Friends in the fields
European-style pheasant hunt an annual tradition.
By SCOTT AUST
On the opening day of pheasant season the past two decades, friends and family of Roman Halbur have gathered in his garage southeast of Garden City to sip coffee, eat cinnamon rolls and share small talk and tall tales before heading out on a hunt.
Last Saturday was no different.
Nearly 20 people came out to Halbur's to take part in a European-style pheasant hunt.
"It's an easy hunt with limited amount of walking," Halbur said.
The hunt involves taking about 50 pheasants, which Halbur raised, to a stand set in the middle of a field. Nine hunting stations are marked in a circle 225 feet from the birds. Two hunters man each station. After a signal, two birds are released and hunters closest to the direction the birds fly take shots. After each shooting, the hunters rotate to a new station and the process repeats itself until all the birds are gone.
Halbur, who is also a Finney County commissioner, said he started with a more traditional, standard hunt more than 20 years ago. Birds would be released into a field with some rows of vegetation left standing and hunters would walk the field. But he changed to the European style hunt about 10 or 12 years ago.
"When the pheasant numbers started getting short we started doing this to make it an easier chance to get a few more birds," Halbur said. "My son-in-law is a big hunter and he had seen this done someplace. We've experimented with different distances and ways but this works for what I have."
Last year, Halbur sponsored three European hunts, including one for disabled veterans with birds provided by Beavers Game Birds in Pierceville. He doesn't hunt much anymore, but he fondly remembers his first experiences hunting as a boy back in Iowa.
"We used to do a lot of hunting back then, both deer and pheasant. We hunted and trapped. We used to trap muskrats, 'coons and mink when we could catch them," he said.
These days Halbur enjoys watching his grandkids develop their own love of hunting.
"In fact, my 15-year-old got himself a 9 point buck the other day down in Oklahoma with black powder," Halbur said with a grandfather's pride.
Carter Kahoe, 15, has only been hunting about three years, but he recalls releasing the birds with his grandpa when he was younger.
"It's pretty fun," he said. "I just enjoy getting out with everybody and having a good time."
"I used to stick him in the box with me," Halbur said.
Halbur's son-in-law Bruce Kahoe, Edmond, Okla., has been coming to Roman's for 24 years. He said Edmond doesn't see much pheasant hunting — it's mostly quail and deer. But what pheasant hunting he does in other parts of Oklahoma and Kansas has been hurt by the drought the last few years.
"We went out last year, walked and walked and walked. Didn't see anything," he said. "Usually we get up and go over to (Garden City area resident) Jerry Dechant's with a big group of 15 or 20. We go hunt wild birds all morning and then come over here and do this European hunt. That's kind of been the tradition."
Watching young Carter, Emmitt Miller, a friend from up the road, said he's watched the boy grow up from "a BB gun to a 20-gauge."
Miller, who has come to the opening day hunt for four or five years, doesn't hunt as often as he used to but enjoys getting outside and helping with Halbur's hunt. Wild bird hunting the past couple of years have been a challenge.
"Not many pheasants. Not many pheasants," Miller said. "I throw a pheasant hunt the second weekend of December and guys from Colorado, Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee come. We go out, but when things are bad I'll buy a few birds from Roman to put out to seed."
Traditionally, Halbur starts his hunt at 10 a.m., which gives people a chance to hunt wild birds first. But the past two years have been bleak.
"There's none out there this year, and there weren't any last year. My son-in-law and about five or six guys hunted before this last year and didn't have a bird. So there's pretty much a shortage of birds out there," he said.
Some of those who enjoyed Saturday's hunt included Finney County administrator Randy Partington, Tom Walker and Bob Tempel of the Finney County Economic Development Corp., and state Sen. Larry Powell and state Rep. Gary Hayzlett.
Hunting issues are important to Hayzlett, who is a member of the National Assembly Sportsmen's Caucus, an organization that keeps on eye on legislation, both state and nationally, that might be detrimental to hunting and fishing interests.
While he continues with that organization, Hayzlett is retiring from the state legislature this year after 22 years.
"So I can pursue a little more fishing and hunting than I used to," he said. "I enjoy getting out. I love to get out in the open, and the friends you meet and hunting partners you've had for years and years."
Bruce Kahoe said there's just something about getting out in cut milo, walking through fields and watching the dogs work the birds that always keeps him coming back.
"I like going out in a big group. Everybody we hunt with are a bunch of cut ups. They give you a hard time when you miss and congratulate you when you make a good shot," he said.