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Pheasant hunting is a great experience

I grew up in the best pheasant hunting region in Pierce County. As good as that area is, it isn't much when you compare it to South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska or any of the other great pheasant hunting regions in the U.S. In fact, when the best pheasant hunting states in the nation are listed, and they list over 20 in some stories, Wisconsin never even makes the list.

We are known for deer, cheese and beer, and that's OK with me.

I had years when I shot over 20 roosters in Wisconsin back when I was in college and had more time on my hands and stronger younger legs. There are pockets out there that hold a lot of pheasants. Pierce County is still as good a bet as St. Croix County. I've lived in both and hunted in both.

But most of my friends and all the better local pheasant hunters don't take vacation time to hunt pheasants in Wisconsin. They all head out to the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska and other great pheasant states for good reason. Pheasant hunting here is work!

Living where we lived in the heart of Pierce County back in the 1960s, we had roosters that provided an adequate hunting population, thanks largely to the old Soil Bank program. That program would be similar to the CRP programs of today. Bottom line: When you give pheasants habitat, they survive and often prosper if conditions are right.

I remember the noon openers back in the 1960s and '70s. We lined up in the grassy wild spot across from Willie and Irene Christianson's house and made the push. We barely had enough shotguns for Dad and his four sons. We were just poor farmers back then, carving out a living on the old clay farm. We didn't even have a decent dog, mostly cow dogs that were smart enough to chase cows and pheasants.

Things improved when brother Dean brought home a beagle dog we named Ted. Teddy would chase anything, from pheasants, to rabbits and even deer when he wasn't supposed to. But we had no idea how to train a dog back then. He would take off and the pheasant would be off and running in over drive. If you wanted a shot, then you learned to chase the howling hound and shoot on the run. Not too safe, but we put a few birds on the table.

And then there was school bus driver Bill Junkman, a great guy. He was always on the job and everyone liked him, especially the superintendent of schools, L.H. Dawson, at RFHS. L.H. was known to go down on the Kinnickinnic River on his lunch hour. And L.H. was always waiting to see if Bill shot any pheasants on his morning school bus route.

Yes, Bill, carried a 12-gauge shotgun on the bus route. Not something that would even be considered today but back then -- well, life was better, and Bill would always take a few roosters on his school bus route. When he'd spot a bird he would simply stop the bus, step out of the bus, load his shotgun and pop a rooster or two!

Often times when I'd get on the bus, there would be a dead rooster on the top step. And when I would goof off I'd usually have to sit on that top step next to the dead bird. That was my punishment for messing up on the bus. But I didn't mind because I would be closer to the action the next time Bill had a rooster going. L.H. would often be waiting for Bill to see how he did when we arrived at school.

I've never lost my love of pheasants and pheasant hunting. I've always had some great dogs that make the already fun hunts more fun. And this was the case when I went out last week with Matt Pasche and his dog, Scout, of Hudson. We hit an area where I live first and put up around eight birds in a couple hours. Matt got one big bird and missed another that he said he should have had if he hadn't been stuck in the mud when the rooster got up.

Later that day my son, Josh, came up with his dog, Bear, and he and I my dog, Aliya, hit a favorite place of mine where we put up 19 birds in 45 minutes. Most of those were roosters. I got my two and Josh should have. But that's the thing about pheasants. You just never know what to expect. They run, they burst from thick cover cackling and scaring you to death, or they wild flush out of range. But that's what makes chasing roosters so much fun! They win more than lose in Wisconsin. Here they are a trophy. In states that have plenty of wild roosters, they are just game in the bag.