WE LET the dog loose and turned our faces into a light northeast breeze, ever anxious for the first rooster pheasant to bust from cover, cackling for all it’s worth.

It was a holiday reunion of sorts, on Thanks­giving morning, the first time in years that sons, Steve and Brian, both made it home for our annual trek to Heri­tage Hunt Club in Laona.

The outing took me back to the days when they were still in high school, and we trekked to southern Wisconsin to chase ringnecks on public hunting grounds year after year. It’s a family tradition.

Add to that family outing another first, that grandson Alexander tagged along at age 10 to experience the action he’ll be sharing in the years to come.

Beggars can’t be choosers so we weren’t letting 12 inches of new-fallen snow deter our adventure. The trade-off for tougher walking would be tight-holding roosters in a mix of sorghum and grass, under a layer of drifted snow.

The biggest setback was that my black Lab Gracie would have to solo this flushing and retrieving mission, for Steve’s little Labra-Doodle didn’t have the leg height to bound through all that laid-over cover.

And so Gracie, who turned 10 on Monday, hit that first field with the enthusiasm of a puppy. And wow, did she tear it up.

We witnessed some of the most impressive flushes of the season, with big roosters bursting out of snow drifts as a dog’s nose invaded their little hiding spot.

This is the time of the year when the farm-raised birds are the largest and strongest. They run fast and fly hard — tougher to bring down with winter plumage.

They also hold tighter than usual under a blanket of snow, not as apt to run out of cover on a white landscape where they stick out like a sore thumb.

The boys got in a lot of shooting and Gracie, well, she held up the flushing and retrieving end of things for six hours. Despite her age, she’s in great shape after two solid months of grouse and pheasant chasing.

The scribbler shot as little as possible, in favor of the youngsters getting the shooting. And because of that, there were some impressive long-range connections on birds.

By day’s end, some of those retrieves were so long that Gracie would stand over the bird and look back at us, seemingly wondering why she was 60 yards out. It’s as if she was hoping we were going to cut the distance toward her before she picked it up.

We were all shooting 20 gauges of some sort. The semi-autos had modified chokes and the double-barrels had the mix of improved cylinder and modified. A normal load of 6-shot did the trick.

There were a couple of misses, as is expected with the sport of hunting, and the chiding was intense at times because we’re all just a little too competitive. But at least we can admit it.

Late fall is still a great time to chase ringnecks, the king of upland game birds. Despite their nonnative history, pheasants fit perfectly into the expansive farm fields of western states such as Minnesota, South and North Dakota, Iowa and even Kansas.

There’s some native bird hunting to be had in western Wisconsin, but mostly, it’s a put and take venture in the Badger State.

The Department of Natural Resources helps out hunters in central and southern Wisconsin by stocking more than 70,000 ringnecks annually on state hunting grounds and leased lands. But none of those birds get released north of Highway 10.

When there are hunters and dogs to please, and empty freezers in need of a few tasty pheasants, having a game farm within easy driving distance is a real blessing.

It works for me because I can’t give up five to seven days at a crack on a western hunt, so the convenience of a game farm allows the scribbler and friends to keep the pheasant hunting heritage alive and well.

The farm may not mimic the expansive landscapes and breathtaking sights of western roosters flushing a dozen or more at a time, but it certainly serves a purpose that is as basic as the sport itself.

Besides, this isn’t the best time to be hunting the Dakotas for pheasants. A loss of crop reserve and other habitat has bird numbers far below their historic peaks.

There is no classic, predictable flush for a wily pheasant. There’s just as much chance of them flushing at your face and back over your head as them flushing in the direction your gun is pointing. You just never know.

The truth be told, this sport is all about the dog. Watching them work a track with a pheasant trying to run circles around them in heavy sorghum is worth the price of admission.

Game farm or not, there is nothing easy about running down a rooster that has been in the wild — around the farm for several weeks.

Let’s be clear on one thing: The excitement of chasing ringnecks is a universal draw for young and old, experienced and inexperienced. This is the king of open cover. The pheasant’s ability to outrun hunters and dogs is legendary.

At the moment a rooster flushes from the tall grass, it doesn’t matter what state you are in or whose land your boots are planted on. The excitement and challenge stands supreme.

Shooting and harvesting are the climax of the chase, but in the long run nothing beats the chase—watching the dog at work, strategizing the hunt, chastising your partners and just enjoying the great outdoors.

Heritage Hunt Club is perfect when you have a one-day window to hunt. KJ Lind offers a farm with a diversity of cover types and field sizes. It’s a great place to take a puppy for training, an experienced retriever for a tune-up or to experience roosters when things aren’t going so well in the western states.

The farm is aptly named Heritage Hunt Club, because it allows hundreds of hunters to keep their pheasant hunting tradition alive.