As a pheasant hunter, it almost seems embarrassing to say I’d never been to North Dakota to chase ringnecks. Living one state east, a lot of stories come back over the border of pheasant, sharptail and Hungarian partridge hunts like those of “the good ole days.” So, it was fitting that my first hunt for the first leg of Rooster Road Trip 2013 be in the Rough Rider State.
With Bismarck as our headquarters, we spent a total of three days in North Dakota, the first two shaking off the rust on our swings and checking to make sure our electronics were in working order in preparation for the Rooster Road Trip.
Day one, the other two amigos and I were freelancing for an evening hunt at “Witching Hour” on a Wildlife Management area just east of Bismarck. With three dogs that had been in a car all day, we were all ready to see some bluestem. On cue with the stories, birds started erupting within the first 200 yards into the hunt. Rust there was, my friends, because it took our swings a while to catch up and those birds all seemed to have recently gotten their diplomas.
My setter, Annie, and I split off from Anthony and Andrew’s flushers and rounding a hilltop, ran into a dozen birds hunkered in for the evening. My Browning Citori 725 loaded up with Federal Prairie Storm neatly folded my first North Dakota Rooster at 35 yards. With one bird in the bag, Annie’s tail was cracking and she doubled back over before I could get a few steps in. Working through the soft edge, a Yeti-sized bird got up to my left and a quick shot folded it. On my first day in North Dakota, one of the youngest birds and one of the oldest birds I’ve ever shot ended up in my bag.
Day two brought the opportunity to meet up with Matt Olson, Pheasants Forever’s North Dakota regional representative, and Kurt Swenson, chapter officer for Knife River Pheasants Forever. We started with a piece of native prairie ground PF is trying to permanently protect by pushing for national “Sodsaver” legislation. A virgin prairie virgin myself, I was anxious to see what it was all about, and I quickly found out what all the talk was about. The birds were piled in the undisturbed creek draw. Beau, Andrew’s lab, expertly worked and put up a rooster in front of me crossing left to right. That’s one.
While the guys went to get the cars, Andrew and I headed off for a tree grove and I was in for a surprise….sharptails…and roosters…and more sharptails. Sadly, the grouse got the best of me, but in between the grouse, a lone rooster flushed on a left to right quarter. Two quick shots and Beau found it on the other side of the grove. A hundred yards down, I saw Annie on point. Navigating through what seemed like ruffed grouse woods, a rooster got up. Another two shots and a little bit of luck brought it down in the woods. With the second rooster, Annie and I had our limit – my first pheasant limit of the 2013 season.
That afternoon, we went to hunt some of the Knife River Pheasants Forever chapter work. In North Dakota, south of the interstate (I-94), PF chapters focus on nesting cover. North of the interstate, PF chapters primarily focus on winter cover. North of the interstate, meant the chapter had done plenty of work planting tree groves throughout the surrounding properties.
Again, within the first 20 yards, two roosters barreled out left and eluded us. Leave some for seed, I guess. Beau and Sprig, Andrew and Anthony’s dogs, were hot on the trail, and working through a shelter belt, Anthony knocked down a full-bloom rooster with his Browning Cynergy, and Sprig closed the day down with a perfect retrieve to hand, a first for him.
There has to be something in the water out this way, because these were some incredibly striking pheasants.
Day three of North Dakota brought higher winds, lower temperatures and shorter time frame to hunt. With Rod Stockdill, Sakakawea Pheasants Forever chapter officer, we hunted U.S. Army Corps of Engineer Grounds near Garrison. “It’s the most public land you’re going to find in this part of the state,” Rod warned us before we got to the field.
Anyone who says you can never have too much of good thing hasn’t seen thousands of acres of continuous pheasant habitat. Some of the best grass I’ve stepped, it proved too much for our young dogs and the cagey birds were able to run for what seemed liked miles and duck our shots in endless tree groves provided by the chapter.
Moving to our second spot, the above held true, and while we weren’t able to connect on any roosters, we saw enough pheasants and sharptails to make me want to immediately check my calendar to see when I can use the last half of my license.
Annie’s first time in the “Big Country” of North Dakota, I was able to track her progress. Over the two fields we hunted, she covered 9.61 miles with an average speed of 6.31 miles per/hour with updates thanks to my Garmin Alpha.
Thanks, North Dakota! Next stop South Dakota.