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When I came to Hazlet State Park for the first time last February, I delighted in the pheasants that wandered through the campground, finding their nesting places, and sitting at night by the fire listening to them call each other through the fields across from us. It was a rare day when I didn’t look out the window to see brightly colored heads bobbing through the brush. These were the ones who somehow managed to survive the hunting season without capture. Their beauty and serenity captivated me, each one becoming familiar to me in some way whether it be their broken tail or simply their personality.

Always curious, I was delighted when I was told I could tag along this early morning to help release the pheasants that are brought in for the controlled pheasant hunt at the state park of which today is opening day. Perhaps I was a little nuts for getting up at 4:30 to ride along, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to experience something I never had and may never again.

And as I looked at the crates of pheasant tucked into the bed of the truck, I wondered how many of them would make it past the hunters to go through winter at the campground with us.

Nothing prepared me for the gloriousness of those releases. Through ten dropoffs, I stood watching in awe as the pheasant wriggled out of the crates and flew into the air without a backward glance. Their cries filled the morning air as the sun rose over the fields and they soared ever higher. Some needed a little nudge out of the crates, sitting on the ground for a few seconds as if to get their bearings before flying to freedom. But fly into the fields they did!

With the last drop made, we headed back to the site office. The place that an hour before was quiet when we headed out was now ablaze with orange. Orange hats, orange vests, orange jackets. Even a few orange bandanas around the necks of the dogs who were eagerly prancing and waiting to be released to do their work of beating the brush. The roads are lined with trucks and the air is now filled with the sound of the occassional gunshot and a question in my mind of “did they get it or not?”

I understand the beauty of the hunt… I have hunted and will again. The beauty of being in the woods or fields and the challenge of the hunt sometimes defies words. How lucky I was this morning to experience the other side of that beauty up close and personal in a way that few people get to experience.

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