Pheasant Hunt 3.0 – The Anatomy of a Hunt

I had another addition to my hunt adventure experience the other weekend.
As you may recall, this was the account of my first bird hunting experience with Calibered Events.
And here was my second experience  with Calibered Events.  
I have had such wonderful times with Ann Marie Foster and Calibered Events, that I would probably sign up for just about any hunt she offered at this point.
This experience was a little different, in that it wasn’t a “ladies only” event. This time husbands were invited, so we had two “better halves” in the group – Ann Marie’s husband David, and Tom, who accompanied his wife Betsy. Having the men around brought a nice change of perspective to the experience. I personally was excited because one of my shooting gal pals decided to come along, and she had never been hunting before at ALL. Thus, she was where I was two years ago, and that gave me some new perspective as well. I almost didn’t care if I came home empty-handed, as long as Mim got some birds for her first experience.
We started out meeting on a Friday afternoon at Wings of Challenge Clays course in Western Maryland. This gave us all a chance to get our shotgun feet under us – especially the newbies – and give Ann Marie (our hostess and shotgun coach) a chance to help with any technique issues before we went to the hunt the next day. It was great fun, and we had some laughs over one of us trying to figure out the markings on the gun, and which barrel fired first. One of us <cough> *Mim*<cough>, now knows that the “U” stands for “Under”, not “Upper”. Good natured ribbing aside, learning experiences can be a ton of fun – especially among friends!
Once we warmed up a bit with “known” clay presentations, then Ann Marie set the wobble trap to be a little more random, so we could get practice with targets just showing up in unexpected directions. Considering that the course was on the top of a mountain, and it was spitting rain and windy, some of those presentations got a little interesting! But we muddled through, and after a box or two of shells, we felt we were as ready as we were going to be.
We then retired to our lake resort area rental house to let the wine and conversation flow for the evening. Oh, and there was food – LOTS of food. There was venison lasagna, “cowboy caviar”, dips, and jerky cheese log. And there was wine. Did I mention there was wine? Yes, there was wine. 🙂 
Needless to say we made an early night of it, as hunt day was going to dawn early.
Saturday morning we were up before the sun, and it sprinkled some more rain for an hour or so, too. After  a yummy quiche breakfast courtesy of Ann Marie, we car-caravan’d over to Wild Wings Hunting Preserve in Friendsville, MD. They are on Facebook @WildWingsHuntingPreserve
This newish operation is owned and operated by Don and Lisa Calhoun, who made us a warm welcome on arrival. After a few preliminaries, such as signing the obligatory releases, checking that we each had our 6-dollar Maryland preserve license in our possession, and splitting us into two groups of three hunters each, we ventured out into the fields with our guides and dogs.
My group consisted of myself, my buddy Mim, and Ann Marie’s husband David. The other group consisted of Betsy, Tom, and Ann Marie, who went out with Don and his dogs. Our group was ably guided by Chris, who brought his German Shorthaired pointers, Abbie and Apple (which is short for Appalachian -something-something) LOL. I think Chris said that Abbie was seven and Apple was a year or two old. That brought back some memories, as my dad’s dogs were German Shorthairs. We were also accompanied by Aaron – Don and Lisa’s son -who served as videographer for the expedition.
It didn’t take us long into the first strip of sorghum before the dogs pointed our first bird of the day – a chukar. We brought that one down, which started us off on the right foot. We had been warned to reload quickly after a shot, as sometimes when the dogs went to retrieve a downed bird, they would kick out another. Sure enough, at one point I had just finished dropping two new shells into my Benelli, when a hen pheasant tried to make a break for it. By happenstance, I was the only one yet ready, so I was able to bring that bird down by my lonesome. I was very proud of myself. That’s not to say that we didn’t ultimately have several birds thumb their noses at us as they flew away to the next county, but it was good to have some early success.
I’m also happy to report that my friend Mim got to have a few solo successes of her own, as did David. Mim’s first solo bird was a chukar. There’s a bit of a story there. We were down at the bottom of one field, along the wood line. Chris wanted to stop and let the dogs have a drink in the stream before we went into the woods after a bird we’d seen take shelter in there. While we were waiting for the dogs to drink their fill, we each took turns answering nature’s call in the woods. Because of that, I was holding both mine and David’s gun for him, when one of dogs started pointing at the edge of the field we had just come through. Mim was the only one with shotgun ready, so we had her step up to see what Abbie was pointing. There sat a chukar, looking at us bold as you please. It finally flushed, and when it got airborne enough, Mim took the shot. She was tickled pink with her first solo bird!

