This past week it was my turn again to shoot and write a Monday Close Up for the paper. I had a couple ideas floating around in my head this past month, but for some reason I kept coming back to hunting. After a couple phone calls I ended up driving almost as far north as our coverage area allows to a pheasant hunting facility outside of Cedar Fort, UT. There was a ton of land at this place, but because wild pheasants are hard to find around here they had to be placed in the area before the hunt. The area was absolutely beautiful and a low cloud coverage made for some mystical looking pictures. Photographing the family however was not as easy as you might think. Pheasants are tricky little guys and love to hide in low underbrush. An obvious goal for the day was to not get shot, but when you are working between two hunters it’s hard to anticipate where to stand. The bird’s can fly up from any direction, so I had to pay very close attention as to where I was in relation to where a bird might be. There was even one instance where I was following the two hunters and a bird flew up out of a bush right beside me. This bush was one they had walked right by only seconds before, but had I yelled it out it would have made for a unsafe shot. With that being said I still had a great time and couldn’t have photographed nicer people. Enjoy.
A low cloud cover suffocated the tips of the surrounding peaks as Bill Nordgren and his son Cameron trudged through the soggy brush of Wasatch Wing & Clay outside of Cedar Fort on a especially wet Thursday morning.
Accompanying the pair was their four-month-old Labrador named Leo bouncing about with excitement between the legs of the two handlers. The group was hunting Ring-necked Pheasants and just as the search began a small figure in the distance could be seen moving briskly through the underbrush. A careful approach turned into a brief sprint in order to get the large bird to take flight.
It wasn’t until the hunters were within a few feet of the hen did it spread it’s wings and flee east into the grey sky. Shuffling quickly to his right Cameron raised his Remington 12 Gage shotgun and flicked off the safety. After taking aim, a squeeze of the trigger sent a loud echo through the empty valley. Turning around with a large grin Cameron looked at his dad with excitement. He had missed the bird.
“I was 17 or 18 until I shot my first pheasant,” Bill later told his son. “It’s a skill.”
The Nordgren’s, who currently reside in Orem, began the day with two very different backgrounds in pheasant hunting. Bill has been hunting since he was 12 years old and hunts for a variety of game all year round. After seeing his family and friends get into it as a kid, he has been doing it ever since.
“It’s just a part of what I do,” Bill said. “It’s a chance to get out and enjoy some time with my son.”
Cameron, who is 17 years old, entered the hobby in the same way as his father. After seeing the adrenaline it has created for Bill, an interest began to take hold over time. He started the day with the all of the freedoms of a newly certified hunter. After just receiving his safety certification, which is required by Utah state law, it was the first time he was able to carry his own gun.
“Hunting is sort of like a drug,” Cameron said. “Once you take it you can’t stop.”
Although he missed his first shot at a bird, it wasn’t due to a lack of skill with a shotgun. Cameron later hit eight of eight clays during some time at the property’s range. Pheasant hunting is considered one of the hardest types of hunting by his father because of their size and speed. According to Bill, the hardest part about hunting the birds is just simply finding them. They can easily hide in vegetation low to the ground and they have the ability to move quickly by foot. The idea is to get them to fly up out of their hiding spot for a clear shot, but some will attempt to stay hidden even as you pass within a few feet. This is where Leo enters the picture.
Dogs are used to sniff out and retrieve birds in order to make the hunting process easier. Bill started Leo’s training when he was only 12 weeks old, as opposed to most dogs that are started after their first birthday. To help train Leo, Bill bought some pheasants and clipped their wings. He then sets them out for Leo to retrieve. As Leo matures, he will become efficient at this process, and will be a vital part of the pair’s team for some time to come.
Wild pheasant hunting in Utah has become an increasingly hard task, though. Due to the growing high-density population in particular areas, hunting for the large birds has become increasingly more difficult. According to Bill the emergence of raccoons in the area hasn’t helped the situation either. Skunks and raccoons are known to eat the eggs of the pheasants, making it hard for them to repopulate. Wasatch Wing & Clay however makes it possible for residents of the area to hunt a variety of birds from September to March. After shipping in the birds from Kansas multiple times a year, hunters can purchase birds to be placed throughout the property.
Biz Cullimore works at Wasatch Wing & Clay.
“We get guys that have never shot before and we get guys that shoot almost every day,” Cullimore said. “We’re for everybody. If they’ve never shot a gun, we’re more than welcome to teach them and show them how it’s done.”
After the birds are placed, hunters are instructed to their designated area and are set off. Bill and Cameron always follow a golden rule when hunting, though, despite the fact that the birds do not live in the wild.
“One thing I tell Cameron is that you don’t kill anything you don’t use,” Bill said.
The duo plans on eating the two pheasants they killed, and can’t even remember the last time they bought hamburger meat at the store. The family stocks up on meat Bill kills throughout the year, and Cameron will now be able to help sustain the supply. With a hunting trip to South Dakota approaching, their freezer will surely be full for some time to come.