What really made the tour worthwhile was that I had the opportunity to speak with the landowners along with staff from the Iowa DNR, Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Pheasants Forever. I learned a lot from the tours, but I’ll save that for another day and another column. This one is about pheasant hunting!
Hole N the Wall Farm and Lodge
As I headed for the lodge late Sunday afternoon, I wondered what Hole N the Wall Farm and Lodge would be like. I had been on the website, and it certainly looked inviting, but you never know until you are at the destination. I knew it was near Akron and west of LeMars, but that was about it.
Driving up the lane, the main lodge came into view, a three-story building erected in 2006. State of the art in its rustic appearance, the lodge was built new to look old. From the moment I entered the lodge and met Holly Kutz, events coordinator, her friendliness set me at ease. I also met Joe Cain, general manager and guide for Hole N the Wall. The opening pheasant weekend, he had guided Congressman Steve King and several Republican presidential candidates for his annual hunt. According to Joe, it had been a great weekend with plenty of birds.
A late supper had been arranged for us followed by a quick overview of the two-day event after which I went to my room. It was one of 10 guest suites at the main lodge, again rustic but the perfect place to relax and unwind.
The next morning after a hearty breakfast, we three outdoor writers along with Steve Kline, TRCP Director of Government Relations, and Ariel Wiegard, TRCP Director of Center for Agriculture and Private Lands, met Joe at the hunting shack to go over the morning’s game plan.
The entire farm is around 1,000 acres and contains parcels of both cropland with extensive waterways and prime pheasant habitat: tracts of native prairie grasses with food plots (just the right size to hunt) strategically mixed in to offer both quality winter and nesting habitat along with a good food supply. In visiting with Joe, I found he continually works on developing and tweaking the habitat to continually make it even better.
Bob Riege, one of the other writers, brought along his two Irish Setters, which added to Joe’s mix of eight hunting dogs: a mix of pointers and retrievers. All worked well together, and neither handler had to spend time yelling at the dogs. Normally, when I hunt around here with two dogs, we will follow the dogs. With 10 dogs, however, we walked pretty much straight and let the dogs work the area. The good news was they never took off on a run-down-the-pheasant sprint, so our walking was slow and easy. Plus, in two days of hunting, there was only one wounded bird they could not find. That’s 27 out of 28, an excellent percentage.
We hunted both Monday and Tuesday morning for about 2½ hours each day. Monday was calm, while Tuesday was extremely windy. The wind, as usual, made the birds a little jumpy, and they could really go with the wind. However, there were more than enough birds to target.
Each day I was fortunate to have enough roosters get up around me to take a three-bird limit. However, that does not mean I was anywhere near perfect. More like 50 percent (maybe).
My first opportunity was rather embarrassing. I was hunting the edge on the outside of the group. I think Joe felt it might be best to put an old duffer where it was easier to walk! I was situated a little above the other hunters, so I had the chance to watch all of the dogs work and the reaction of the other hunters to flushing birds. We were about 100 yards into the field and sure enough, it happened. A rooster erupted out of the grass about 15 yards ahead of me. Startled, I reacted way too late and didn’t event get a shot off.
I was ready for the next one and dropped that rooster. As I said, I was able to get a limit each day, but there were certainly some other “Oops” moments.
Must be age
The next “oops” came at the end of a parcel of grass adjacent to a corn food plot. As I stepped forward, up came a rooster, swinging to the right and then straight away…strike one. A few steps later the same thing happened…strike two.
The best one, though, had to be when one of the pointers went on point. I yelled out, “Dog on point” and stepped up. The bird evidently moved a bit, because the pointer moved ahead and to the left a few feet and then locked up again. I stepped toward the dog to flush the bird.
Little did I know until Bob yelled at me, “Dog on point behind you” that the bird had moved back away from the first pointer and was now behind me. Up came the rooster, and I never had a chance as it caught the wind and headed away.
Then there was the time I never got my safety off! It certainly was a colorful bird! You know what, though? That’s ok. At my age, it’s more about enjoying everything about the experience. Yes, even the misses.
As I reflect back, it was two morning of excellent hunting with what became a new group of friends. Funny how hunting together will forge friendships. Would I go to Hole N the Wall again? In a heartbeat!