Loading up for a North Dakota bird hunt

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Want to share a cup of coffee this morning? Sounds like a good plan because our gang is planted firmly around the breakfast table and we’ve got plenty of time to kid each other about yesterday’s misses and other miss-haps that happen every day in the field.

In the Dakotas, one can’t lock and load for the day’s hunt until mid-morning, so that gives us an opportunity to relax and for the pheasants to fill their crops with leftover grain and what seeds they can find.

Looking for birds

By mid-morning, the birds are tucked away for the day under the deepest and densest brush they can find. That’s where we’ll look for them.

A look outside tells a North Dakota kind of story. Cut corn fields that stretch to the horizon, quilt like blocks of bare bean fields, an occasional deep green patch of late hay, and still other city-size fields of winter wheat poking out of the mud.

It’s the blocks of the thickest of pencil-like reeds and toughest of thigh-high grass and head-high cattails that mark the pot holes and sloughs that provide the only visible features in this vast land of prairie and endless grain fields.

Then there are the PLOTS sections. Untilled and uncut grasslands, much like undisturbed nationally sponsored CRP land that North Dakota farmers here leave for wintering pheasants and other local wildlife.

Working partnership

PLOTS is a well-designed partnership between farmers and North Dakota wildlife officials that provide good hunting cover for local and non-resident hunters who have made the trip just for a few days of wild flushes and fast shooting.

Oh, what about that coffee?

Here are the directions

Go to the end of your drive then turn north and west. The quick way is by turnpike and other interstates. Drive about 15 hours, or until your eyes glaze over, then pull into St. Cloud, Minnesota.

Crash for a few hours, feast on the motel’s free breakfast, then resume the trek west. The sun will be popping up behind you so don’t worry about the glare.

Look for signs

Eventually, you’ll see signs for Bismarck. That’s a good thing, because that’s where you can actually turn the steering wheel.

Now its north for a couple hours, leave the pavement for gravel, then dirt, and finally, whoopee, you are here in Turtle Lake. Really.

Sorry, the coffee is cold. But on the other hand, if all goes as planned, the hunting is hot.

Last fall on this same week, we were chasing ducks on Devil’s Lake, just a short drive from here. We were weathered out that week but this trip looks a bit better; in fact it is global warming kind of week.

Blowing winds

The winds may be an issue — a typical Dakota challenge — but we’ll deal with them if they do blow into town.

This summer the dry weather was kind to the pheasant population, so we should have plenty of birds to chase. Our host has several good-looking fields waiting for us and our accommodations are as good as any we’ve ever enjoyed.

Time now to load up. Let’s go hunting.

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Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian.

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