Late Season Comes Early

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In the northern reaches of the pheasant range, December conditions arrived in October

By Tom Carpenter

It all started out so mild.

On opening day of pheasant season where I hunted in far western Minnesota, it was more like a summer stroll than an October pheasant hunt. But there was just enough breeze and coolness in the mornings to squeeze in a productive couple hours of hunting before the air became too sultry for dog and hunter alike.

But the corn was largely out or on its way into the grain wagon, the habitat was prime, the roosters were there after a robust hatch this year, and life was good: Birds chilling in the fridge, a lawn chair in the afternoon shade, a duck jump or two down on the river … 

... and two promises. 

That of getting out in shirtsleeves again or maybe a light sweatshirt over the next few mornings to chase our favorite gamebird. What we live for.

And that of several more weeks of the halcyon days of fall, hunting in the sunshine as the weather cooled and the prairie grasses and wildflower stems turned sere and golden. Classic fall. What we live for. 

The second promise never materialized. Instead, as anyone in the Upper Midwest knows, a weather pattern of cold and wet and snow moved in, and just hung on.

I was out the day it all came screaming in – leaden-gray and bone-chilling – from the northwest. It went downhill from there. Decemberish snow. Frigid lows. Record cold “highs.”

Lark and I hunted it a few days ago again for a few days. In the midst of it I had one of those stop-and-think moments: Not a “where am I” but a “when is this.” 

I thought it was Christmastime.

The birds have been tough to get to. They are behaving like it’s December. And they are in their Decembery haunts. Miles walked and cattail edges sniffed produce them. I will experience it again in Dakota as you read this: December in October and then November.

But we go. We hunt. You don’t shoot pheasants sitting at home lamenting that classic fall was stolen from us. 

Who knows. Maybe we’ll get a Normal November. 

Or October in December.

Tom Carpenter, assisted by Lark, is editor at Pheasants Forever.