IT WAS destined to be a treat of an adventure as the Krueger boys loaded up guns, gear and a dog named Gracie, headed east for Laona to chase some rooster pheasants around on a damp, overcast afternoon in late October.

The drive brought back memories of high school days when my older brother, Mark “Lardo” Krueger of Appleton, encouraged me and friends to grab our guns and jump into his car for some farm country grouse hunting in the woodlots of central Wisconsin, back when those younger forests were thick with prickly ash, blackberry, tag elder and grouse.

That old Dodge was unique in that it was one of the first with push buttons for changing gears, and the back seat was huge — wide enough for three heavily dressed hunters and their guns.

It was our only ticket for getting to distant farms and forests beyond where legs and bikes could take youngsters not yet old enough to drive. And it was my brother, not the scribbler, who had the intense passion to chase grouse on every possible day or weekend. He’s the one who ignited a spark that has been burning in me for decades.

So I jumped at the chance to recruit him for some pheasant action, to rekindle the bird-hunting partnership but to also repay him in some way for all the times he let me tag along, or even dragged me along grouse hunting when my preference at the time was shooting squirrels or hunting deer. He had grouse fever like I had never seen it.

We arrived at Heritage Hunt Club about an hour later than planned, so the roosters that were planted ahead of time got a 60-minute head start. We really didn’t know how many of them were going to be no-shows that ran or flew off to some nearby swamp or pine grove. 

Gracie hit that first field of sorghum and grass with intensity, going left and right between us while checking scent on a light breeze that was crossing the field from the northeast. And it didn’t take long for the action to begin.

A hot track put her into mine-sweeper mode, tail wagging fiercely as she maneuvered left and right while homing in on the scent of a big rooster. It exploded from cover moments later, starting straight out and then banking hard left. Lardo put it down with a single shot from the 20-gauge semi-auto and Gracie made the retrieve, bringing it back alive with that soft mouth of hers.

That was pretty much the story for the next three hours, a 12-year-old Lab doing most of the work while we took turns knocking roosters out of the sky. It’s always nice when you can silence a cackling rooster that seems to be laughing at you during its hasty retreat toward cover.

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 ringneck annually on state hunting grounds and leased lands. But none of those birds get released north of Highway 10.

We only had an afternoon, so our solution to bird-hunting fever, an anxious dog and empty freezers in need of a few tasty pheasants was Heritage Hunt Club, a game farm within easy driving distance.

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

The farm serves a purpose that is as basic as the sport itself, offering expansive fields of sorghum, corn and grass that hide birds very well.

After we warmed up on birds that hunt club manager K.J. Lind had released in sorghum strips, we were ready for the bonus round — when it’s time to search for wilder birds around the farm, commonly known as scratch birds. That’s when the real hunting begins, for those birds that have been in the wild for a few days or weeks are the ultimate hunting challenge.

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 grass is worth the price of admission.

The excitement of chasing ringneck is a universal draw for young and old, experienced and inexperienced. This is the kind of open cover. The pheasant’s ability to outrun hunters and dogs is legendary.

And game farm or not, there’s one fact that remains. At the moment a rooster flushes from the tall grass, it doesn’t matter what state you are in or whose lands your boots are planted on. The excitement and challenge stands supreme.

The farm is aptly named Heritage Hunt Club, because it allows hunters such as my brother and I to keep our bird-chasing tradition alive.