Proven On The Prairie

By Brad Fenson

Two pheasants laying on a pickup bumper

The Sandhills of Nebraska is a bird hunter’s playground. Prairie chicken, sharp-tailed grouse, pheasant, turkey, and an abundance of waterfowl can keep the barrel of your favorite smoothbore warm from the action.

With licenses to cover the full gamut of upland birds, migratory waterfowl, and fall turkey, I was eager with anticipation. The strategy of hunting vast rolling hills intrigues me, where it isn’t uncommon to walk for miles to find a prairie chicken or sharptail. The upland birds have adapted to live in the harsh environment and utilize the bowls and basins to stay out of the wind, find some sun, and take advantage of natural feed.

Each basin is approached for the element of surprise, being careful never to skyline. If the birds see you coming, they flush long before a shotgun blast can reach them. Knowing a hunt can take all day, and shots are often long-range, two boxes of TSS shotshells were ordered from the Federal Custom Shop. The hard-hitting, long-range shot is a minor investment when compared to getting to the Sandhills and the hours spent to find birds. Each box contains 10 shotshells, which can easily convert into two limits of prairie chickens and two fall turkeys.

First Chances

Late in the morning, a single chicken flushed ahead of me and disappeared into a bowl just below the ridge top. I snuck up a low crease in the hill and popped into the basin. The wily old bird wasted no time taking to the sky with thundering wing beats. I swung the bead of the old shotgun well in front of the feathered missile, at close to 60 yards, and squeezed the trigger. The bird tumbled to the ground stone dead, and I ran to retrieve the prized possession.

The large, adult male prairie chicken was a trophy to compare with a record-class deer. The pinnated feathers on the neck were long enough to stand well above the bird’s head. The feathers were in perfect shape. The minuscule TSS pellets hardly left a mark yet flattened the bird on contact. Forward-thinking and custom shotshells were looking like the best decision of the trip.

Dead grouse laying on a shotgun

The adventure continued that afternoon, and getting closer to a creek, I spotted a long-tailed rooster running into a weed patch. It did not take much to flush the bird and cover it with patterns of pellets from two quick shots. Still admiring colors on the pheasant, a flock of chickens flew out of the hills and landed in the corner of the pasture. The sneak was on, and I crept up the fence line until the first chicken took flight. The closest bird was 45 yards when it flushed, but the TSS downed two chickens to finish my daily limit.

Day 2

The next morning I was back after prairie chickens and roosters. However, instead of hunting the hills all day, I opted to look for some turkeys in the afternoon. Shelterbelts, cornfields, and grass-coved hills provided the perfect place to glass for fall turkey. My first introduction to Federal Premium TSS was on a spring turkey hunt, and the results made me an instant believer. The range and hitting power were the game-changer I wanted for a fall hunt.

Hunter holding up two dead turkeys

Spotting a roving flock of long-beards and jakes, I crept into a row of round bales to stay concealed. Turkey heads and feet moving in the treeline had my shotgun pointed to where they should emerge into the open. As the birds cleared the trees and ventured out into the open grass, I ensured they were far from cover before settling the bead on the neck of the closest. I squeezed the trigger and watched the bird topple to the ground. The TSS drilled the head so hard that the bird didn’t even flop after hitting the dirt. A second jake raised its head as if stunned by the percussion of the shot, and I quickly added him to the bag, sending the rest of the flock scattering in every direction.

Gathering the feathered prizes, I still had one shotshell from my first box of Custom Shop ammo. Perhaps another pheasant could be stalked on the way back to camp?