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The Bucket List Bird

The Bucket List Bird

"I want you to try that 28-gauge Redhead Premier tomorrow," said Dave Miller, CZ-USA's Shotgun Product Manager, after our first day of hunting pheasants at Dakota Hunting Farms near Hecla, South Dakota. "I really think you'll like it."

I laughed and shook my head. "Dave, I've never hunted pheasants with a 28-gauge," I confessed. "And I gotta be honest with you; I'm not real confident I can kill one with it."

This wasn't false modesty. I live in Iowa and do most of my hunting on public land, where the roosters become spooky and prone to long-range flushes after just the first couple hours of opening day. I usually begin the season with a 20-gauge but switch to a 12 after the first two or three weeks.

Chad Bloom swings on a rooster as guide Lynn Ruenz and Sako mark its flight.

Downing a rooster with a 28-gauge was something I'd never attempted but I had to admit Dave's comment had piqued my curiosity. On an Arizona hunt the previous December I'd shot Mearns quail for the first time, marking one more species I could check off my upland bucket list. So maybe taking a rooster with a 28-gauge was something I should consider trying.

Besides, Dave was persuasive. "Oh, don't worry," he replied with a smile. "If you hit one with it, it'll do the job."

"OK, tell you what," I said impulsively. "If I kill a rooster with your 28, I'll buy the gun."

You can guess what happened.

Dogs Aplenty  

I was a guest of CZ-USA and Pheasants Forever on this hunt, held last October at Dakota Hunting Farms, owned and operated by Bill and Sandy Mitchell. Dave Miller brought a trailer full of CZ shotguns (see sidebar) for us to try on the hunt and we all had a blast (yeah, bad pun) swapping them back and forth and yes, dropping quite a few roosters in the process.

Fellow shooters included Howard Vincent, Pheasants Forever's President and CEO; Cheryl Riley, PF's Vice President of Education & Outreach; and Chad Bloom, PF's Youth Fundraising Manager. Also along for the fun were Andy Perkins, Sales Manager for MEC Clay Target Machines; and Steve Shafer from Sunsect, developers and marketers of a killer combination sunscreen and insect repellent. Steve is also a senior volunteer with Quail Forever in Florida.

We had plenty of dog power as well. Dave had brought along his springer, Clay; Andy had his German shorthair, Emmy; and Chad brought his German wirehair, Lily. In addition, our guides — Lynn Ruenz, Jake Ruenz and Josh Ruenz — ran a whole squadron comprised of Labs, shorthairs and wirehairs, so we often had a half dozen dogs (or more) on the ground at once.

That might sound a little hectic — and things did get pretty lively at times — but there was no questioning its effectiveness. We hunted cover consisting of switchgrass, cattail sloughs and corn and soybean stubble bisected by shelterbelts of pines and Russian olive, and the dogs did a thorough job of locating and rousting the birds.

There was plenty of dog power at all times during the hunt, with flushers and pointers performing their respective jobs well.

The first afternoon I killed a rooster over a beautiful point made by Abby, a black German wirehair. Rocky, another black wirehair, was such a handsome devil I gave serious thought to putting him on a GUN DOG cover. Sarge and Blaze were equally good-looking chocolate Labs, and Drake and Scooter — the latter Bill Mitchell's personal gun dog — were German shorthairs. Rounding out the roster were Brownie, a veteran wirehair; Cinder, an aptly named black Lab; and Sako, a black and white Lab/shorthair cross.

While running pointing dogs and flushers simultaneously in the same cover is usually not recommended, it seemed to work just fine at Dakota Hunting Farms, with each dog understanding its role and behaving accordingly. And like I said, their effectiveness in producing birds for our guns — and quickly retrieving what fell — couldn't be faulted.

Guns Galore

As already mentioned, Dave Miller provided us with a real smorgasbord of shotguns and he encouraged us to shoot them all. I started the first morning with a 12-gauge Drake over/under and it proved highly effective. The morning was unseasonably warm, with temps in the 70s, but a strong north wind kept things bearable.

Of course, that same wind meant that any birds flushed were going to quickly get out of range. But firing Federal's 1¼ oz. load of #5 shot through the Drake, I dropped a couple of nice roosters over the course of the morning, so I was ready to try another gun after lunch.


I opted for something a little smaller, the Upland Ultra Light over/under in 20-gauge, sporting a striking anodized green receiver. It was a handsome little gun and it carried like a dream, attesting to the accuracy of its name. This was the gun with which I killed the rooster over Abby's point, shooting a Fiochhi 1 oz. load of #5s.

Others in our party were having equally good luck with the various firearms. Opportunities were plentiful and by late afternoon when we headed back to the lodge a sizable number of roosters had been taken. But still more shooting was available because Andy Perkins had brought along a couple of his company's trap throwers, which he set up at the edge of the lodge's large patio.

