Sporting Dog's Delight

Pheasant hunting is a traditional way to bring home a delicious holiday meal.

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Ever since the first Thanksgiving in 1623, Americans have taken pride in hunting and shooting the main course for the family dinner on that national holiday. Although turkey is the traditional bird, it doesn’t lend itself to being hunted with dogs, so the pheasant has long been the holiday bird of choice for American traditionalists who own sporting dogs.

Sporting-dog owners probably spend more time each fall hunting pheasants than all other upland game birds combined, for several good reasons. The Chinese ringneck pheasant, found in every state, is the most widely available upland game bird, and the pheasant-hunting seasons are generally long, beginning in October or November and running through the winter. Pheasant hunting also appeals to our gregarious nature, in that it normally requires a party of at least three, and sometimes many more. To top it off, the rooster pheasant is one of the most beautiful birds on earth. The large white-meat bird makes a delicious meal when prepared with any standard chicken recipe. (My own favorite recipe is filleted pheasant breasts wrapped in bacon, basted with barbecue sauce and cooked on an outdoor charcoal grill. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.)

The bird
Perhaps ironically, in 1623 this country had no pheasants. Originally from China, the birds were imported into Oregon from England in the late 19th century for the purpose of hunting. They are such a hardy bird that they not only survive, but actually thrive in almost any climate, as long as they have food, water and suitable cover. Thus, they spread all over America during the first half of the 20th century.

They feed and water mornings and evenings, and spend the rest of the day relaxing in cover. To find them, a hunter should seek suitable cover not too far from food and water. They don’t covey-up or flock, but live mostly alone, except during mating season. Thus, in seeking them, hunters usually walk considerable distances between birds, which makes pheasant hunting both mentally invigorating and physically tiring.

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