Friday, October 24, 2008

Pheasants on the Lamb

Jessica & Stan: Novice & Master

Sleeping on the ground instead of roosting in trees, pheasants are preyed upon by every mid-sized predator out there. If they're to survive for any length of time, they need a lot of grain producing farmland punctuated by grassland and heavy brush. For this reason, the Department of Environmental Conservation only stocks them in two spots in Oswego County: Three Mile Bay/Big Bay and Deer Creek Marsh Wildlife Management Areas.

Native to China, pheasants tolerate Oswego County's northern tier weather pretty well. But their preferred habitat around here is so small, most hunters only get them incidentally, while hunting ruffed grouse or rabbits.

While the Deer Creek WMA has all the usual suspects preying on pheasants, it has one thing that also contributes to their numbers: a pheasant preserve right across the street. Birds that escape Deer Creek Motel's Pheasant Preserve on NYS Route 3 (north of Port Ontario) find the patchwork of habitats pretty good on the other side of the road.

But preserves do more for hunting than just supply game; they also hone a hunter's skills. It's one thing to shoot a stationary target or even a clay pigeon launched from a trap; quite another thing altogether to target a speeding critter.

When you shoot at live targets anything can happen, and something always does.

For instance, last Monday I invited fellow blogger and Oswego County Public Information Officer Jessica Trump to a bird hunt. She had never hunted pheasant and accepted the challenge.

We arrived at the Deer Creek Motel and Shooting Preserve at about the same time. Owner Stan Ouellette welcomed us and had us sign releases. In the meantime, he took off in his ATV and stocked a bunch of birds.

When he returned, he fetched Belle, his wire-haired Pointing Griffon, and she lit off onto the trail ahead of us like a brown, low flying cyclone. We no sooner climbed over the first hill and she was already pointing. Stan ordered her to hold as we ran up, then gave the order to flush. The pheasant decided to race the dog through the high grass and we tried following them with our ears. Suddenly it shot up in a whirl of bright colors and feathers. Jess fired first, hitting the bird. Belle found it and brought it to us.

In about an hour and a half, Jess and Stan nailed five pheasants. Each surprised us with its defensive flight, only allowing us a couple of seconds to figure out what direction, height and speed it would take before flying out of range.

Before setting out for a hunt, regardless of the game, it's a good policy to refresh your skills, especially your patience and aim. A trip to your friendly pheasant preserve provides the ultimate target practice.

You'll indulge in some really wild fun, help some farm-bred birds escape into the wild, and bring home a tasty meal, too.

Jess preparing to shoot the bird

Discussing theory

A rooster rising

Rooster in flight

Belle on point

Belle, hard at work

Jessica, her first pheasant, and Belle

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Turkey season: Part I, Northern Tier

Stan Oulette of Deer Creek shows off his turkey

With the salmonids running, walleyes, bass and northerns on the bite, deer season just around the corner, and turkey season in the northern part of the county open, I don’t have much time to go tramping around in the wilderness trying to get a gobbler. So when motel operator and professional guide Stanley Oulette invited me to hunt with him on Deer Creek Motel property, across NY 3 from Deer Creek Wildlife Management Area, I couldn't pass up the offer.

Stanley started a turkey dialogue right when we sat down in the woods. He scraped the slate call a couple times; followed up with a few calls from the diaphragm in his mouth, and answered both with a box call.

About 15 minutes later, a doe came out of the woods and walked past us less than 50 yards away. Ten minutes later, two bucks, four and six points respectively, came out of the same spot. They sniffed cautiously around our decoys, less than 50 feet away from us, before deciding the doe was more exciting and heading off in her direction.

Just as I was putting my camera away, Stanley whispered "Here comes a turkey, moving fast."

By the time I shouldered the gun she was directly in front of me, right in my sights. I fired.

A young hen, she weighed about 10 lbs. She wasn't the best turkey in flock, but she was a good turkey. What she lacked in size, she compensated for with a beard. Only about three percent of hens sport whiskers so I felt like I got a bonus.

After all that racket, we decided to hit another spot. On the way, Stanley asked if I'd like to see his pet Ruffed Grouse. I thought he was kidding. An outfitter having a pet grouse, one of the tastiest birds on the planet. Unbelievable???!!!

Entering a thick, young forest, Stanley called "Come' ere Pete. Where are ya Pete."

Nothing happened. So we left.

We hunted turkey a few hundred yards deeper in the woods. Stan did some calling. No replies.

We sat there for about a half hour and decided to move again.

As we neared the spot where Stan called Pete, a ruffed grouse emerged from under the brush and started circling us. "Here's Pete," Stan proclaimed proudly.

He went over and started talking to the bird. Tickled to see him it kept circling and jumping around, all within Stan's reach.

I always knew he was a good fisherman. Now I know he has an even greater connection with the woods.

Fortunately, I have photos to prove to myself the events of that morning really happened.

Deer Creek Wildlife Management Area and the neighboring lands boast some of the most productive game habitat in Oswego County. The WMA's marsh loads up with waterfowl; its lowlands teem with deer; and its openings support ruffed grouse, pheasant and turkey.

The easiest way to get there is to head north on NY 3 from its intersection with NY 13 for 1.8 miles to the public access site at the bridge crossing the creek. Other easy access sites are the dirt road 0.1 mile north of the bridge and the next road 0.3 mile further north.

This is Pete, Stan's pet Ruffed Grouse

Stan standing next to Pete

This photo is dark, but it shows the two small bucks next to the turkey decoys.