Dry Run

High enthusiasm and low expectations hovered over the dense, thorny, tangled, frost-browned wetland below, splashed with bright sunlight in cool air, the backdrop an infinite blue sky framed at the base by brilliant fall color from a deep, foreboding wooded swamp far back on the eastern perimeter.

Opening day of pheasant season? No. Too busy. Too crowded. It was, instead, late morning on the first Monday, Day 2, when the prospect of a random flush is possible but not particularly likely following the all-out opening-day circus of eager hunters, who just can’t resist despite chaotic overflow crowds. To each his or her own.

Remember the old bumper sticker that used to be sold at outdoor-shows reading, “A bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work.”? Well, that applies to bird hunting, too. Especially after paths have been broken through tangled marsh for old, battered legs, and the air temps have dropped below 50. Then even robust activity can transpire without profuse, uncomfortable sweating. In fact, a veteran who knows the game and plays it right can petty-much avoid sweating on cool, windy, tailor-made days for aggressive bird hunting.

Parked on the small earthen ramp that can handle two vehicles at a heavily hunted site was a red Subaru wagon cluttered inside with plastic pails and boxes and other stuff that didn’t suggest hunting. Not bird-hunting, anyway. Plus the person who parked there seemed oblivious to hunting season, hoarding both available parking places, which seemed a bit inconsiderate even though it wasn’t a real inconvenience. There’s always more than enough room to pull over along the quiet country road situated at the base of western uplands known to have been called Sunkist Mountains.

Not 50 yards into the overgrown, thorny field, the car’s owner appeared clothed in drab colors that answered the hunting question. Nope. Not a hunter. Just a young lady scholar carrying a tall, thin, calibrated, tube-like olive staff she carried upright for a walking stick that served the dual purpose of a measuring stick when needed.

A rod? No. Three meters, which made it more than two meters shy of a rod, a 16.5-foot unit of measure used by land surveyors for vertical and horizontal measurement alike. Using it at the time for a long walking staff, the young woman said she had previously used it for measurements pertaining to a UMass grad-school project assessing activity of migrating song birds passing through the Pioneer Valley twice annually — once heading north for mating and nesting, again this time of year on their return to winter refuge in the sunny South. The casual conversation meandered from plants to birds to animals to deep history and deep ecology and Indian trails before she continued on her merry way back to the car. She would not be back this fall but still had to revisit Montague Plains.

That perchance wetland meeting in the rear view, man and dogs busted through pucker brush for less than an hour, the dogs quartering and covering what seemed like every inch of the marshy field’s north half. All that work and not so much as a flush, false start or upward twitch of the shotgun; just a furious scouring of dense, seed-dusty cover for pheasants or woodcock or maybe even a stray partridge, where they were once plentiful, today rare.

Call it a dry run. A good yet unproductive romp for all.

Future trips will be far more fruitful once stocked birds accumulate, acclimate and learn how to temporarily escape hunting pressure in the dense, impenetrable alder swamp flooded by beavers.

When these feathered transplants decide to fly into the huntable field to feed on seeds, berries, hayfield grasses and insects at the wrong time, they stand a good chance of falling to a passing hunter. If not, there’s a good chance that a fox, coyote, fisher cat or bird of prey will eventually snag them here and there until all have vanished.

Call it put-and-take hunting at its finest. Fun while it lasts, but a far cry from hunting wild birds.

Speaking of pheasant hunting, disturbing news from New Hampshire, which stocks about a quarter of the birds this state does each fall.

Hunter Christopher A. Moulton of Boscowen, N.H., was shot by an unidentified hunter Friday morning at the Sanbornton (N.H.) Flood Control Area pheasant-hunting site, suffering minor injuries that did not require hospital attention. Nonetheless, state officials were alarmed enough to implement an emergency measure mandating closure of all pheasant-stocking sites from 7 a.m. to noon on Wednesday and today, the final two stocking days of the season.

The measure resulted from what New Hampshire Fish & Game Executive Director Glenn Normandeau called unsafe shooting taking place while state stocking crews were in the process of releasing pheasants.

“We are taking this emergency action to protect Fish & Game personnel and members of the public participating in the pheasant hunt,” said Normandeau. “It is unfortunate that the actions of a few unsportsmanlike and unsafe individuals have made this measure necessary. It does not reflect on the vast majority of safe and responsible hunters.”

The archery deer season opened Monday, presenting bowhunters with the daunting task of predicting deer feeding patterns on a landscape that’s full of natural feeds, such as nuts, fruits and berries, all of which are plentiful this year. Add to that agricultural foods such as corn, hayfields and winter squash, and it’s anyone’s guess where deer will choose to feed on any given day. Still, there appears to be no shortage of whitetails, so it just comes down to being in the right place at the right time. … Simultaneously, the fall turkey season is also underway, also opening on Monday. Despite the fact that gobblers and hens are fair game in the fall, this season never draws hunting pressure to rival the more popular spring hunt. The fall hunt is a different game, which most hunters seem to find less alluring than the spring, bearded-turkeys-only hunt during the mating season. Fall hunters either sit quiet in woods where they know there are big flocks of birds to bushwhack, or walk through the woods to break up a flock and draw a bird back to the gun with regrouping calls, including the kee-kee run, which is more useful and popular among hunters in the fall than spring.

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