Normally in November, I'm casting live shrimp under corks at likely seatrout holes in the marshes near my coastal Georgia home. I'm the editor of Outdoor Life's sister publication Sport Fishing, so that's only natural. But I'm also a wingshooting addict, and the last two years, I've found my fix hunting pheasants in north central Kansas. The forecast for this fall sounded bleak: drought, dry, parched. But the region around tiny Downs, Kansas, escaped the gloom and doom. Consequently, my late November mornings filled up fast with pheasant limits. During the afternoons, my group of 10 -- all friends from the Southeast -- jump-shot ducks and ambushed prairie chickens. As they say in real estate, success is all about location. - Photo by Duane Harris.
A blur of motion on a cold, windy morning as hunters load their SUVs with extra clothing, shells and shotguns outside the lodge at Outdoor Obsessions. Two German shorthaired pointers and three labs fill the mobile kennel (left) hauled by our host Erik Vrbas. – Photo by Chris Woodward
The hunters divide themselves into walkers, flankers and blockers as Money, the yellow lab, and Tivoli, the black lab await instructions. – Photo by Chris Woodward
Walkers spread out in a line to push the tall grass of an uncultivated field. An early morning Kansas sky is a perfectly painted backdrop for a colorful cock pheasant in flight. Ten to 12 hunters usually comprise the right-size group to encircle the birds in an ever-tightening ring of death. – Photo by Chris Woodward
Blockers take position at the opposite end of the field. With our setup, walkers generally saw more shooting opportunities. But it’s always important to take a turn playing guard; your buddies appreciate the sacrifice. – Photo by Duane Harris
A blocker’s view of hunters advancing across a harvested field to a food plot of milo, or grain sorghum. Stubborn pheasants often refuse to fly until forced to the end of food plots, where multiple birds flush in a cackling covey, reminiscent of quail. – Photo by Chris Woodward
The pointer Jez strikes a familiar, intense pose just before the labs bust in to flush the bird. – Photo by Duane Harris
The long tail of this bird helps identify it as a rooster. Unfortunately, it’s flying away from the guns of the group. – Photo by Duane Harris
Despite a small handful of escapees, the vast majority of the pheasants in range fell quickly and decisively. Competition quickly sets up on the pheasant field. Cordial hunters allow each other to rotate into and out of the best positions. – Photo by Duane Harris
Tall grasses mixed with sunflowers hide lots of pheasants — and hunters too. – Photo by Duane Harris
A hunter’s view heading into a field of thick grass. The guide often grows concerned during these kinds of pushes because the dogs disappear. He can’t give them direction and he can’t see when they find trouble. – Photo by Chris Woodward
Vrbas, takes the handoff from Ruger, the black lab, as Money looks on jealously. – Photo by Duane Harris
Jez gets a welcome scratch from a thankful hunter. The dog hates its neoprene coat but would probably grow hypothermic without the warmth it provides. – Photo by Chris Woodward
Vrbas rewards Money and Tivoli with some attention. Even though the hunters carefully avoid giving the dogs direction or paying too much attention to them, the animals certainly grow to be every bit a part of the team. – Photo by Chris Woodward
Flush with pheasants every morning by 11 a.m., our group headed back to the lodge for a lunch of soup and sandwiches. By mid-afternoon, everyone’s ready to hunt again, but with pheasant limits met (four per person), Vrbas guides us to ambush prairie chickens and jump-shoot ducks. – Photo by Chris Woodward
Most hunters take their fill of pheasant breast meat home and often harvest some of the bright plumage for tying fishing flies. – Photo by Duane Harris
The camouflaged hunter and the broad, open Kansas landscape blend together. This hunter waits for a flock of prairie chickens to appear on the horizon. In the evening, this flock — which Vrbas had scouted — flew in to roost in some nearby trees. – Photo by Chris Woodward
This hunter waits amid the broken branches of a dead tree for a flock of prairie chickens to fly into a soybean field behind him. – Photo by Chris Woodward
A hen prairie chicken (left) and a cock (right) fell victim to a barrage from ambushing hunters. Generally, hunters have one chance at an individual flock per afternoon. They set up where the birds either come to roost or feed. – Photo by Chris Woodward
Five prairie chickens, mostly young male birds, failed to make it past this wall of hunters. – Photo by Chris Woodward
Hunters line up along a dam overlooking one of many stock ponds throughout the agricultural fields near Downs, Kansas. Vrbas scouts ducks with binoculars from his truck, driving through the countryside. He has access to many locations that hold water. Once he spots ducks, he enters through the nearest gate and parks hundreds of yards away and below the pond’s elevation. Hunters walk silently toward the dam and crawl up the side. On cue, they rush forward, flushing the birds into the air. – Photo by Chris Woodward
Two young hunters display seven gadwalls taken while jump-shooting. Sometimes the stealth approach even requires rolling under barbed-wire fences and crawling army-like along the ground. Great fun! – Photo by Chris Woodward
Vrbas begins the task of cleaning pheasants and prairie chickens from the day’s hunt. Hunters usually bring an empty cooler to transport home the meat. Downs, population about 900, features few city amenities such as pack-and-ship stores.
Despite a nasty drought, there are still areas in Kansas that offer phenomenal wingshooting for pheasant hunters.