"I want you to try that 28-gauge Redhead Premier tomorrow," said Dave Miller, CZ-USA's Shotgun Product Manager, after our first day of hunting pheasants at Dakota Hunting Farms near Hecla, South Dakota. "I really think you'll like it."

That's where I tried the 712 G2 semi-auto, which also featured a green anodized receiver. Like the other guns, it performed well, making me look good on the clays we sent sailing out over a cut cornfield. I was thinking I'd carry it the following morning€¦that is, until Dave more or less insisted I give one of the little 28-gauge Redhead Premiers a try.

Hospitality Plus

Meals at Dakota Hunting Farms are belt-busting affairs, or as Bill's daughter Robin — who presides over the kitchen — puts it, if you go away hungry, it's your own fault. For dinner our first night we enjoyed mesquite-grilled steaks with all the trimmings; the second night we had equally tasty pork chops.

Breakfasts and lunches were just as sumptuous; pheasant chili was on the menu one day and I found it hard to stop after just two bowls but figured I'd better if I wanted to be able to walk (rather than waddle) after the dogs that afternoon. Robin was assisted in the kitchen by Shelley Ernest and Gabrielle "Gabe" Pioske, both of whom also occasionally guide.

The lodge itself is well appointed and comfortable and Bill and Sandy Mitchell, who often join clients at dinner, are gracious hosts.

The author with his bucket list bird and Dave Miller's springer, Clay.

There were two or three other hunting parties there in addition to our own, and a strong sense of camaraderie was evident throughout our stay, marked by friendly exchanges about the kind of shooting we'd all experienced. George, Robin's gigantic yellow Lab, is something of a fixture at the lodge and enjoys indoor privileges. How can you not love a place where a 100-pound-plus Labrador serves as goodwill ambassador?

Record Presentation  

Following dinner on our second evening, Dave Miller made a special presentation to Howard Vincent, Chad Bloom and (in absentia) John Linquist, PF's Outdoor Skills Coordinator, who was unable to attend our hunt. Dave gave each of them one of the three shotguns with which he had set a new Guinness world record for the number of clay targets broken in one hour — specifically, 3,653 clays thrown from machines furnished by MEC, the company represented by Andy Perkins.

Rocky, a handsome black German wirehair, whom the author considered putting on a GUN DOG cover.

Dave accomplished this feat on May 16, 2015, but there was much more to it than setting a new world record. Through a cooperative effort between CZ-USA and Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever chapters, the event helped raise $84,000 for PF's No Child Left Indoors program, which encourages kids to get outside and experience the fun of outdoor recreation and learn the importance of conserving wildlife habitat.

Needless to say, Dave's presentation was greeted by hearty applause from everyone there.

Small-Bore Roosters  

At Dave's urging, I carried one of the two 28-gauge Redhead Premier over/unders on the second morning of our hunt. Cheryl Riley carried the other. They were beautiful little guns, with tasteful scrolled engraving on their silver satin chrome receivers, but I still had some doubts about my ability to kill a rooster with one.

It was much cooler than the previous day but by mid-morning it had warmed up sufficiently for us to shed our hooded sweatshirts or jackets. About an hour into our hunt, a lone rooster flushed from a pine shelterbelt in front of Cheryl and she dropped it cleanly.

I couldn't help being impressed and, I'll admit, a little envious. Noting how neatly Cheryl had dropped her bird, I started thinking this might be possible after all and that if I did kill a rooster with the 28 gauge, I could indeed check the accomplishment off my bucket list.

The author's hunting party included (left to right) Andy Perkins, Steve Shafer, Howard Vincent, Cheryl Riley, Dave Miller and (not shown) Chad Bloom.

I got my chance about 20 minutes later. We'd swung away from the stubble and shelterbelts to work a huge tract of switchgrass, broken up with marshy areas and stands of cattails. I was trying to navigate my way through some of those cattails, in fact, when a rooster came up in front of me, went high and hooked off to one side. I swung on him and shot and he folded.

I stood there for a moment, not quite believing what had just happened, when I heard Dave call to me from about 20 yards away. I looked over to see him standing with Chad Bloom, both of them wearing big smiles. Dave hollered, "See? I told you!"

I grinned sheepishly and held up the gun with one hand. "Sold!" I replied.


Final Thoughts  So, now there's a 28-gauge Redhead Premier in my gun safe alongside my other shotguns. At the end of our hunt I told Dave I wanted that specific gun, and he took a picture of its serial number to ensure that was the one that would be shipped to me. I took delivery a few weeks later and while I didn't try it on any late-season roosters here in Iowa, I might very well carry it on opening day this year.

Who says we old dogs can't occasionally learn a new trick?

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