Pheasant opener helps define family priorities

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Saturday morning, Scott and Stefani Hicswa were planning trips in the opposite direction. Their sports-playing sons, Kalin and Keegan, had two separate events at two different venues: one in Cody and the other in Gillette. With snow in the pass, the trip to Gillette would take longer than usual, diverting south to cross the Bighorn Range. It was going to be a long day and it would’ve been nice to sleep in.

“It’s just go, go, go all the time,” Scott said.

Instead, the Hicswas were up well before sunrise, preparing for the annual pheasant season opener. Luckily, the family residence is near one of several local hunting walk-in areas. Open to the public, about 36,000 acres of private land are leased by the state each year within a short drive of Powell, giving area hunters opportunities that would otherwise require a door to door search for access. There are nine walk-in areas in Park County — many along the Shoshone River — and 42 walk-in areas in Big Horn County (24 open to pheasant hunting).

Each walk-in area has individual regulations, said Wyoming Game and Fish Department Cody Region Access Yes Coordinator Jordan Winter. Regulations are based on what landowners will allow on their land; all but a few are open to deer hunting and more than half are open to upland game bird hunting.

The Game and Fish offers landowners a small amount of cash to lease the land, though “the generosity from landowners far outweighs the monetary benefit,” Winter said.

Winter works with regional biologists and game wardens to identify good hunting areas in private hands. Much of the land is acquired through funds donated to the program when buying licenses.

“We average 3.1 acres of land leased for every dollar donated,” Winter said.

Several non-profit hunting organizations, such as Pheasants Forever, also donate to the access program. In return, all the state asks is for hunters to respect the leased land and the landowners.

“Make sure to pick up your spent shells — don’t litter. Respect the land,” Winter said. “At any time, [landowners] can close it down.”

Despite having plenty of space to hunt, finding time isn’t always easy. Hockey isn’t the only school activity for the Hicswas’ busy sons. Keegan runs cross country and Kalin plays tennis. Both are involved in several non-sports activities as well. It’s a familiar story for many families: Parents rush from place to place, all the while having busy jobs of their own where 40-hour work weeks are often extended. Stefani is the president of Northwest College and Scott is in the construction business. But for the Hicswa family, adventures together are a priority.

“At this point I don’t want to rush them growing up. We only have them with us for a little while and we want to make the most of it,” Scott said. “It’s only gotten more and more fun as the years go by. It’s now dawning on us [that] in four or five years they’ll be out of high school and college bound.”

Soon his sons will be getting driver’s licenses and won’t need to rely on dad to take them hunting every time. When Scott was a kid, he and his brother, Tim, would go hunting often.

“Before school we’d go to a wildlife management area and chase pheasant and quail,” Scott said.

Those special times afield stuck with the Powell-area resident. Hunting upland game birds became a lifelong passion. Now Scott is on the Big Horn Basin Pheasants Forever chapter committee and knows the importance of training his sons in hunting safety as well as making memories together.

“We talk about how to approach the hunt, gun safety, keeping track of each other so we can get shooting opportunities without someone being in harm’s way and how to work cover,” he said.

His sons have been active in the chapter, volunteering for habitat projects, fundraising activities and the annual banquets. Scott is attracted to the organization because all the money raised locally is spent locally. The chapter concentrates on youth hunts and recruitment, he said, but also works to improve and increase access to habitat.

Pheasants aren’t the only game chased in the Hicswa family; they also hunt waterfowl, elk and even moose. Having a successful duck hunt recently took the sting out of getting skunked on opening day of pheasant season. But the family wasn’t complaining. They were together and Meg, the family’s 10-year-old chocolate lab, was beyond excited to get a workout.

Keegan prefers duck hunting and Kalin loves chasing pheasants because “you’re not sitting around glassing all day.”

Both appreciate hunts with their father.

“He gives us an opportunity to go out and do stuff that we couldn’t do otherwise,” Keegan said.

It took a while for Scott to understand how fortunate he was to grow up with parents who brought them up with an appreciation for the outdoors.

“I was 25 before I really understood how lucky I was,” he said.

While his focus with his children has been on safety and ethics, Scott’s also instilling in his sons a love for the outdoors — creating memories of fun times afield that will be hopefully carried into the next generation.

For more information about Pheasants Forever: www.pheasantsforever.org

For walk-in area locations and regulations: wgfd.wyo.gov/Public-Access

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