    Mim’s first bird.
The morning just kept getting better and better that way. The sun had come out, and the smell of warm, damp earth, mixed with the tang of spent shells was intoxicating. Watching the dogs bound up and down in the fields was like watching dolphins crest over the ocean waves. You’d see a head, and then it would disappear down, then pop back up, reappearing above the sorghum again, as the dogs leapt around sniffing the ground and the air. It was amazing to watch.

   Our successful group – all smiles!

After a couple or three hours we had covered all of the territory we were allotted for the morning, and for me, some fatigue was setting in, so it was time to head back. But my interesting experience wasn’t over yet.
When we got back to the main building, I actually got to clean birds for the first time!The other few times I had been bird hunting, the outfitter did the cleaning for us, but this time I asked to be coached on how to do a few of my own. I know that doesn’t sound like fun for some of you, but I’m the biology geek. I loved dissecting frogs in middle school, and I had human cadaver lab in med school, so Pheasant Anatomy 101 was fascinating! Here is a video link, if you want to watch 

   The author digging into a dissection

Don was very helpful and informative as he showed me where the pheasant’s ear holes were, and that the pretty red around the eyes was really tiny feathers, not skin. Then he showed me how to breast-out the birds. Being the doctor, I was able to identify most of the internal organs, but he showed me the gizzard, and also the egg sack/ovary on the hen pheasant of the collection. 

I found the heart, liver, intestines, and trachea on my own. That’s when Don pointed out that these birds’ lungs were on their backs. Thus, he said, when they are lung shot, the flying birds climb, trying to get more air, and then you can see them fold and fall as they ultimately run out of oxygen. Interesting!

   Hey! Check out the cool trachea!!!

Also as part of the anatomy lesson, Don pointed out that the gizzard is edible. He sliced one open, cleaned out the contents, and showed us how the inner membrane peels off, leaving meat that he said was good dredged in some flour and pan fried. Another item of interest was the discovery that apparently at least two of our pheasants had not been among those released that morning. To demonstrate how he knew that, Don showed me that the gizzard contents were mostly greenery/plant material, not feed grain. Thus those couple of birds were grazing on their own in the fields for several days to a week or so. They apparently had to dodge some local foxes while doing so, as one rooster was missing most of his tail feathers!
After the birds were cleaned, we retired to the the cabin building to eat our lovely lunch prepared by Lisa, while she rinsed and bagged our meat and feathers for us. I was starving by then and a beer and hot food went down very well! 
After congratulations and thanks all around to our Wild Wings hosts, our group ventured back to the rental house for showers, libations and naps. We had a lovely “winding-down” evening at the house – full of conversation, more food (venison backstrap from Ann Marie), more wine ( and bourbon), and an attempt at a campfire. The rain had started up again though, and although Ann Marie fanned the fire valiantly with a pizza pan, it ultimately got too cold and wet and we retreated back into the house. A few of us took advantage of the warmth of the hot tub though.

   Celebration was in order.

I almost forgot to mention one more mis-adventure. When we returned to the house with our birds in our coolers, we had a bit of a blood bath in the kitchen. The bagged birds had leaked a bit into our coolers, and as we placed our prizes in the rental house fridge for overnight storage, there was leaked blood in trails across the kitchen floor and countertops! As we mopped up the mess, we joked about writing an apologetic letter to the rental company explaining that it was only pheasant blood, and  assuring them that there hadn’t really been a murder or animal sacrifice on the premises! The problems with renting to hunters instead of skiers! LOL
So, dear readers, you can tell that once again I had an awesome adventure with new and not-so-new friends. I cannot recommend highly enough taking the opportunity for an organized hunt wherever you are, and through Calibered Events and Wild Wings Hunting Preserve in particular, if you are local. For a woman like me, this is the only way I will ever be able to have an experience like this. I don’t own a farm or dogs, and am too old to start with that now anyway, even if I wanted to. But the beauty is that you don’t HAVE to, with outfitters and groups like this available to help you have a new adventure. 
Get out there, and never stop learning!