Continuing the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Rooster Road Trip, which left off at Sherman Reservoir Wildlife Management Area on Monday, Commissioners Lynn Berggren, Bob Allen, Dick Bell and friend Sam Sampson headed out to the rainwater basin wetlands south of Aurora Thursday morning. An Aurora resident who knows the area well, NGPC Botanist Gerry Steinauer served as guide on this Ducks Unlimited property, which offers about 1,000 acres of public access lands.
Along with the five hunters, five dogs also came out to hunt. Commissioner Berggren brought his 2-year-old Labrador retriever Murphy; Commissioner Allen brought his Labrador retriever Moon and French Brittany Cate, Commissioner Bell hunted with his Münsterländer Dakota, and Mr. Sampson followed behind his Labrador retriever Bella.
Hunters were in field by 9:30 a.m. The grass was high, which made for tough walking, but a bird flushed within a few minutes of the hunt. Guide Gerry Steinauer shot the first bird of the day. With the help of Commissioner Allen’s dogs, they found the rooster quickly.
There was not a single cloud in the sky. Snow came down in Aurora Wednesday night, but fortunately, Thursday’s promised forecast of high, cold winds never came, and warm sun made the temperature quite pleasant.
The party hunted along the large field’s perimeter. The grass was so thick and high that it was tough to keep track of hunters and the dogs, but adequate hunter orange was worn by all. If you look at Commissioner Bell’s photo, he said to tell readers that he wore his red Husker hat because “we finally won a game!”
The dogs continued to work hard, weaving skillfully through the grass. Several pheasants flushed and also a covey of quail. Everyone had a chance to shoot. Four pheasants were taken out of that field, and a few more were missed. And as hard as they looked, one rooster could not be found. They walked a total of 2.6 miles in that section, though with the thick, tall grass, it felt more like 10. Upon leaving the field, an employee from UNL stopped for a friendly chat and to take down answers for a hunter survey.
Commissioner Bell left early to attend to another commitment. The rest of the hunters continued on a different section of the wetlands. Steinauer walked right up to a hen that exploded in flight. She camouflaged so well that he did not see her sitting in the mud and short, sparse grass. This field did produce birds, but they were tricky to shoot. The last bird of the day flew so low and far along the top of the grass that the hunters could not get a safe shot.
The hunt ended at around 1:30 p.m. For public land, it was a fine 4-hour hunt. The hunters must have seen at least 15 birds.
Lunch was at Grandpa Jake’s in Sutton, which served delicious Reuben sandwiches and hamburgers. The hunters discussed the day’s hunt in the rainwater basin, and here’s what they had to say:
Commissioner Allen: “I was impressed with the habitat. I enjoyed the hunt. The cameraderie is always fun. If you’re restricted to hunting public ground versus not having access to private ground, you shouldn’t be embarrassed to hunt that. It was perfectly good hunting and you can kill a lot of birds there. Should be able to show people a good time.”
Commissioner Berggren: “This is day two of the Rooster Road Trip across Nebraska. Once again, we are hunting all exclusively public access that everyone has the opportunity to hunt. We see a good number of birds, both pheasant and quail. A dog is essential to do this– you have to have a good dog. But the opportunity in Nebraska to hunt pheasants is not dead. It’s out there.”
Sam Sampson: “I was impressed with the management of what we hunted. It was just prime pheasant hunting. This was ground that had been hunted heavily and yet we had an opportunity to shoot about 12 roosters ikn 4 hours. That’s excellent hunting as far as I’m concerned. And I agree. You could hunt without a dog if you are less than 71 years old, but as old as I am, I have to have a dog and they certainly do help a lot– no question about it. And it’s a wonderful experience, and I think Nebraska is doing an excellent job at providing public access.”
About 400 birds were shot on opening day on the property, Steinauer said. The Ducks Unlimited property is one of his favorite places to hunt in Nebraska. Steinauer enjoys hunting later in the season when no one else is around. There are good numbers of birds out there.
In the restaurant, a local hunter came by the table and said that this year was the best hunting he’s seen in 10-12 years.
For more information on public access, visit http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/hunting/programs/crp/atlas.asp.