A Pheasant Hunting Fraternity

By Tom Cwynar | December 2, 2009
From Missouri Conservationist: Dec 2009

When members of the Pheasant Hunters of America, Inc. take to the field, local pheasants take notice. The birds keep their heads low, but their ear tufts shoot up and their feathers flare as they nervously cock their eyes from side to side. It’s easy to imagine some of them wishing they’d gotten their affairs in order.

During the group’s annual hunt, 40 or more disciplined hunters and a platoon of bird dogs may work the same large field. The hunt coordinator posts blockers at the end of the field to intercept birds that choose to run instead of fly and at the sides of the field to ambush sneaky pheasants trying to dodge around the advancing line.

You might think that even the most nimble game bird wouldn’t stand a chance against such a concentrated effort, but exceptions occur. They come up—wings whirring and big as chickens—hover for a second then glide off toward the horizon, unruffled by a staggering number of shotgun blasts.

The hunters who fired watch in awe as if they’d witnessed a miracle. The rest are either chuckling or “giving it to” the ones who missed.

“That’s a beautiful bird,” one hunter remarks.

“And he’s still flying,” says another.

Good-Time Hunts

The teasing is offset by plenty of sharing and helping. The same guy who minutes ago proclaimed you couldn’t hit a pheasant on a tree limb, will praise your next shot and help you stuff the bird in your game bag.

“It’s like having 40 best friends,” Club President Steve Mannery says. “They’re just a good group of guys who you know would do anything for you.”

The Pheasant Hunters of America formed (incorporated) in Missouri in 1969. The Cooper and the Gilmer families from southeast Missouri started the ball rolling. The sons from those families went through school together and gained additional hunting buddies at college and in their careers. When Jesse Gilmer’s job took him to Nebraska, he told his friends about the great pheasant hunting there, and the group started a tradition of an annual hunt.

By the time they incorporated as a club, the members were spread across five states: Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, California and Nebraska. The founders blended the initials of the fives states and called themselves the MOILMICANE Hunting Group.

The member’s patch created by the club’s founders contains a misprint, spelling the name MOLIMICANE, instead. It says something about the club that through the years, the club never changed it, and the members wear the original design on blazers, hats and hunting gear.

The patch also features a star, a pheasant, a gun and a dog, and the words “The Ole Hunting Duds.” That, too, is a misprint.

“It was supposed to have been “Dudes,” says Mannery, who lives in the Kansas City area and is the club’s third president. “When I first came to the club, I said, ‘Mr. President, this is spelled wrong. Why don’t we fix it on the next one?’ He says, ‘No, leave it alone … you’re not even in the club yet.”

“Now it really fits us—Ole Duds,” Mannery joked.

Club members actually range from 16 years old to too old to count. Although most of the officers and members of the board of directors live in Missouri, club members come from many more than the original five states.

The club’s members include doctors, lawyers, judges, dentists and engineers, but what a member does for a living is not nearly as important as his character.

Mannery credits the long-term success of the club to a policy in which potential new members not only have to be invited to the annual hunt by a current member, but they also have to be asked back a second time.

“It’s always been a club of some real decent men,” Mannery says. “If you come in there with personal ambition for the glory of the hunt, then you probably need to hunt with someone else, but anybody who is secure in themselves and is hopeful for tomorrow won’t have any problems fitting in.”

Although some of the members fish or hunt together throughout the year, the annual hunt is the club’s big event, usually drawing around 40 of the nearly 60 registered members for three days of pheasant hunting.

The big hunt used to take place in Nebraska, but finding enough wild birds for that many hunters became more and more difficult. The club now meets just south of Des Moines, where it books a hunt that provides lodging, lots of land to hunt and enough pheasants to keep the members’ interest up.

“It’s really the best situation for us,” Mannery says. “We’d never be able to go to a wild area and get this much action. For our group, for this time in our life, it doesn’t get any better than this. We either do it this way, or we sit back and think about years gone by.”

One of the club’s original founders, Dr. Charles W. Cooper of Holts Summit, has attended every annual hunt since the club started 38 years ago.

“It’s a fun thing, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Cooper says. “There are all kinds of characters there, and they come up with all kinds of different things, but we’re very tight and close, just like brothers.”

Cooper, known as “Doc,” is probably the club’s most respected member. He’s the one first-timers have to walk with to learn how to hunt pheasants correctly, and he’s the one who tells them what a serious responsibility it is to be carrying a gun out in the field.

Safety Always

“We have a man here with a black bag, we have a preacher, but we don’t have a mortician,” Doc says at a recent hunt, after he’d lined up the newcomers for their final safety lecture before they hunted with club members for the first time. Even before they’d arrived at the field, those potential members had to watch an hour-long film on hunting safety.

