Sean Little, 31, of Clovis stops for a moment while looking for pheasants in a tall-grass field at the annual Pleasant Hill Fire Department pheasant hunt on Thursday morning. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)
Each armed with a 12-gauge, single-barrel shotgun, Alan Jesko, Sean Little and Jerry Draper walk in a line through the knee-high grassland.
Leading the way is Misty, a 4-year-old, gray-coated Weimaraner, belonging to Little.
Braving the frigid temperatures, made even colder by ceaseless winds, the trio are taking part in the Pleasant Hill Fire Department’s annual pheasant hunt, which coincides with New Mexico’s four-day season.
“In the fields where there’s lots of tall grass, that’s where you’ll find them,” Little said.
All three have hunted longer than they can remember.
“I can’t remember back that far,” said Little, 31, during Thursday’s opening day. “We do it because we like to eat the birds, although we don’t usually catch enough for everyone to eat.
“And we get to visit each other, hunt and have fun doing it.”
After about 20 minutes and a half mile of walking through the wide-open field, they see a brightly colored pheasant pop up out of seemingly nowhere. Little fires first, followed by Jesko and Draper. All three miss as the pheasant flutters away 20 feet off the ground.
The group had more success during an earlier outing, bagging a foot-long bird, with its colorful tail feather making up a quarter of its size.
“Usually the first hour is the critical one, and it sounds like a machine gun out here, where you can hear it from about four or five miles away,” Little said. “The rest is just hit-and-miss kind of stuff.”
Jesko, 51, said hunting pheasant is harder than it looks.
“Lots of times they’ll fly up within 10 or 15 feet,” Jesko said. “They’re such a bright color, and you wouldn’t think they could hide, but you can shoot one and they’ll go down, but you might not even find it.”
One year there was heavy snowfall before the hunt, which Little said helped them find more birds.
“We just walked up here and followed their tracks,” Little said. “We got our limit in an hour.”
Still the daily count doesn’t matter to these hunters, because they understand the greater cause for the hunt.
The Pleasant Hill Fire Department has organized the hunt since 1984 as a department fund-raiser. The hunt takes place on 25,000 acres of donated land.
“The majority of the farmers out here are the volunteer department,” Draper said. “These farmers out here, if there’s a fire (Pleasant Hill Fire Department), are the ones that are going to be out here.”