Tina’s Refuge – Tension Between Hunters and Land Owners

February 15, 2009 by  

By Perry Thorvig

Ike and Tina Marsh took a rare break to sit in their rural North Dakota farmyard on a warm August evening. The sky was blue, but turning to a dust filtered orange as the sun dropped toward the wide western horizon beyond the Missouri River. There was just a whisper of wind. For a long time, they said nothing. They enjoyed the solitude and just sat quietly and listened to nature. Even what seems to be a quiet prairie evening is full of rural sounds. The crickets chirped at a rapid rate. An occasional mosquito was swatted. The cicadae also joined the chorus. In the distance, the neighbor’s cows could be heard mooing. But, the most penetrating sound was that of “their” pheasant roosters. “Ca-cuk, Ca-cuk.”

There are a lot of pheasants on Ike and Tina’s rented 40 acres. There is a little slough to the east of the house that is wet for a while in the spring and early summer. An abandoned railroad track cuts through their property in an east/west direction about two hundred yards north of the house. To the north of that, on the neighbor’s property, is another little slough.

Ike and Tina do not raise any live stock or grow any crops on their 40 acres. They just rent the property and live there. Their very old house, where a new front porch is being started, sits on the east side of a thick grove that is about a 60 yards long and 40 yards deep. The only other domestic creature on their rural property is a black lab. The pheasants on their 40 acres are like Ike and Tina’s children. They love to watch them and listen to their crowing.

Nature’s chorus was broken by Tina. She said, “Ike, what are we going to do about all the hunters that will be here in a few weeks? They just drive me nuts. I just hate those guns and all that shooting. One of these days, those maniacs are going to shoot right through our kitchen window.”

Ike said, “Well first, Tina, it will be six weeks yet before season starts, but, I don’t really know what to do. All we can do is make sure our no hunting signs are up and keep a watch on the road and out back.” Out back, just beyond their property line, is a slough that is connected to Ike and Tina’s main slough. It is shielded from the house by a couple of small barns. It is a partial dump for somebody’s abandoned farm equipment. But, it holds a lot of roosters.

Two years ago, a hunter turned into the Marsh’s farmyard driveway and made his way cautiously to the front door to ask permission to hunt on the main slough on Ike and Tina’s property. There were a dozen pheasants prancing on the dried up slough bottom in sight of the road. Their dog began to bark and moved toward the hunter. The hunter didn’t think the dog was a problem but attempted to defuse a confrontation by saying, “Hey boy, how ya doing?” The dog began to wag his tail in a more welcoming manner.

Tina answered the knock on the door. It was past 9:00 A.M. on opening Saturday of pheasant season, but she was still in her flannel pajamas. The hunter made his standard request when asking permission to hunt. “Good morning. Say, we are out pheasant hunting this morning. We have permission to hunt on your neighbor’s property down the road. But, we noticed several pheasants in the slough out past the barn here. Do you mind, if we hunt those birds?” Tina dropped her chin and turned her eyes away from the hunter. She quietly, almost apologetically said, “No, we don’t allow anyone to hunt here.” Then, her husband, Ike, walked up to the door from the barn and joined the conversation. He said that they had experienced “some problems” and didn’t want anyone hunting there. There was some additional pointing of fingers toward the north property line by the hunter and the farmer.

The hunter thanked them for their time and told them that he understood. He returned to the car to relay the message to his hunting partner. His partner responded to the bad news by saying, “Damn, too bad we can’t hunt that patch. It is one sweet spot.” “You got that right,” said the hunter. “Look at all those birds still prancing around out there. Well, it looks like we can still hunt those tree rows to the north across the abandoned railroad right of way because their property stops out there just beyond that far barn. There should be a fence line there.”

That was the hunter’s first contact with the Marshes. It wouldn’t be his last.

The two hunters joined two more and hunted the railroad grade and tree rows around the edges of the Marsh’s property. The hunting was good.

The next year, the hunters were again successful in the general area around the Marsh property. Their 40 acres was a private refuge for the pursued ringnecks. They were safe in Ike and Tina’s back yard. But, birds did stray from the “refuge.” A few of them were taken by the hunters.

Even though the hunters were careful not to trespass, they did walk right along the outside of the Marsh’s property fence. Tina saw the hunters from the house. She fumed. She wished they would all go away.

