—By Andrew Johnson
I have a hard time ringing in the new year when the ball drops at midnight on New Year’s Eve. As a pheasant hunter, my new year doesn’t begin until the sun finally sets on the current pheasant season.
This year’s season, which is the 100th on state record, closes Sunday at sunset. And while many hunters have already hung up their blaze-orange vests for the year, hunting the last day of the season has been a tradition I’ve long shared with Outdoor Forum contributor John Pollmann.
Pollmann and I go way back. He’s a year older than me and we grew up in Dell Rapids together. We shared the gridiron together, played trombone together, went to church together and, yes, hunted together.
In high school our first class of the day was band, and back in those days school didn’t start until 9 a.m. That meant in the fall we had time to go duck hunting at the ol’ Willow Creek slough before school. And on more than one occasion we slid in the band room’s door — still wearing our waders, covered in mud and duck feathers — right before the bell rang, much to the chagrin of our band director, Mr. Bluford.
In addition to early morning duck hunts, there were weekend pheasant hunting forays when we’d take Pollmann’s old four-cylinder Ford Ranger an hour or so west to the James River Valley area, a place we considered the pheasant Promised Land. During those trips we didn’t need or use any fancy gear (we couldn’t afford it!) and we never cared about pheasant numbers or surveys. We simply went pheasant hunting, often in blue jeans and winter boots with beat-up pump shotguns that worked most of the time.
Through the years one of the most important lessons I learned from Pollmann was that there was really only one way to go hunting, and that was simply to just get out there, work hard and never take a day in the field for granted.
Another lesson he taught me was you should always hunt on closing day.
Closing day memories
Last year Pollmann and I carried on our closing day tradition by heading to some sacred ground near Parkston. For me, the hunt was even more special as my son, Gavin, was along.
The birds were jumpy, but a few held tight and offered our two young Labradors and our young hunter some close-range opportunities.
As we walked the final swath of cattails in the gloaming, my yellow Lab, Gauge, flushed a rooster about 10 yards directly in front of me. I shot three times, the bird kept flying and the dog looked at me with disappointment — you hunters with dogs know the look I’m talking about.
“That one will sting until next October,” Pollmann said, half kidding.
Truth be known, he was right, as that darn bird haunted me until this October.
Hunting on pheasant season’s closing day doesn’t receive the same amount of fanfare as opening day traditions, but the memories of a final hunt — good or bad, in some cases —often last longer.
I have no idea how many pheasants I shot last year, nor do I remember how many times I went pheasant hunting. However, I still remember many details of that closing day.
Earlier this week I received a text message that started off as a holiday greeting.
“Happy New Year,” Pollmann’s message read. “Sunday is the day. Planning on hunting at the farm after church. Probably try to be out there a little after noon or so.”
I didn’t respond. He knows I’ll be there, a little after noon.
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