By Reid Bryant
In Nebraska’s Loess Hills, a frosty morning has the corn stubble ashen white. Dog bells ring clearer on such days, and as guide Aaron Schroeder drops a brace of shorthairs, chimes punctuate the morning. The dogs strike out in earnest along a creek bottom, and my host, Trent Leichleiter, co-owner of Pheasant Bonanza Hunt Club & Kennel, takes a line into the stubble. The dogs make a wide cast, and the sun breaks the hardwood ridge ahead. Aaron closes the dog boxes, much to the chagrin of several dejected trailer-mates, and together we move into the cover.
Photographs Courtesy of Pheasant Bonanza
Within a hundred yards, the lead dog bails over the edge of the ditch, and his bell goes silent. His brace mate honors from the lip above. As Aaron “Whoas” them softly, I move into position. A rooster slinks out and, sensing our ill intentions, squawks into flight. It’s a lovely presentation: a high crosser framed against the sky, and I swing through and miss, hearing Trent’s gun as my wad flies short of the bird’s tail. The bird crumples, and Trent looks over as if to ask how I possibly could have missed.
Pheasant Bonanza, nestled among hardwoods overlooking the Missouri River floodplain, is aptly named. A far cry from the flatland prairie, this landscape is ripe with fertile knobs and creases where the namesake pheasants congregate. Hunters at Pheasant Bonanza make good use of the resource. What began in 2004 as a hunt club for Omaha corporate groups has bloomed into an Orvis Endorsed international shooting destination. In 2015 the 15-room Benjamin Schoonover Lodge was completed, to afford guests luxury accommodations overlooking the Missouri plain. A fireside dining room offers hearty regional cuisine, making the most of local ingredients. On the hilltop above the lodge is a clays facility featuring skeet, trap, 5 Stand and a varied 20-station sporting clays course. Leichleiter is a sponsored clays and exhibition shooter and is available for personalized instruction. But at the heart and soul of Pheasant Bonanza is the hunting.
PB offers upland hunts on more than 2,500 acres and waterfowl hunts from heated pit blinds. Says Leichleiter: “We offer no-limit hunts for pheasant and quail September 1 to April 15, with combo waterfowl/upland hunts at no extra charge in-season. Ninety percent of our hunting is within three miles of the lodge. Guests won’t ever hunt the same cover twice.” Crop rows of milo and corn are interspersed with native prairie grasses and wet creek bottoms, so the cover attracts, holds and cultivates birds. A strong early release program and supplemental fly-out stockings ensure that birds are abundant and cagey. With European-style Continental shoots as well as guided deer and turkey hunts, Pheasant Bonanza has a hunting or shooting option for every season.
Dogs are a central piece of the PB experience, and the kennel’s lines of Labs and German shorthairs are noted throughout the Midwest. The kennel offers boarding and training, as well, with 50 heated and cooled indoor/outdoor runs. Three pro trainers, including Schroeder and Leichleiter, are on staff, and pro handling services are available. Pheasant Bonanza hosts several National Bird Dog Circuit events, including pre-Nationals and Nationals, among a variety of trials and dog events throughout the year.
Pheasant Bonanza is located 50 miles from Omaha and Sioux City, Iowa, and several regional airports are nearby for guests who wish to fly private. Airport transportation is available, and often guests can hunt the same day they arrive or squeeze in a hunt the day they leave. In my case that frosty morning hunt was a swansong, and my early miss threatened to haunt me all the way home. “Just slow down and see a picture of that bird, take a breath and pull the trigger,” Leichleiter offered as I reloaded. Fortunately, my redemption was fast in coming. On the next bird I relaxed enough to see a splash of color frozen above a Missouri river floodplain so expansive and flat that it seemed to shimmer. When I pulled the trigger, the bird tumbled, and I vowed to return to those hills just north of Omaha.
For more information, contact Pheasant Bonanza Hunt Club & Kennel, 888-366-4868.