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SCOTT RALL COLUMN: Hunting season ends with good dogs, friends

WORTHINGTON - The end of another short week greets us today.

With both Christmas and New Year's Day falling on works days, it made for two short weeks for many folks.

But the holidays are over now and, with them, much of the rushing around that accompanies them. I am totally fine with that.

Pheasant season closed on Tuesday and it went out like a lamb for me with 2012 being the best and worst year (if that is actually possible) for me since I got my first real hunting dog more than 15 years ago.

Success is measured in many ways, but the number of tail feathers in the cup attached to the wall in the garage is one easy measurement that can be compared year to year.

I have one tail feather from every rooster that I have harvested each year since 2000. I don't know why, it is just one of those things that hunters do.

Some keep very detailed dairies of each outing and others keep well-arranged photo scrapbooks. I, on the other hand, justkeep feathers.

When I counted those feathers, compared to other years, they were down about 25 percent. I hunted in South Dakota and Minnesota in 2012.

The decline in my success has many factors.

Two very bad winters and corresponding wet springs in the pheasant range during the last three years are the weather factors that affected all pheasant hunters' success, not just mine.

Pheasant hunting in Iowa has, for all practical purposes, crashed. Pheasant harvesting in Iowa is only about 10 percent of what it was 10 years ago. Hunter numbers have plummeted and this number coincides with pheasant abundance.

When pheasant numbers dip, so do hunter numbers. Iowa pheasant populations are the second lowest level ever recorded.

I read an article in The New York Times the other day that said Iowa had lost as much pheasant habitats in the last 10 years as a block of cover nine miles wide and stretching almost the entire length the of the state east to west.

That's a lot of grass.

This is the dismal reality of the current day.

Minnesota is rapidly losing habitats as well and there is really no bright light at the end of the tunnel.

Conservation, and the profits that can be derived from it, can not keep up with corn and beans.

There is the possibility of a federal farm bill that promotes conservation. This would help, but unless federal crop insurance is tied to mandatory conservation practices, it could very well have a limited effect overall.

As of this writing, it looks like Congress will just extend the current farm bill another year.

So, even thought my overall harvest success was down, I still had a few moments this season that helped make it one of my most memorable.

My new dog, Tracer, is now the apple of my eye. He is 15 months old and finished his first hunting season in wonderful fashion.

In my world, there are three kinds of dogs. It is not hard to have the first or second kind and many dog owners do.

The first kind of dog is a dog that hunts great. The second kind is a dog that doesn't hunt that well, but is easy to be around and live with. The third kind is the one that is both.

Tracer is probably the smartest dog I have ever owned. He certainly is both and that makes him the third kind of dog to own.

I hunted him with two other dogs, Axel and Rip, who are 4 and 11 years old. When you watched the trio, it was impossible to tell the rookie from the veterans.

Tracer made his first rack and trail on a crippled rooster about midway through the season. It was so much fun to watch from the top of the hill.

To see him shuck and jive, keeping up with that bird, using only his nose and getting it in his mouth 90 yards later made me a very proud papa. It was even better that Tracer was four feet off the ground as he snatched it out of the air as it tried to escape.

Success is measured in many ways. Quality outings with great dogs and good friends make for a great season even if pheasant numbers are way down.

My longtime friend, Les Johnson, even managed to keep up this season with the new knee he had installed last winter.

Les was at a little bit of a loss this season as his built-in excuse for missing an outing no longer carried any water. He ended his season on a high note with me busting through the middle of a big tree planting and him posted on the end. He bagged three birds in about 3 minutes on the second to the last day.

There was no way Les was going out on the very last day. There is no better way to end the season than he did.

I went out on the last day and took my trio along with my son's dog, Stryker. Brandon is currently working currently in Kuwait.

I was never expecting for this outing to be all that successful, we only saw five hens and no roosters, but it was one last walk in the tall grass for my four-leggers and me with a stiff wind biting sternly on my cheeks.

The dogs now get to rest up until next spring, when the training season starts again. I took their picture, they didn't know why, but they posed anyway.

It was a perfect end to a season that had many memorable moments. In my world, it matters little if there are tons of pheasants or very few. I will enjoy my days afield with my friends and my dogs as long as I am able.

Scott Rall is The Daily Globe's outdoor columnist. His column can also be read weekly at