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Scott Rall: The secret to a great outing

Scott RallDaily Globe outdoors columnist I had the opportunity to do something that has been on my bucket list for a long time. All of the items on my bucket list had been put on hold for the past few years. I made up my mind that while my Sweeti...

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SUBMITTED PHOTO The columnist and his son Brandon are shown doing their part for the local economy.

Scott Rall
Daily Globe outdoors columnist 

I had the opportunity to do something that has been on my bucket list for a long time.
All of the items on my bucket list had been put on hold for the past few years. I made up my mind that while my Sweetie was battling her 7-year war against breast cancer that everything on my bucket list had to wait. There was no place on earth that I was going to be other than by her side. As many of you know, and some may not, she passed away from that disease on Sept. 17 of this year.
All of my children are adults and living at distances not close enough to run to on the spur of the moment. This leaves lots of time for me to tend to the four dogs that have me for a best friend.
I had always wanted to hunt in Nebraska for pheasants and quail when the weather here in Minnesota got cold and snowy. I decided to make that happen about a week ago. I chose McCook, Neb., for several reasons. First, I had a friend that had hunted there a few times and he could give me a few pointers as to where to go and where to stay.
The other reason for picking this site was that it was a four-hour drive for my son Brandon, who lives outside of Denver and works for Cam Air Helicopter Services. Brandon has a hunting Labrador called Stryker. He is a great dog and pretty accomplished when it comes to chasing roosters.
He had not hunted for the past few years because Brandon usually traveled home on holidays by air and shipping a dog by air costs more than $300 each way. It was a combination hunting trip and seeing my son trip.
I convinced two of my buddies that also knew my son to come along. They were Les Johnson, who hunts with me all the time, and another friend, Scott Roemhildt, who also spends a few days a year with me in the outdoors. We really did not know what to expect, but every once in a while the planets align and things pull off without a hitch. We rolled out of Worthington at 4 a.m. on Thursday morning and with a relaxed approach rolled into McCook at about 2 p.m. The odometer said 437 miles one way.
If there is one thing about this trip that impressed us all was the hospitality of everyone we met. From the check-in gal at the Chief Hotel to the gas station attendants, everyone seemed to be in a really good mood. There were big smiles all around and they seemed genuinely happy that these tourists were there.
We had armed ourselves with a few pages out of the public lands hunting map and off we went.
The topography in this part of the state is really cool. You can drive a few miles and, with the exception of the center pivot irrigation systems, you would think you were in flat lands Minnesota. Virtually all of the crop acres in this area are irrigated. These acres supported corn and beans and on the acres without a center pivot you had wheat and sorghum or millet of some kind.
It was over the next hill that you felt transported to the bad lands of South Dakota. The terrain was steep and formidable. Cattle grazing was the only thing happening on these acres short of additional grazing done by a variety of both white tail deer and mule deer.
The bottoms were full of brushy trees and shrubs. This variety of cover is what makes this area suitable for both pheasants and quail.
The hunting we did was all on private lands where the state paid the land owner a small sum to open their CRP acres to foot traffic hunters.
The weather in McCook is very different than here. The average high temperature in the month of December in McCook is 42 degrees. The average high in January in McCook is 41 degrees. Balance that against the average highs in Worthington at 24 degrees and 22 degrees respectively for those same two months. We hunted in temps that averaged about 55 for the highs and 35 for the low.
We took a whole heard of dogs along. I took my three and my brother’s dog Smoke. Les brought his two cross-bred German short hair-Labradors along as well. Scott Roemhildt brought a 9-month old wirehaired pointing Griffon (these are the dogs with whiskers that look like the winning beard at the Abraham Lincoln beard contest) and Brandon brought Stryker. We did not lack for dog power.
The locals had nothing but great accolades for the bird numbers in their areas. Some said they had not had bird populations this good in the past 15-20 years.
Our actual hunting experience was not all that good. We averaged one bird per day per hunter for the time we were there. Les shot his first quail in 15 years and my son shot his very first ever. We walked public lands for the entire day and at the end of that day we all agreed that we could have shot more birds in Nobles County in the same number of hours.
We met a guy from Golden, Colo. He was a retired engineer who traveled to McCook every Monday thru Friday for the entire pheasant hunting season. He offered to take us to the public lands that he thought got less pressure.
He was an interesting guy but in the end his help was about as good as we were doing on our own, with one exception. He did take us to one of his private spots and when we took off from the truck he never took his gun along. He said that shooting a bird in this spot was so easy it was like shooting fish in a barrel. Brandon and I each bagged two roosters in about two minutes and they were the only birds our group got that day. I have always said the difference between a good day and a bad day is a good spot.
The great thing about this trip and the point that many hunters have not arrived at yet is a time when the number of birds harvested does not really make all that much difference. We were in new county with a group of hunters that all wanted the same thing - a quality outing with dogs, friends, great scenery and camaraderie.
We ate out at different places and even got to know the owner of the Bears Cave in Culbertson, a young gal who had just purchased the local watering hole about six months earlier. It was named after the sports team in their town. They were the Culbertson Bears. The school had closed years ago but the small town was still trying to hold on to its identity. What a common theme as many small towns across the United States shrivel up and almost die.
We managed to dodge the bad weather and made the trip home in easy fashion. I would not go to this location again based on the hunting success, but with the close proximity to Denver we might have to do it over and over again in order to hang with my son.
Bird hunting is about the dogs and there was just one moment that will forever be etched in my mind. As we walked near the end of a food plot all of the dogs were in the frame. A white tail deer buck was bounding away and the pheasants were flushing just out of range into a back-drop of a setting sun. If I could have painted that picture you could not have found a better one.
Pheasant season closes in Minnesota and South Dakota on Jan. 3. Only a few days remain. It matters little if I bag one or a dozen more birds. This season has been a challenging one for obvious reasons, but my friends and family say the sun will keep coming up and roosters will keep on crowing.
What you are not guaranteed is even one more day. Stop what you’re doing right now and go tell the ones you love what they mean to you. For some, if you are like me, the sun sets way to soon.

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