Skip to main content

Epic Moment: First Pheasant

Rick Van Etten found his passion for bird hunting after flushing a suburban pheasant.

It happened on a Sunday afternoon nearly 45 years ago. I was a freshman in high school, and we lived in Des Plaines, Illinois, a northwest suburb of Chicago — not exactly the most auspicious place for a teenager who was really into the outdoors.

Nevertheless, I managed to locate an area where I could get away from city traffic and take my two border collie mixes to chase rabbits€¦and if I was feeling especially daring, I'd sneak my BB pistol along, tucked into the waistband of my jeans under my sweatshirt, to plink at cans, bottles and maybe the occasional field sparrow or redwing blackbird. I'd have been busted, big time, if the cops had ever seen me — remember, this was in the middle of a Chicago suburb — but luckily, none ever did.

The area was about 10 or 12 blocks from our house and everyone in the neighborhood called it "the train yard" because the Chicago Northwestern commuter trains were parked there overnight after they completed their daily runs to and from the city. The rail yard was surrounded by maybe 20 or 30 acres of weedy fields and a few patches of woods.


My dogs and I spent hours out there, rambling around after school and on the weekends. They loved to chase rabbits, but they were both reliable about coming when called, so I never had to worry about them getting into trouble on any of the train tracks that laced the area.


One Sunday afternoon in early spring we were out there after lunch, making our way through one of the fields toward a stand of willow trees in a swampy area at the far end. The older of my two dogs, Lassie (talk about an original name for a dog with collie blood) started yipping excitedly. She'd do this occasionally if she was on an especially hot rabbit trail, but there was something even sharper about her pitch this time and I hurried to keep up with her.

We had only gone a few more yards when a rooster pheasant came up cackling in front of Lassie. Glorious€¦magnificent€¦to this day those words hardly seem adequate to describe that bird, outlined so vividly against the clear, blue sky.

I'd seen pheasants before, of course, but this was the first one I'd ever flushed, and I stood rooted in my tracks, watching as it leveled off and soared out across the field to come down at the far end. The only way I can describe the experience, corny or cliché though it may sound, is to say that it touched my soul. At that moment, a bird hunter was born.

My dad was a lifelong rabbit and squirrel hunter and I'd gone out with him quite a few times and shot my own share of small game. But this€¦this was something entirely different.


After a minute or so I recovered enough to call the dogs in and start for home. I knew — knew — that something extraordinary had just happened. Finding a pheasant in the middle of a Chicago suburb (I would subsequently discover there was a small flock of them living in those fields surrounding the train yard) was remarkable enough, but this went beyond that.

I wanted more of what I'd just experienced, and even as I walked the dogs home that afternoon I was already forming a game plan. I was going to become a bird hunter, and I was going to need a bird dog to accompany me afield.

Thus began a year-long campaign to convince my parents to let me add a third dog to our household. Like many Baby Boomers I'd grown up reading Jim Kjelgaard's "Big Red" stories and I quickly settled on an Irish setter as the type of dog I wanted. I read everything I could find about the breed, plus every book on gun dog training I could lay my hands on. At a time when most of my buddies were focused on buying their first car, I was concentrating on getting my first bird dog.


After a year, my folks gave me the go-ahead. I found an ad in the Chicago Tribune for a one-year-old male Irish setter named Shannon, and he was soon accompanying me on my excursions to the train yard, where we began exercising the resident pheasants on a regular basis.

It was another year or so before I killed my first pheasant, but the one that still stands out most vividly in my mind is the rooster that flushed that Sunday afternoon and marked me for life as a bird hunter. At this writing, I've been the editor of Gun Dog magazine for more than 16 years; and Mattie, my current Irish setter, is my seventh.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 9

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 9

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 9

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 8

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 8

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 8

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 10

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 10

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 10

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 4

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 4

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 4

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Samosas are a great way to make your grouse meat stretch further.Prairie Chicken Samosas Recipe Recipes

Prairie Chicken Samosas Recipe

Brad Fenson - November 05, 2020

Samosas are a great way to make your grouse meat stretch further.

Do you really understand what your hunting dog needs from his food? Nutritional Requirements for Gun Dogs Health & Nutrition

Nutritional Requirements for Gun Dogs

Mark Chestnut

Do you really understand what your hunting dog needs from his food?

A step-by-step analysis on what to expect from your dogYour Pup's First Year Puppies

Your Pup's First Year

Bob West - September 23, 2010

A step-by-step analysis on what to expect from your dog

A gun-shy dog is created, not born, and once the damage is done, gun-shyness can prove impossible to cure.Introduce Your Pup To Gunfire The Right Way Puppies

Introduce Your Pup To Gunfire The Right Way

Gun Dog Online Staff

A gun-shy dog is created, not born, and once the damage is done, gun-shyness can prove...

See More Trending Articles

More News

Whether it's as frightening as a worldwide pandemic or just coping with Mother Nature, every Americans should be prepared to survive and thrive within the confines of their own home. Utilizing the unique skillset only a former Green Beret possesses, Terry Schappert, will keep the viewers prepared, entertained, educated and hopefully calm.Shelter in Place – What You Need to Know

Shelter in Place – What You Need to Know

Outdoor Channel Public Service Announcement - April 06, 2020

Whether it's as frightening as a worldwide pandemic or just coping with Mother Nature, every...

During a shelter-in-place order scenario, you only want to leave your house when absolutely necessary. That's why “Hollywood Weapons” host and former Green Beret Terry Schappert has this lesson about the most valuable and nutritious foods to keep stocked in your pantry, so that you can weather the storm. Shelter in Place – Quarantine Cuisine

Shelter in Place – Quarantine Cuisine

Outdoor Channel Public Service Announcement - April 07, 2020

During a shelter-in-place order scenario, you only want to leave your house when absolutely...

This is what you need to know about your bird dog and COVID-19. Can Coronavirus Infect Dogs? News

Can Coronavirus Infect Dogs?

Gun Dog Staff - March 30, 2020

This is what you need to know about your bird dog and COVID-19.

GUN DOG Spotlight: NAVHDA News

GUN DOG Spotlight: NAVHDA

Jerry Thoms - May 25, 2016

"With 5,000-plus current members who have 100,000-plus dogs, the North American Versatile...

See More News

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Gun Dog App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Gun Dog subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now