To say I'd been hoping for this combination limit for a long time would be an understatement. In the area of the sandhills I'd been hunting for more than 30 years, shooting a three rooster limit of pheasants was at best an all day job. Ending any day with two roosters would be considered a good day. Let alone to finish a three rooster limit early enough to walk the hills for prairie grouse was a day that only occurred once every few years.
Though more common in South Dakota, only once did I ever take a combination limit of sharptails and pheasants in the sandhills of Nebraska.
So, any confidence in taking a limit of just prairie chickens after a limit of pheasants, in an area with 90% of the prairie grouse being sharptails, would be considered delusional. I gave up on delusion and decided that the next early limit of sandhills pheasants and I would pack up and drive 60 or more miles east where three bird limit of just chickens might be possible in less than half a day.
I'd hunted this eastern edge of the sandhills for three years and felt confident that I could typically shoot a half day limit of either just sharptails or just chickens. This was the same area that Bo took three sharptails on her first ever bird hunt and a limit of just chickens the following day. With each of those limits in much less than a half day.
There was a lot of water in north central Nebraska this fall and the road leading to a CRP-MAP field I intended to hunt was completely flooded. The MAP ground was bordered on the east by prairie chickens favorite row crop, soybeans. And on the west and north by pasture. I parked on the bean side and Bo and I waded through knee deep water for 100 yards before reaching dry MAP ground.
Just as I sloshed to a field entrance, a chicken flushed from the bean corner and flew across the road just 20 yards in front of me. I wanted that chicken. Several times I came up just one bird short of a combination or double limit and I couldn't help but fear this might be my limit chicken, so, I really wanted that chicken. The nearest ranch house was more than two miles away and there certainly wasn't any traffic on this flooded road. But shooting within the right-of-way is illegal in Nebraska and I wasn't about to fudge on something as important as a goal bird hunt, and no "regular" hunt could possibly be worth living with the cheat. But, it would have been the first time I ever shot a chicken while standing in knee deep water, which would have been a cool memory.
I needn't have worried. There was a row of cottonwood trees and marsh along the bean field and chickens typically, do not like trees, so Bo followed my to the western fence, as far from the trees as we could hunt.
Maybe 100 yards from the real start of our hunt, Bo got into chickens. She soon crawled under the fence with her nose high and chickens flushed from the private fence, some even crossing to my side. Again, I wanted to shoot but with a start like this it was hard to believe I wasn't going to get my three chickens.
After some delay, Bo returned to my side and took off on scent. A pair of chickens flushed just in front of her while I also heard birds flushing behind and to my right. I took a shot at the larger of the pair and when it tumbled, I turned to see what was going on in the other direction as the accompanying chicken had caught the wind out of range. There was a smaller chicken fighting the wind at just the right range, 35 yards. I hit it hard, with feathers trailing as it tumbled to the ground.
When I turned back, Bo had flushed another chicken in range but I was empty and I really didn't need three birds on the ground with a 7 month old puppy. As it turned out, both of the chickens I shot were laying dead, but it took the two of us an embarrassingly long time to find them.
We hunted another mile to the far end of the field, with just a couple chickens flushing well out of range. I decided to circle back and rehunt our path but deeper into the field to see if there were birds scattered further from the bordering fence. It was a good plan as Bo busted a small group of chickens in a wimpy blowout. I hit a bird lightly with the under barrel and again harder with the upper. Bo was practically underneath the chicken when it came down and I let her continue carrying the bird until she some of her pride was dissipated and I could tell she wanted to hunt some more.
I took a quick phone picture of Bo and her combination limit of pheasants and chickens on a corner post to send to Biologist Bill with the Nebraska Game & Parks. Bill was a great help with advice on where I could find birds in areas I hadn't previously hunted and I wanted him to know how much Bo and I appreciated it.