North Dakota pheasant hunting gone awry

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I swear the calendar is upside down. It’s autumn up here in North Dakota, but not the chilled air, colorful trees, gray sky autumn all North American hunters look forward to each year.

Hot first day

Opening day of pheasant season here found six Ohio hunters in lightweight T-shirts soaked with sweat. Not the sweat one earns while tramping fields in search of ring neck roosters, but the kind that comes with dog day heat.

Sure, 85 degrees is OK when the mid-day sun is high and bright and the August bite is on for Lake Erie walleyes, but not at all comfortable while pushing brush for hiding birds.

Yeah, we jumped at the chance to reserve this reported honey hole of wild Dakota pheasants for opening day and the following days, but our duffel bags were stuffed with long johns, heavy briar-busting pants and winter sweaters — not for temperatures more suited for a summer visit to the beach. But sweat and chug water we did to the tune of some very spotty bird hunting action.

Hotter second day

Day Two was not much better with more, almost steamy, summer-like temperatures still in the 80s. More sweat and more chasing dreams of heart-stopping flushes, pheasants cackling loudly and hearing fellow hunters yell “rooster.” But dreams were about all we had to show for Day Two, another bust that ended with just a few birds and a lot of tired, sunburned, and discouraged Buckeyes.

Hunting is not all killing. We know that and we never shy from a challenge, but the heat, the absence of fall weather and other detrimental factors had us wondering if the future will hold more of the same growing evidence and visible effect of climate change as summerlike temperatures extend later and later into the year.

Windy day three

Day Three was at least cooler, but along with the drop in temperature came a northwest wind that bent windbreak trees into submission. Gusts near 50 mph and nothing less than a steady 40 mph provided the toughest conditions of the trip. Flushed birds escaped like they were launched into the tail wind and even the yells from nearby buddies went unheard as their words flew by like silent suggestions on the wings of the speeding pheasants.

Every hunting trip comes packaged with if’s and but’s — we know that — but after a 1,400-mile drive to enjoy some the country’s best wing shooting, Mother Nature was pushing us to the limit. We booked this property months before and our annual pheasant trip was anticipated for the best part of a year.

The Dakotas are awesome, hunter-friendly states to visit, and both North and South Dakota are extremely welcoming to non-resident sportsmen. Even landowners in both states are, for the most part, generous with permission slips.

Unexpected guests

Day Four gave us the biggest surprise of the trip. Instead of pheasants that we tried to drive out of standing corn, we pushed out several moose.

Yes, real live moose. Four of them. With corn stalks well above my head, it was like walking in a foot wide tunnel. I saw what appeared to be a huge dark object a few rows to the left and perhaps 10 yards ahead. My thoughts went directly to a dreaded Big Foot, but in seconds I was staring down the muzzle of a very large moose. Then another.

But then why consider anything that weird to be out of line with what was already a crazy trip? We found out later, that there are several moose living in the open fields and prairies of north-central North Dakota. Go figure.

In summary

Next time, we will chase Dakota pheasant later in the season when the millions of acres of corn, sunflower seeds, and other crops are harvested, eliminating nearly impossible to hunt cover.

We did not realize that North Dakota has a truly innovative and effective program known as PLOTS that provides thousands of prime acreage to hunters by partnering with landowners who trade tax breaks for hunter access. But there’s a catch; non-residents can’t hunt PLOTS during the first week of the season and guess where the pheasants retreated to.

As they say in Cleveland: wait ’til next year.

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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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