Silver Dollar Slough Pheasants

February 15, 2009 by  

By PJ Maguire

PJ spends most of his time hunting pheasants in the winter

PJ spends most of his time hunting pheasants in the winter

With the majority of the waterfowl south of North Dakota, all signs pointed towards a late season pheasant hunt in early winter. The corn was harvested and the sloughs were frozen, providing ideal conditions for late season birds. My good friends Lars and Jason Dyrdahl, had invited me to south eastern North Dakota all the way back in September, and after work on a Friday Jason and I were on the road.

We met Lars and a family friend Gordon at a small town bar and washed down dinner with a few cocktails. We discussed a few details of the morning hunt and did a little story telling. Jason says, “If you can’t have fun in North Dakota, there’s something wrong with ya!” I have been agreeing with him since my freshman year at UND six long years ago.

Our Saturday morning started with a free pancake breakfast provided at the local legion sponsored by the Shriners. Truthfully, I could not believe the breakfast was free and kept wondering were I was supposed to pay. The hospitality one receives in small town North Dakota is unmatched.

At 9 o’clock we arrived at Lars’s nephew’s farm to meet a few more hunters to join in our party. Lars removed his shotgun from its case and smiled at me, “Five dollars for the first pheasant?” he asked. I replied by taking out my over under, and Lars and I followed two little female black labs into a small slough behind Casy’s house.

We had walked almost to the end when Lars yelled, “Hey PJ, are you seeing any signs over there!”

“There’s a few tracks.” I replied, as a dozen pheasants took off within seconds of each other. I was scanning for roosters when I saw some color out of the corner of my eye. It flushed a little out of range for me, but was soon followed by a single report. I assumed Lars had fired at the rooster that was closer to him; when I saw Chewy, his black lab, deliver a different bird.

Lars was on the board, and that is pretty much how the rest of the day went. We walked mostly frozen “silver dollar” or smaller sloughs. We had the best success hunting ones that were surrounded by either corn or beans. Jason and Lars’s relatives farm for the birds, often leaving rows of standing corn and beans around cover.

Dogs played a major role in locating the birds. On Saturday it was raining and on Sunday it was snowing. If the birds were not flushing out of range, they were holding tight in hopes we would walk past them. We had met up with some more family members for a long walk through a CRP field, which contained slough bottoms. On this walk we followed six flushers; two male chocolate labs, two female black labs, one male yellow lab and a springer spaniel. The dogs hunted hard for birds that were running and holding tight.

Saturday afternoon I again found myself across a slough from Lars, each of us following our respective lab into the wind. We only flushed one pheasant on that walk, and it was a rooster. Cullie, my black lab, flushed it directly in front of me and I folded it with one shot. The bird seamed to explode out of the cattails in slow motion. I thought to myself, “now that right there was worth the price of admission.”

Beautiful views while pheasant hunting

Beautiful views while pheasant hunting

We hunted almost until dark, taking a small break in the afternoon for a soda and homemade Tatter Tot hot dish. Our initial group of four hunters ended up one bird short of our daily limit with eleven. Great hunts do not always end in limits, we saw a ton of pheasants that day and the dogs needed rest. There would be plenty of fresh sloughs to hunt the following morning.

I awoke to a winter wonderland outside and eggs, toast and coffee on the kitchen table. A boot dryer had saved all of us hunters from having to place our dry feet into wet boats. I would highly recommend you invest in one if you spend a lot of time in the outdoors. Over breakfast Lars instructed, “When you hunt in the snow, if you don’t see any tracks, you’re wasting your time and that goes for all game. ” With snow on the ground you can tell if birds using the cover you are hunting; especially with fresh now. Just another plus of hunting pheasants in early winter.

Using blockers when hunting for late season pheasants is a must. Birds often will fly out the end of the sloughs if there is not a hunter there to block them. Blockers often get the closest shots, however they may be more difficult crossing shots. When hunting with Lars and Jason they usually have me block, because my Minnesota legs have a hard time in the deep cattails.

By twelve o’clock the four of us had nine roosters in the bag. Hunting in the snow was turning out to be more productive then in the rain, but with a drive back home we decided to call it a day. Early winter is my favorite time of the year to hunt pheasants, it provides one last chance to get out and hunt in a slough.


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