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Pheasant Opener: Opening weekend sees plenty of success

Ole, a 10-month-old yellow lab, posed with a rooster he helped bag during his first hunt. (Echo Press photo by Eric Morken)

The anticipation level was the same but the surroundings were a little different as I went into the field for another Minnesota pheasant opener this past Saturday.

Instead of corn as far as the eye could see, there was nothing but black dirt and bean stubble surrounding the stretches of CRP we hunted in Lion and Yellow Medicine County. That early harvest was good news for hunters and bad news for the birds trying to avoid the noses of the dogs they went into the fields with.

Seeing how my 10-month-old yellow lab would hunt for the first time added to the intrigue as I hit the field with my dad, Gary Morken, and father-in-law, Mike Schaffran, around 10 a.m. All the hours spent with Ole since last winter were about to be put to the test.

Fetch, hold, here, heal, sit, give - that sequence of commands was performed to perfection in the backyard. Now it was time to see how well he remembered them after giving chase to a wild bird.

We didn't have to wait long to find out. We had walked less than 100 yards before seeing the familiar sight of tails wagging at a rapid pace. Gunner, my dad's 7-year-old yellow lab, put the first bird in the air after pointing a hen.

Next it was Ole's turn to get in on the action. We walked a few more yards after that first flush before a rooster broke from the tip of his nose. The first shot of the season found its target as feathers flew.

Finally, a reward for his work was right in front of him. Ole did exactly as we practiced a thousand times. Fetch, hold, here, heal, sit, give. The jump in his step after that screamed, "Do it again, do it again!"

I spent the rest of that push trying to rein him in without thwarting that excitement. The pheasants ran ahead of us and Ole gave chase, flushing a hen a long ways out of gun range.

A few pictures later, and we were off to our next piece of CRP. It didn't take long before another rooster folded. The day ended with three in the bag and a few more that had the good fortune of having a front row seat to some poor shooting.

Nine o'clock Sunday morning came and we were back at it. This time, it was my father-in-law and me with Ole getting a chance to show what he could do as the only dog in the field.

He quartered back and forth in hot pursuit - "Where are they? Where are they!?" The fluttering of wings finally broke the silence as a rooster took flight just on the edge of gun range. Mike fired off three shots but the bird flew across the field untouched.

Keeping Ole close was still a work in progress. I called him back a couple of times as birds continued to run ahead of us. That only heightened his anticipation as we neared the end where the grass gave way to bean stubble.

Another rooster flushed right in front of me with less than 100 yards to spare. My first shot hit its mark but the bird kept flying before Mike finished him off over a drainage ditch.

Ole faced his first dilemma as a hunting dog. What to do? Retrieve the bird I just saw fall or chase the ones that still think they can elude me? It took a little coaxing before we had our first bird of the day in hand.

Ole immediately gave chase with about 75 yards of ground left to cover. The birds had run out of real estate when a rooster busted from the edge of the grass. The first shot out of my Browning Citori folded him as another rooster took flight and flew to my left. That left Mike as an observer with me in his line of fire.

I had one chance to end things on a positive note. My load of five shot jolted the bird in flight, but he only dropped a leg and flew towards a tree line on the edge of a farmer's pasture. Ole was already bringing me the first rooster by the time I had my gun down.

We walked across the field and toward the tree line in search of the second bird. Mike saw him first, lying dead in the pasture with his tail feathers sitting high above the beaten down grass.

It didn't take long before the scent hit Ole's nose. He sprang into action from there - fetch, hold, here, heal, sit, give; the perfect ending to another memorable opener.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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