North Dakota’s Wily Pheasants

Public lands pheasant habitat – owned by all the people of America

Something we always look forward to is our autumn trip to Minot, North Dakota, to see Kevin and Jen, our son and daughter in law, and, purely coincidentally, of course, do some pheasant hunting, too. The area we hunt is public Wildlife Management Areas along Lake Sakakawea, the big impoundment on the Missouri River. I first started hunting there over 40 years ago, when we were living in North Dakota, so I have a lot of memories of hot spots, past hunts and hunting companions, both two and four-legged, piled up in my memory bank.

 We usually try to take this trip over the Halloween weekend, but I had conflicts, so we did the trip the first week of November.

 I hunted alone on our first day there, as Kevin had to work—he’s a mathematics professor at Minot State University. Our black Labrador retriever, Kiri, would be my hunting partner for the day.

 We started our hunt at an access point to the WMA that has been a favorite spot for many years. It’s next to a couple long shelterbelts that almost always produce some pheasant action. A quick indicator was when I let Kiri out of the truck and she immediately ran into the brush and flushed a rooster pheasant before I had even gotten my gun out of the truck. We had just started our walk when a covey of Hungarian partridge flushed. As is usually the case, when the birds flushed, I was so startled that the birds were out of shooting range before I could get my gun up.

As that first pheasant indicated, seeing pheasants is not the same as shooting pheasants.

Kiri put up at least half a dozen pheasants as we walked along this brushy shelterbelt. Some went the wrong direction, going off into the adjacent grainfield, unfortunately off-limits. Some got up in thick brush so I couldn’t see if it was a rooster or a protected hen until it was out of range or got up and flew in the direction of the sun, and I couldn’t identify whether it was a rooster until it was out of range. In other words, as I later told a friend, all the usual excuses we have for lack of success.

When Kiri and I got to the end of the shelterbelt, a mile or so from where we started, I looked at a brushy corner and just knew there were pheasants there, both from experience and a strong hunch.

I called Kiri over and we stepped into the heavy cover. I went just a few steps when two pheasants flushed right in front of my boots. One was a rooster, and, in my excitement, my first shot was wild, and my second shot was way behind the rocketing bird, and a solid miss.

Though I was disappointed in my shooting, I had to laugh at myself. In that moment when the pheasants flushed, I mostly reverted to one 15-year-old farm boy on his first pheasant hunt, who was so surprised by the first flush of a pheasant that he almost forgot to shoot and then was almost knocked over by the recoil of his brand new 12-gauge single shot shotgun.

 While I consider myself a pretty good shot on pheasants, I’m not going to be too hard on myself. I’ve had many pheasant hunts over the intervening years and have brought many of those wily birds home for dinner. Still, when the day comes when a pheasant flushing right in front of me doesn’t startle me, I figure it’ll be time for me to quit hunting pheasants.

Kiri enjoying a chance to rest and rejuvenate

The rest of the day was anti-climactic, and the bird that got away was like the big fish that gets away. Those are the ones we remember.

The next couple days, Kevin and I were able to hunt together. I’ll save that story for next week. I don’t want to go into any detail at this time, but I will predict that it will be a good story for Thanksgiving week.

 Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, or online at

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