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The Roving Sportsman… A Hunt With Lucy and Mattie

Growing up outside of Montoursville, in rural Lycoming County, during the 1950s and 1960s gave a youth many opportunities to hunt and fish. Whitetail deer were available to hunt, turkeys were beginning to reach huntable numbers, and there was the occasional black bear that one might come across. But more numerous, and therefore more often hunted, were the cottontail rabbits and wild pheasants. Today, sadly, the wild pheasant population no longer exists, except for 3 Wild Pheasant Recovery Areas where the Pennsylvania Game Commission is attempting to propagate and reestablish a wild population. Pheasant hunting in these three areas is not permitted for now, which leaves a pheasant hunter with only one option — the birds that are raised by the Game Commission and released on various game lands. While the challenges of hunting wild birds is now only a memory, the released birds that one can hunt today can be challenging as well. The trick is to allow the birds several days to acclimate to their new surroundings after being released so that they are much more alert and less tolerant of human and canine pressure.

Last week I did not hesitate to lay out $26.90 for the pheasant stamp when I had been invited to join my friends, Ed and Bill and their dogs Lucy and Mattie, to hunt pheasants at a State Game Land in southern Pennsylvania. They had hunted the area several times before and the idea that I could watch some experienced bird dogs in action was intriguing. I had hunted with both Bill and Ed and their dogs previously, and now that fall weather had finally descended upon us, it was the perfect scenario to enjoy a day afield in pursuit of pheasants.

Lucy, a 12-year-old Vizsla, was still as anxious as ever to enter the field and begin her search for the scent of a pheasant or any other game bird for that matter. She had spent her years afield traveling with Ed throughout Pennsylvania and had made annual trips to South Dakota for wild pheasants and Arizona and New Mexico in search of quail. She has an amazing number of hunting days under her collar and acts like a teenager when she knows she is headed out to go hunting.

Mattie, an 8-year-old German Wirehair Pointer, is more persistent and relentless when it comes to hunting than any other dog I have ever witnessed. I first hunted with her and Bill when she was only five months old, and on that day she pointed several chukars and worked the retrieves like a pro! She is now in her prime and lives to hunt, responding instantly to commands from her handler as she ranges out ahead of the hunters.

Three hunters and two dogs entered the fields shortly after lunch, working their way through a heavy mix of goldenrod, tall warm season grasses, switchgrass and the occasional open area of orchard grass. We had only traveled 100 yards through the thick cover when the bell on Mattie’s collar suddenly went silent — she was on point! The three shooters moved closer to Mattie to cover the flush, and Bill stepped in to flush the bird. A hen rose out of the tall cover and with one shot, Bill tumbled the bird and Mattie proudly retrieved it.

Thirty minutes passed until another hen flushed out of the thick grasses and flew across the line of hunters and into an adjoining field. One of the hunters (who will remain unnamed!) had a quick shot, but it was a clean miss. As we stood discussing what our next move might be, a cock pheasant cackled in the field below. Bill took Mattie and hustled down to locate the bird. Mattie did her magic, went on point moments after arriving where the sound had originated and a quick flush and a single well placed shot from Bill dropped the bird for Mattie to retrieve.

So went the rest of the hunt, with Bill getting a hen and a rooster, Ed scoring on a pair of hens and I was thrilled to nail a rooster on the second half of the afternoon. It was a cool fall day with partly cloudy skies, the pheasants were numerous and flew well, and it was a sheer joy to watch the dogs cover the ground in search of scent, then going on point and following up with retrieves.

Hopefully, wild pheasant hunting will return to Pennsylvania one of these days, but in the meantime, there are still good opportunities for productive days afield in our state. If you are fortunate enough to hunt with good friends and watch seasoned bird dogs working the fields, well, that’s just icing on the cake!

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