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It’s 6AM on a Saturday in Northeast Nebraska, and the majority of its citizens are still in bed, fugitives of the unfriendly conditions that are all too common in the Cornhusker State this time of year. The sun has yet to decide when it’s going to illuminate the Heartland, but rest assured, the day started a few hours ago at Pheasant Bonanza.
Pheasant Bonanza is a well-respected hunting club that offers more than 4,500 acres of upland habitat and a dog training program that is as esteemed as any in the Midwest. Located just outside the endearing town of Tekamah, you can hear the 50 some-odd bird dogs-in-training singing in unison for their breakfast long before you can lay eyes on their impressive facilities. Trent Leichleiter has been the General Manager for nearly 11 years at Pheasant Bonanza and is the driving force behind the thriving business. He wears many hats aside from overseeing the business; dog-trainer, shooting instructor, and marketing manager, among others. Trent leads a team of 15 guides that work during the fall hunting season, and another 8 employees that are full-time staff.
The sun’s warmth is waging war against what remains of spring’s foothold in the hills, and is at last spreading across the land, notifying the dog trainers and their students that it’s time for today’s instruction.
Trent and his staff load up a dog trailer full of German Shorthaired Pointers and head afield. The pointers, beaming with levels of excitement that could be misconstrued as anxiety, are eager to please. These bird dogs are in the advanced stages of their training, and could practically drive Trent’s Ford to their preferred field. Not ten minutes go by before one of the pointers catches a whiff of a rooster hiding in switchgrass, transforming the dog into a statue-like point. What was once a fun game as a puppy is now a full-time job for these canines, and they’re workaholics. “Whoaaa” Trent calls out to his high energy group, hoping to reign them in before any of the dogs flush the prized game bird prior to him getting into position for a clean shot. Suddenly, the tall grass erupts, and a rooster cuts through the crisp mid-spring sky. Trent raises his 20 gauge over-under shotgun and sends a barrage of steel through the air, connecting directly with the bird. The pointers go into a frenzy, attempting to be the first to arrive at the harvested bird in order to impress their teacher. After a few more exercises, Trent dismisses this group of dogs and begins to work with some Labrador Retrievers who have been patiently waiting their turn back at the kennel.
Some dogs dream about the dinner bell or apprehending the local squirrel, but the dogs at Pheasant Bonanza are living their own paradise every day.
Whether you meet a staff member or a dog that has been under their supervision, it’s clear that those linked to Pheasant Bonanza have found their calling in the chase.
Sam Raetz is a freelance photographer based in the good life – Nebraska. He unknowingly put his photography career in motion when he instinctually reached for a camera to capture his time duck hunting with his brother along the river and realized there is depth and meaning to the photos, beyond capturing an image. Passionate about telling the quietly whispered stories of small towns, nature, and wildlife, he finds himself traveling across America to document not the big moments, but the meaningful ones. Grit over glamor and hard work over everything. Find more of his work at samraetz.com