What do outdoor enthusiasts do when the temperature hovers near zero? They bundle up and go bird hunting.

What do outdoor enthusiasts do when the temperature hovers near zero? They bundle up and go bird hunting.

Wild populations of pheasants and quail are scarce in Missouri these days. Bird hunting fans often opt to use bird hunting preserves to be able to enjoy watching their dogs work and shoot a few birds as well. Recently my son, Jayson Cooper, daughter, Jessica, and her husband, Jayson Parsons and friends Pat and Lance Ybarra made the one hour drive to Dittmer, Mo. to hunt pheasants and chukars at Wil-Nor Outdoors, LLC.

Wil-Nor owner Bill Kunz has been in the hunting preserve business since the early 1980’s. “Wild bird populations had begun to wane, and I saw a need for a way for people who loved bird hunting to continue to do so,” he said. “Over three decades later, I’m still in the business.”

Our hunting party arrived at Wil-Nor Lodge shortly before 8 a.m. The thermometer read a chilly six degrees. A south wind pushed the wind chill to zero.
Kunz promptly greeted us as we walked into the front door. Everyone gravitated towards heaters that kept the lodge cozy warm.

Kunz offered coffee and donuts while he briefly explained what our day would entail. He is the consummate host and eagerly greats newcomers to bird hunting and his operation. Lance Ybarra was new to both and Kunz made him feel right at home.
Our hunt would include a morning hunt, lunch at the lodge, and an afternoon hunt. Long time guide Ken Bruggerman would serve as our guide in the morning and new guide William Edge would take us out in the afternoon.

In his early 80’s, Bruggerman holds 65 years of bird hunting experience under his belt. A tall, slim, pleasant gentleman, he still loves going afield to work the dogs and help clients have a great bird hunting experience.

We caravanned several miles to an old farm along the Meramec River. Ancient barns and silos stood stoically, a tribute to the folks that once loved and farmed the lands we were about to hunt. An expansive harvested soybean field stretched to the horizon. Several long strips of milo, blue-stemmed grass and beans remained for bird cover.

Excitement filled the air, despite the frigid temperatures. Everyone chattered as they retrieved shotguns, mounds of blaze orange clothing, and other gear from their trucks. Filson, an energetic Brittany Spaniel, and Jack, a Shorthair Pointer, whined in their dog boxes, anxious to get on the ground and begin their search for birds.

Bruggerman gave a superb safety talk before our hunting party headed to the hunting fields. He thoroughly covered handling of guns, places each hunter were to take, shot opportunities, and hunting ethics and courtesies.

Our group, complete with guides, dogs, hunters and me serving as a cameraman, looked like a small army advancing across the soybean field towards the field strips of cover to begin our hunt.
Filson bounded around the field as if he were on steroids. Bird dogs are born with the purpose of finding birds. They live for that moment and to make their handlers happy.
Filson disappeared into the dense cover of the first strip of milo and bluestem. We tracked his presence by the movement of the cover. Bruggerman and Edge stayed close behind the dog to keep track of him and to see when he went down on point.

Filson smelled his first bird of the day and quickly honed in on the spot where the bird hid. Still as a statue, except for his quivering body, Filson marked the bird’s location. As Bruggerman moved in to flush the chukar, Filson’s quiv ceased. Even his short, stubby tail stopped twisting and twirling. 

All five shooters moved into position behind and to the sides of dog and handler reading themselves for a shot at the flushing bird. Bruggerman had instructed everyone in his safety talk not to shoot if a bird came out of cover very low, for fear of injuring the dog. The chukar exploded out of the thick cover, a low flyer that went down a hundred yards down the way. Perfect. Everyone had held their fire. They would get another chance at that bird later.
Filson soon went on point again. A brilliantly colored rooster pheasant burst from the cover, allowing the hunters their first shots of the day. The rooster escaped unscathed. Laughter filled the air as everyone poked fun at one another for having missed.
Several birds escaped unscathed before the first pheasant tumbled from the sky.

Everyone was a bit rusty. Combined with the extreme temperatures, it obviously was going to take a bit before everyone loosened up and began connecting with their shots.
Fortuantely, most missed birds went down in cover where they could be flushed again.
Lunch became a hot topic. We traveled back to Wil-Nor Lodge for a hot lunch and a short rest break. Conversation centered around missed shot opportunities and some serious teasing.

We enjoyed the afternoon hunt with William Edge and his Shorthair pointer, Jack.
Fortunatley, our hunting party shot much better during the afternoon hunt.
Jack bounded along the edge of the cover strip and hopped into it at the first scent of a bird. He locked down on point intent on the bird.

A chukar flushed out of the cover perfectly and folded in a barrage of shots.
Points came quickly and birds tumbled steadily. Jack locked up again. “It’s a rooster pheasant,” Edge said.

Everyone allowed Lance, the youngest of our group, to move in close for a shot at the flushing bird. A first time pheasant hunter, Lance toppled the bird with one shot.
We had enjoyed an entire day afield watching great bird dogs, enjoying one another’s company and taking a few birds, too. It had proven to be a perfect winter day.
To book a hunt with Wil-Nor outdoors, call 636-285-7416.