There I Was…
It wasn’t my first pheasant hunt. In fact, I had gone several times before. It was different from big game hunting. Fanning out, walking alone, getting slapped in the face by icy willows. It seemed like every time I went out to hunt this bird, I came home more and more frustrated. I was pretty good at hitting clays, but this kind of shooting was just different. The birds were either too high, too low, too far, too…on the ground. I wanted to like it. But I just couldn’t seem to find my groove.
I am, what I refer to as, an “adult-onset hunter”. I am coming in late to the game. But with children still at home, I want to experience this lifestyle and culture with them and learn as much as I can. I not only want to show them how to put food on the table, but I want to share these experiences and all the lessons that come along with immersing yourself in the outdoors.
So, when my dad invited me to the last pheasant hunt of the year, I asked one of my daughters if she’d like to come along. Heading to the field, we talked about what every parent probably talks about before handing a shotgun over to a 13-year-old young lady for the first time. And then I asked her, “What are your hopes or goals for the day?” Her response was simple. It had nothing to do with filling her limit.
“By the end of the day, I want to feel good about shooting the gun.”
This one reply completely changed the way I felt about my frustration in hunting pheasants. I was approaching it from the wrong angle all this time. I had been focused on bringing down the birds. I should have been focused on me. What I was comfortable with, my skill level, what I was able to learn. And I learned more from my 13-year-old daughter in that one moment, than I had during the entire season.
That day we walked through beautiful, golden fields. The sun was warm on our faces as we fanned out to cover another expanse of grass. The breeze was just brisk enough to keep our coats on. It was a perfect day in Wyoming. We called out and laughed together. My dad, my brother, my nephew, and my daughter…we strategized, we missed, we knocked some down. My daughter blasted that shotgun until her shoulder was sore. She didn’t hit a pheasant that day, but she sure accomplished her goal.
And as for myself, I brought down my first pheasant on the last hunt of the year.
As Buddy pushed the bird into the air, my brother took his shot but didn’t connect. The bird adjusted course to fly directly over me. I turned and took the shot over my left shoulder nearly right over my head. It was the most difficult shot I had taken all season, and it was the most rewarded. I saw the bird tumble from the air. Buddy picked up my beautiful prize and proudly brought it back to me. I savored being able to celebrate with my daughter, sharing the excitement together. And then again, as I told my dad and brother that this was my first pheasant, another round of congratulations ensued.
As we walked back to the truck, the sun casting the golden light that it does on late Wyoming afternoons, I watched my daughter walking ahead of me alongside my dad. With shotguns on their shoulders, I watched him reach over and pat her on the back. And I knew he was telling her he was proud of her or imparting some other wisdom that only a grandfather shares with his granddaughter on a hunt.
I was etching that moment in my mind’s eye, realizing she didn’t yet understand the gratitude she’ll feel, looking back on this day. All the frustrations of the season were put into perspective with that one hunt, that one goal, that one bird. We are on the waiting list for a bird dog, to be delivered in a couple of months. The kids are excited about everything that comes along with this package deal. I am excited it will ensure that we continue to be brought together in the outdoors; learning, growing, and adventuring…together.
I love Wyoming. I wholly believe in the stewardship of our resources for the enjoyment of future generations. As a mother of three, I have three big reasons to ensure that our land and resources are available for use and enjoyment years from now. Spending time outdoors, hunting, and fishing with my kids gives me an opportunity to expose them to the connectedness of our land and our wildlife. I have a responsibility to help them understand the importance of being good stewards. They will be growing up to become the decision-makers of our beautiful state. Immersing them in this culture now will ensure that we maintain our identity and Wyoming’s heritage. Wyoming Wildlife Federation works tirelessly to realize that vision.
Recipe: Orange Pheasant
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice wine
2 tsp minced ginger
1 clove minced garlic
1/4 tsp pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2/3 cup orange juice
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp orange marmalade
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp corn starch
1-5 small dried hot chiles, broken up, seeds discarded
1 Tbsp thinly sliced tangerine peel
Drizzle of sesame oil
1-2 pounds pheasant breast, cubed
2 cups cooking oil
1/4 cup corn starch
Chopped green onions
Mix the marinade together with the cubed pheasant. Let rest for 20 minutes.
Mix together the sauce: soy sauce, orange juice, honey, marmalade, and vinegar.
Mix the 1 Tbsp cornstarch with about 2 Tbsp water in a little bowl.
Heat the oil in a wok or heavy pot to 350-360. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. While the oil is heating, toss the marinated, cubed pheasant with 1/4 cup corn starch. When the oil is heated, fry the pheasant in 3-4 batches until gold brown, about 3-5 minutes per batch. As each batch finishes, transfer it to the paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain.
Drain the oil into a heat-safe container and wipe out the wok. Set it back on very high heat.
Add 2 Tbsp of oil back into the wok. When it is hot, add the chiles and tangerine peel. Stir fry for 30 seconds.
Add the pheasant back to the wok and pour the ingredients mixed for the sauce over the pheasant. Stir fry for a few seconds. Stir the cornstarch slurry and pour over the meat, while continuing to stir.
Cook while letting it thicken for a few seconds. Drizzle sesame oil over the top and toss once more.
Serve immediately with chopped green onions sprinkled on top.
Havely Holt, is a Fourth Grade Teacher living in Douglas, Wyoming. A relative newcomer to hunting and fishing, she started fly fishing four and a half years ago with hunting following a couple of years later. After an amazing first hunt experience with antelope, she has been spending as much time in the field as possible. Over the last two years, she has had several first hunts, including antelope, goose, mule deer, and pheasant. All of them hold significance in not only the harvest but in the hunt.
Find her on Instagram and Facebook @havelyholt