North Dakota: Wind and Pheasants!

A lucky hunter with his unlucky pheasant.

“I’m really a lucky hunter, or that’s a really unlucky pheasant,” I told Kevin, as we admired the long-tailed pheasant.

We were in North Dakota last week to visit our son, Kevin, and his family, and to spend a few days chasing pheasants, and renewing our father/son hunting traditions.

Kevin started tagging along on pheasant hunts when he was around six years old, and after he was 12 years old and passed hunter safety, he started carrying his own shotgun as we pursued pheasants and other upland birds together.

We had just started our pheasant walk on a wildlife management area, and I was walking along the edge of a shelterbelt that marked the edge of the public hunting area. A pheasant flushed just a couple feet from me and turned on the afterburners to get out of range. I barely had time for a shot and I thought I’d missed.

Kevin watched the action from about 20 yards away and came over and said, “I ‘m pretty sure you hit the pheasant. I could see it flinch and it looked like it was having trouble staying up.”

It’s a sick feeling when you know you’ve wounded a pheasant, or any other game animal, for that matter, and the top priority is to track it down and end its suffering, but it’s a fact of life that a wounded pheasant can go a long way and never be found.

We walked into the shelterbelt and started searching the weed and brush patches. At the outer edge of the tree line, Kevin looked out at the wheat stubble field that borders the wildlife management area and said, “That looks like tail feathers out there.” Sure enough, a set of pheasant tail feathers was sticking above the tall stubble. We walked over and picked up a dead pheasant. There was bleeding from its beak. We surmised it had taken a single pellet in the head and went so far and then dropped dead, pitching headfirst into the wheat stubble.

A post-mortem examination that afternoon seemed to confirm that. The body was unmarked; one lucky pellet did the job on a pheasant that had survived its first year, passed its genes on to another generation, and suddenly ran out of luck.

I hunted by myself the previous day, and in fairly pleasant weather I ran into a bunch of younger pheasants. I connected with a young rooster that fell in open cover. I had barely resumed the walk and flushed another one, and dropped it.

The results of a pleasant morning walk on public lands.

I completed a loop back to where I’d started mywalk a couple hours earlier and Kiri, my black Labrador retriever, and I stopped for a sandwich break. After that pleasant rest we started a new walk and we hadn’t gone for more than 50 yards when Kiri flushed a rooster pheasant. I barely had time to shoot, but could see it go down. It took a while, but Kiri eventually caught up with it, and we’d completed our limit for the day.

Kevin and I took a day off from hunting because of a wet snowy day that would have made long hikes an exercise in misery. It’s also a concession to age. Misery isn’t as much fun as it might have been 40 years ago.

Wind was the main story of the next outing. The temperature was a moderate 40 degrees and the wind was out of the south, but it wasn’t a warm wind. The wind was roaring, and the surf was rolling on Lake Sakakawea, the Missouri River impoundment.

We weren’t seeing many pheasants, and most were flushing far ahead. Finally, we flushed a rooster pheasant and both of us shot and we saw it go down. Still it didn’t look like a solid hit, and there was no bird in the spot where we saw it drop. This is where Kiri took over. She found the scent and followed it through heavy cover, finally cornering it for Kevin to pick up.

I figure Kiri earned a years-worth of kibble with that bird.

Kevin and a really unhappy pheasant.

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