posted on October 18, 2004 00:00
Pheasant hunter nouveau
Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune
October 15, 2004 ANDY1015
Meet Nicholas Sovell, 25, one of 67,393 Minnesotans who by Wednesday had purchased a state pheasant stamp, a figure that could top 115,000 by tonight.
About 21 percent of purchasers are between ages 18 and 30 — representing the future of hunting and the fittest of the fit who will partake Saturday in what can be a cardio-intensive undertaking: scouring the countryside for ringnecks.
The 2004 season opens at 9 a.m.
Unlike their hunting parents when they were young, many young sportsmen and women today travel widely in autumn, visiting two or more states. Reasons: Higher expectations, rising incomes, more leisure time and/or an awareness that game populations elsewhere are more abundant than in Minnesota. On opening day of Minnesota's duck season, for example, Sovell was in North Dakota, where waterfowl are plentiful.
Carlos GonzalezHUNTING PANTS
Today's hunters often go afield with first-rate, high-tech gear. Nylon- and polyester-faced canvas pants have replaced the jeans, bib overalls and cotton pants of yesteryear. The new pants protect legs against briars, burrs and other things that go bump along tree lines and in frozen marshes. Underwear is improved, too: Whether polypropylene or another synthetic, new materials allow perspiration to vent, keeping hunters dry.
Lightweight, comfortable boots that keep hunters' feet dry are a blessing of the modern age. Here Sovell balances on a pair of Vibram-soled, Gore-Tex-lined camouflaged boots, guaranteed to keep him upright all day Saturday, when he expects to cover as much as seven miles in search of his two roosters -- a far cry from the short strolls required of hunters to garner their limits during the state's pheasant heyday in the 1950s.
Successful pheasant hunting requires a mix of quick mental reaction and athleticism. When a bird explodes from cover, its sex must be determined and its trajectory calculated. Before touching the trigger, excited hunters also must know where their hunting partners are. Enter the blessing -- and legal requirement of -- blaze-orange clothing, a contemporary illuminator that helps keep hunters out of their partners' sight lines.
Years ago, scattergun loads were wrapped in paper, with primitive wads. Today's plastic shells, even those carrying steel shot, are space-age by comparison, offering bigger, faster payloads that, properly patterned and directed, find their targets and knock them down. For pheasants, Sovell prefers high-brass 2¾-inch 6s, making sure the shells are non-toxic when hunting federal waterfowl production areas.
Anomalies, today's guns sometimes are no better than those of the past. Consider Sovell's Browning A5, more than 2 million of which were built, beginning in 1901. Blending walnut and steel, this heirloom and prized piece of Americana previously belonged to Sovell's dad, Nick -- and is testament to the genius of John M. Browning, whose "humpback" wingshooter gave birth more than a century ago to the Browning Arms Co.
Pheasant hunting without a good dog is hiking by another name. In Minnesota, the Labrador retriever rules among waterfowl and upland hunters. Better pheasant dogs might exist, among them -- depending on landscape hunted -- pointers such as German wirehairs and flushers such as springer spaniels. But as all-around hunters, Labs can't be beat, especially when the task is rousting roosters from thick Minnesota cattail sloughs. Best friends don't come cheap nowadays, though. Good pups can cost $1,000 and more, and per-month training often exceeds $700. Blaze-orange collars and hunter-toted water can keep these investments -- and buddies -- safe in the field.