Long-time members also receive constant reminders about hunter responsibility. Every group of hunters has a designated safety coordinator who delivers a safety lecture before the hunting begins.

Whenever members are standing around before a hunt or gathering for a break, they have to have their gun broken down or the breech open. At the end of each hunt, they have to show the safety inspector that their shotguns are empty and the breeches are open.

The safety coordinator also makes it clear when shooting is to stop. In a video of one of the group hunts, the safety coordinator tells the hunters, “When we get through with the hunt down there and we say, ‘That’s it!’ No more shooting. I don’t care what comes up. You’re not to shoot that gun.”

Each group also has a hunt coordinator who keeps the hunters organized and in safe positions as they work a field.

“They line them up; they pair them up,” Doc says. “Let someone make a misstep, they will be told.”

Insistence on safe hunting has kept the club accident free for all of its 38 years.

“If we have one accident, it could ruin the whole thing,” says Club Vice-President Alan Cooper of Jefferson City.

“That’s why we watch out for each other. If you are drinking beer, for example, you aren’t going hunting.”

Cooper says that for most of the membership hunting is just a part of the total experience, anyway. The trip gives the members a great excuse to get together.

“It’s totally social,” he says. “It’s not all about the birds. It’s about brotherliness and having a good time with friends. Some guys only go hunting once or twice in three days, and we have one member who doesn’t even bring a gun.”

Jacket Night

A dress-up dinner caps off each annual hunt. Here’s where stories of who killed what, who pointed what and who did what are told and retold, and nicknames like “Cleanhead” and “One-Shot Pete” are indelibly stamped on members.

During a recent dinner a member received tongue-in-cheek praise for “preshooting,” knocking down pheasants before they could fly ten feet.

On another occasion, Doc noted the unusual circumstance in which 27 shots were fired at a bird that flew away with nobody acknowledging a miss, but every shooter claiming to have hit a pheasant that finally fell after 17 shots.

At the dinner, members give tribute to their fellow hunters with numerous awards that range from Sharpest, Best- Looking Hunter to Minister of Cognac, from the Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator Award to the Mustard Gas Award, which is given to the member who often could be found standing alone.

Dogs are half the hunt, and they aren’t forgotten at jacket night. Dog stories run rampant, and members covet the Top Dog award.

A new dog named Rock won a recent Top Pup award for managing to both point a bird and catch it before it could flush. The presenter suggested to his owner, however, that he should look into having Don King promote the dog’s next fight.

A Salute

On their last day in the field of each annual hunt, the members of the Pheasant Hunters of America gather for a solemn salute to fallen members—seven at the latest count.

After a prepared tribute, the speaker reads the name of each departed member and a shotgun is fired so that, as the speaker says, “they will hear the salute and will know that we still love them.”

The ceremony serves as a poignant reminder that for the club to go on, new members must replace the old ones.

Mannery says the club is reaching out to include inner city kids or kids who might otherwise go through life and not know about or have a chance to experience being a part of a group enjoying a wholesome outdoor activity.

Mannery said the club’s policy of requiring new members to be invited by a current member doesn’t rule out bringing in such youngsters.

“Everybody knows some kid who would benefit,” Mannery said. “I contend that if you get a kid involved in something that’s positive or you can get them around positive people, you have a real good chance of doing some good. I can tell you for sure that these guys will always lift you up, one way or another.” end of main article

Dog Talk

Members of the Pheasant Hunters of America are keenly loyal to their dogs. One club member, holding his struggling Brittany spaniel while others swabbed it with tomato juice, kept praising the animal for its brave attempt to retrieve a live skunk.

Another member stood up at a recent meeting and requested that the club formally recognize his dog, Duke, with a certificate for being able to hold point on a cow.

“I just happen to own the best dog,” Club President Mannery says. “His name’s Stitch, from Smooth Simon West. Stitch will do anything but pluck a bird, and if you don’t like plucking, he’ll try it for you.”

Doc Cooper, hearing this report, sighed. “To tell you the truth,” he says, “if I had that dog—Steve’s Stitch—I wouldn’t feed him. He can’t see; he can’t hear. I raise Brittanies, and I know … I just wouldn’t feed him.”

Doc says that he has been blessed with the top dog in the club. The dog’s name is Major, and he’s 6 years old.

“He’s so good,” Doc says, “that the only thing he doesn’t know is how much salt and pepper to put on the meat.”

Also In This Issue

This year, make a resolution that’s actually fun to keep.

This Issue's Staff

Editor In Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Art Director - Cliff White
Writer/Editor - Tom Cwynar
Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Circulation - Laura Scheuler