PULASKI, O. - The little cowbell on Eddie's neck stopped tinkling in a thick patch of cover topped with sorghum. The retriever was frozen on point: Pheasant under grass.
The hunter crept up on the point and passed Eddie, moving in to flush the bird. It was bonus time. Not one but two gaudily colored ring-necked cocks exploded from the cover. One flew straight away and one broke right.
The gunner was “on” with his swing and the 12-gauge over-under barked twice. A double on ringnecks.
The foregoing scene was but one chapter in a 10-pheasant hunt in Williams County late last week - a week before the official opening of the Ohio upland game season. It was perfectly legal, however, for it occurred on a game preserve - Blue Spruce Game Birds - where hunting can be done year-round.
Ron and Cindy Carlin, a farm couple, just opened the preserve on Sept. 16 as a way to supplement their income. “Farming isn't making a living any more,” said Carlin. He is part of a farm family that raises corn, soybeans and wheat on 3,300 acres.
The hunting experience at Blue Spruce is excellent. After all, the top ingredients are there: Good cover and strong-flying birds. Add a good dog, such as Eddie, a six-year-old Drahthaar owned and guided by Ralph Krueger of Archbold, and the recipe for a great day afield is on the table.
The only other thing you need is a good partner to share the experience with. In my case, I had the best - my hunting “Dad,” Hob McKarns. My father went to the Happy Hunting Grounds 32 years ago, and about 20 years ago Hob took me under his wing. As outdoors writer for the Bryan Times, Hob is a hunting and fishing legend in Williams County.
We first paired up in the grouse coverts of southeast Ohio in a pouring, freezing rain with Hob's Brittany, Duke. We never forgot that day, or my coming down with the flu and riding home in the back of his station wagon with a fever.
We talked about that as we hunted the fields at Blue Spruce, and we recalled a lot of other hunting tales and days afield, as hunters will do. Well, back to the new game preserve:
For 15 years Carlin has raised pheasants, and for three years he has been selling them to other hunting preserves. This fall he has 25,000 pheasants in his pens, marketing adult birds to preserves in Michigan and chicks to ones in Mississippi, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Indiana, Vermont and elsewhere in Ohio.
“I've got a restaurant in Wyoming that uses a lot of them. And Thanksgiving dinner - a lot of people try them (dressed pheasants) for that.”
The pheasants at Blue Spruce act and fly as if they were purely wild birds. “We put in an automatic feeding system to minimize human contact, and I think that makes a difference,” Carlin explained.
He has planted switchgrass, sorghum, sunflowers, and other mixed cover on 92 acres at Blue Spruce. After crop harvest, he will add some cornfields to the mix as well if parties want a cornfield hunt.
A basic hunting package at Blue Spruce is $100 for a seven-bird hunt. But Carlin said that he is willing to accommodate customer requests. He also can provide bobwhite quail. In addition, Blue Spruce also offers free catch-and-release fishing for bass, bluegill and walleye from its pond, and catch-and-keep catfish. For other details, call the preserve at 419-636-8773, or E-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
wImproved pheasant and rabbit-hunting opportunities are predicted for Ohio upland-game hunters, who will open their season on Friday .
Pheasants had a good reproductive season, according to the Ohio Division of Wildlife, which issued the upbeat hunting forecast. The division's pheasant population index, based on spring and summer surveys, is up from 1999 and the highest since the early 1990s.
As a result, hunting is expected to be very good, certainly better compared to the last several years, the division said. The highest densities of birds are in northwest, west-central, and northeast Ohio. Private lands with large tracts of undisturbed grasslands, such as CRP farmland, may provide the best opportunities.
Pheasant hunting will run through Jan. 1 statewide, except during the week of deer-gun season, which begins Nov. 27. The daily bag limit is two cock, or male, birds.
The wildlife division is supplementing wild birds with releases of up to 15,000 birds during November at sites around the state, including Killdeer Plains, Wyandot, Resthaven, Willard, Maumee State Forest, Oxbow, and North Turkeyfoot public hunting areas in northwest Ohio.
Rabbit numbers also appear to be higher this year, the division said, with the summer-survey index up in all regions except north-central and southwest. The season continues through Feb. 28 except during gun-deer season. The daily bag limit is four.
Rabbits may not be hunted between Nov. 3 and Dec. 4 in a special closed zone bordering the Ashtabula-Geauga county line because of a snowshoe hare reintroduction project there. The closed zone is bounded by U.S. 6, State Rt. 528, State Rt. 322, and State Rt. 534.
The quail season also opens Friday and continues through Nov. 26 in 18 southern counties. Quail numbers have declined from 1999.
For details, consult the 2000-2001 Hunting and Trapping Regulations Digest, available free where licenses are sold or by calling, toll-free, 1-800-WILDLIFE.