PLEASANT PRAIRIE, Wis. -- Dixie shoulders through the sea of cattails, her progress signaled by muffled crunches and wiggling stalks.
Her nose does not betray her: About 30 seconds after she disappears from view a pheasant rockets out of the marsh, a cackling vision of green and brown and red and white.
Rudy Cariello and I take aim and fire.
Our shots miss, barely.
"I think it readjusted its flight path," says Cariello, 57, of Racine, Wis., watching the rooster flap and glide to a far corner of the marsh.
We turn our attention to the job at hand -- finding our arrows.
Welcome to the 20th Annual Traditional Pheasant Shoot, run by Cariello and a group of friends on a private hunting club in Kenosha County.
When it comes to upland bird hunting, this is "a horse of a different color." You pick up your misses. And no ear plugs are required.
Though Fred Bear and others popularized archery hunting for all types of game in the mid-20th century, very few modern bowhunters pursue quarry on the wing.
The quest is rich with challenge, the event long on camaraderie.
It says it right in the unofficial rules memo: Smiles are mandatory.
Also, no broadheads are allowed. And all arrows must have flu-flu fletching to limit flight.
Oh, and "Dogs are allowed and must not be under control."
"I've got one bird in 20 years," says Cariello, who took up archery as a 7-year-old. "But it can be done, it can be done."
I joined Cariello and crew for the annual February outing on several hundred acres of grassland, woodlots and food plots.
The first year attracted 18 hunters. This year 70 archers from four states are working the fields; the ages range from 14 to 83.
Three dog handlers have also joined the crew, just for the joy of watching their canine companions work and help the bow hunters in their quest.
The day started at 8 a.m. with shooting practice. Cardboard discs, like those found under a frozen pizza, were tossed in the air. Assembled archers let loose with wooden, heavily-fletched arrows.
A hit -- about one in 10 -- brought cheers.
Though compound bows have won favor among contemporary bowhunters, especially for deer hunting, we all used recurves and other traditional bows.
After months of a deer season shooting my compound, it was a simple, instinctive joy to shoot the "stick and string" of a recurve.
It's the best tool, in fact, for quick, snap shots. Plus recurves, stick bows and self bows are in fashion with this crowd. Several bows were covered with snake skin; one is wrapped in ray.
Some arrows are made of cedar, others of red osier dogwood.
The hunt got its start 20 years ago when Mike Salas, a Kenosha Police Department detective who did some part-time work as a hunting guide, approached the owner of the private hunting club to see if he and a few of his archery buddies could tromp the grounds and try to bag a couple birds.
The group got the green light. Certainly Salas' relationship with the owner helped. But it's possible the owner also thought the bow-and-arrow crowd would do little damage to his pheasant population.
"Nobody believes you hunt pheasants with a bow and arrow," is how Mike Deno of Sturtevant puts it.
As it has since the beginning, the group hunts on a Monday, when the club is typically closed.
No birds are stocked; the group only hunts for "leftovers," pheasants and chukkars that were stocked earlier and are surviving on the property.
The cattail marshes, corn, milo and other cover and food sources makes the area attractive to birds. A wild pheasant also makes an appearance from time-to-time.
Lunch will follow, regardless of how full the game bag.
I hunt with Cariello, his wife, Harriet, and Derrick Sorenson of Cedarburg. We are ably led by Dixie, the Cariellos' 3-year-old American water spaniel, and Libby, Sorenson's springer spaniel.
After we find our arrows, we work a field of milo. Two birds flush 75 yards ahead, out of range. Archers have limitations, too.
Cariello says about eight of the original group members are still involved, including Andy Meyer of Milwaukee.
Meyer has hunted all 20 years. This year he's joined by his wife, Ramona, and son, Oren.
In the early years, he'd bring Oren when he was "knee-high to a corn stalk."
This year Oren Meyer, 26, is hunting behind his own dog, a black Labrador named Gator. As the pair work a grassy field late in the morning, two pheasants swing from Oren's belt.
A good pointing dog is a great asset in all upland bird hunting and especially helpful when using archery equipment. But there are no guarantees.
"Dixie, why aren't you retrieving?" says Cariello, after a crossing bird at 30 yards flies away unscathed.
Dixie has her own set of questions. But in the spirit of the day, she wags her tail and noses ahead, looking for fresh scent.
The gray sky yields to patches of blue late in the morning; the air hovers around the freezing mark, making for comfortable walking over grass and frozen marshes alike.
We put several miles on our boots in three hours of hunting. Our group has about eight legitimate shots.
"I hear guys yelling," says Cariello as the clock edges noon. "There must be some missing going on."
Cariello owes Sorenson an apology. When we meet up at the far end of a tree line, Libby is holding a rooster firmly in her jaws.
At the end of the day, 12 birds are in the bag. Two teams brought in two birds each.
"I saw smiles on faces, happy dogs and it was a safe hunt," says Cariello, as we unstring the bows. "That's our measure of success."