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

It’s on the cooler days of late October that hunters across the country get the urge 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.

We only had an afternoon, the scribbler and News-Review Editor Gary Ridderbusch, so we headed to the expansive fields and heavy sorghum cover at Heritage Hunt Club in Laona.

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, I just had some friends return from South Dakota, where three hunters shot just seven roosters in five days of hunting. The crops were still on and bird numbers are far below their historic peaks, mostly because corn production for ethanol has wiped out the grasslands and cattails.

Gracie, my black Lab, was out in front on our first walk in cover that was far thicker and higher than past years — almost to the point of being quite the challenge for young or inexperienced dogs.

It appears that corn and sorghum are in the same family of plants, and both thrive on the kind of hot, sunny weather we had the past summer.

When Gracie hit that first hot scent, all you could see was a tail wagging and the tops of sorghum moving in all directions. 

And then a rooster pheasant exploded in front of her, and Ridderbusch dropped it with a single shot from the 20-gauge over/under. A good start to a great afternoon of chasing birds.

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.

And then there is the wind factor, for once they catch a breeze on a sharp turn, the acceleration can cause the best of hunters to shoot behind the bird and miss.

We were just warming up on birds Kelly Lind planted in sorghum strips, a prelude to the bonus round when you walk other cover in search of wilder birds. That’s when the real hunting begins, for those birds that have been in the wild for a few days would rather run than fly.

Our first bonus bird came in a strip of corn with Ridderbusch doing the blocking on one end as Gracie and I plunged through seven-foot-high corn with little chance for a shot.

Pheasant hunters know the importance of blocking the end of a field, which pinches and confuses running birds long enough for somebody to get in range before they flush.

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.

The cover is fantastic this year as Lind, who was a farmer in the Waupaca area, has really developed a knack for growing waist-high sorghum and monster corn. This cover will be solid well into the winter months.

We found other scratch birds throughout the fields we were assigned to hunt, though it was challenging work. Run they did, mostly into nearby woods or swamps where they would flush and cackle and seemingly laugh at their pursuers.

Yes, I said challenging. 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. 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.