Iowa’s Kevlar Roosters
by Steve Laney
Iowa rooster success! It was late November, near or just after Thanksgiving. My English pointer Koda, some friends, and I had pheasant hunted the previous month with decent success, by standards of a heavily hunted public area. At that time, my goal to kill a rooster was still not achieved. The couple of roosters that had fallen from my dog’s points were from the guns of my friends. I still hadn’t killed that elusive Iowa rooster and the frustration was setting in.
It was just after 8:00 am, the opening hour for the hunt. The temperature was in the single digits and near a negative wind chill; normal weather for lovely northwest Iowa this time of year. The kind of weather in which after a few minutes your command whistle would be frozen inoperable, the kind of weather where my pointer’s e-collar would have a block of ice around it before we pack it in for the day.
They say 15-30 minutes of that “severe weather” results in frost bite, but “they” have never been through an Iowa rooster hunt. A hunt like that, you’d better have your boots tied tight and be ready for a four-hour rush of pure adrenalin. That adrenalin keeps you warm, or at least emanates a perception of being warm.
It was just the pup and I that day. We were hunting on the Owego public hunting ground just south of Sioux City. We had hunted there the past couple weeks and seen some birds, more hens than roosters. I had missed opportunities on those Kevlar roosters the previous weeks. Those Iowa birds seem to take a solid hit in stride, feathers shoot off to confirm the hit but then they glide off the public land and into safety, seemingly unharmed. That day would be different.
The neighboring corn fields were now all cut down, forcing the birds into the upland habitat for winter cover. I parked the Jeep, took one last sip of coffee, loaded up my shot gun, and let the bird dog loose. “Hunt em up!” I told her.
She was off! She glided through the tall grass and cattails at break neck speed, zig-zagging with her nose hovering over the ground so as not to miss a square inch. The agility and grace of that dog in full gallop is remarkable, her work ethic and athleticism alone makes any hunt a success for this proud owner.
She hit a scent about 150 yards into the hunt. We were working toward a small sunflower field that had held some birds the week before. She began to slow down and focus on the scent, getting birdy. We stalked the scent for about 250 yards for what felt like an eternity. Koda was relentless on the bird’s trail. We entered into the sunflower field for a minute or so but quickly exited back into the tall, thick grass… and then it happened. She stopped dead in her tracks, locked up into point. She had her tail straight up, nose cranked, and chest puffed out intensely as she pointed in front of her. Her concentration was fierce. She held tight and immovable until I got to her position. I knew all hell was about to break loose.
I arrived at her point and began to take a step forward. I started to say the flush command but before I could finish a rooster flushed a foot or two from where I was standing. The bird let out a cackle as it tried to flush to my right heading toward a drainage ditch. I got the gun up on him quick; I took my time this go-around. I stayed on him as he made for an escape and squeezed the trigger. To my surprise the bird neither glided to safety nor did it dodge my gun. This time it folded immediately as feathers exploded around it. I let out an involuntary scream, to which I now comically refer to it as a battle cry. It was pure excitement, relief, and a little disbelief all at once in the form of a yell. Koda ran to the fallen rooster, grabbed it, and walked in my direction.
I tried to grab her for praise but she gave me a look as if to say there’s more work to do and to quit wasting time. I smiled and thought, I can reflect later on my first rooster kill. I proudly tucked the rooster in my vest and had the tail feathers sticking out the back, as a stamp of success for any hunters walking nearby. I was shaking uncontrollably then, not from the likely hypothermia but rather the excitement of a successful hunt.
Countless hours had been spent in the off season preparing for the new pursuit, compounded with the bitter taste of opportunities missed in the weeks before. At that moment it all came full circle, the feeling of accomplishment was immensely worth the time put in and the stress/anxiety that culminated from the preceding months.
Well, no time to waste, no more time to relish the moment, we were off on to the next scent.
That day turned out to be the best hunt of the season. We killed two roosters and had a shot at a third. To have the chance to limit out was unheard of for those parts. The pheasant numbers were drastically down in comparison to their Good ole days. Nevertheless, a good bird dog can put you in a position for success. It is up to you to take advantage and shoot true in a fleeting moment of opportunity.