Ike and Tina had recently moved to their country house from somewhere else. The farm house, like so many others in this part of the county, had been vacant for several years. What seemed so nice for Tina during most of the year became a prison during the hunting season. All those guns and all those hunters frightened Tina. Strange hunters knocked on the door seeking permission to hunt and they prowled the edge of her property. She felt as though she lived in Bismarck with people all around her. She couldn’t wait for hunting season to end each year.

The most recent season was the latest of her nightmares. On October 9, the parade of hunters began again. A large group of them arrived early on the opener to hunt the railroad grade a half mile to the east. Three hunters decked out in their orange vests yelled at their dogs as they pushed toward Ike and Tina’s. They were 3/4’s of a mile away as they started their opening drive of the season. They would join three blockers within a quarter mile of the Marsh property.

The pheasants ran from the abandoned RR grade like rats escaping a sinking ship as the hunters and their dogs pushed west. The hunters then pushed the railroad grade for another quarter mile up to the edge of the Marsh property. Tina heard their shots and could see them a quarter mile away. She watched the hunters walk along her property line until they got to the tree rows. There, they spread out and pushed further west along the north edge of her property as more shots were fired. “Ike,” she hollered, “they’re out there again.” Ike knew they were, but they weren’t on his property and were more than 440 yards from the farm buildings. There was nothing he could legally do. North Dakota’s “no hunting” distance requirements meant nothing to Tina. If she could see hunters, they were too close.

The hunters banged away at the flushing roosters. They were having a great time on opening day. They were exuberant – perhaps a little too much so. They finished their push and hopped into the vehicles of the waiting blockers. The adrenaline and testosterone levels were elevated in those old guys. They had to drive back past the Marsh’s driveway to the point where they started their morning push for pheasants. Just east of the driveway, several nice roosters were seen along the road. The last of the vehicles contained the most exuberant hunter. He jumped from the car and pummeled a rooster that was late to leave the sparse ditch grass. Just as the last shot was fired, Tina burst through her front door and began screaming at the hunters who were down the road somewhere around the 440 yard limit. “You guys can’t be shooting there. You are too close to our property.” The exuberant hunters retrieved their bird and hopped in their truck.

They joined the rest of the group a short distance away. They were watching roosters some 200 yards out on the edge of the sunflower field on the south side of the road across from Ike and Tina’s property. “What was she screaming about this time?” one hunter asked. “Oh, she didn’t want us shooting that close to her house,” the exuberant hunter replied. “You were beyond 440 yards, weren’t you?, he was asked. “Ya, I think so, but you know her.”

The next day, there was another confrontation. The hunting was so good around the Marsh property that the hunters returned for more action. One of the new hunters to the group strayed over the property fence and trespassed on the Marsh’s property. Tina and Ike were watching again. “Ike, you get out there and tell those guys to get the hell off our land.” Ike was a little steamed too and followed his wife’s command.

He intercepted the hunters along his north property line. He was going to get to the bottom of this. By now, the hunters were back on the north side of the fence and off Ike’s property. An annoyed Ike said, “You guys trespassed back there and are really upsetting my wife. You are going to have to quit hunting when you reach the end of the tree line.”

The new hunter apologized and explained that this was the first time he had hunted this area with the group and was not told to get on the right side of the fence. A discussion followed where Ike alleged that his property went beyond the fence line out 30 more yards to beyond the first tree row. The hunters politely countered that it seemed unlikely that the fence was 30 yards inside the property line and that they were not on Ike’s property.

The debate went no further than that. Ike hopped in his pickup and wound his way around the edge of his dry slough back to report to Tina.

The hunters continued their push down the tree line. Now, the roosters really started to pop. More shots were fired. Tina was as hot as the gun barrels of the hunters. “Ike, go down the road and get those guys out of here. I don’t care if they are on the neighbor’s land or not,” she said. Ike dutifully, got in the pickup, yet again, and drove down to the end of tree line where the blockers were waiting and also shooting birds pushed by the drivers. Ike confronted one of the blockers and told him, “You guys are about done here?” “Yes we are,” replied the blocker and waived for the guys to finish their push. The hunters climbed out of the ditch and left the area.

“Boy, those people are sure touchy,” the exuberant hunter exclaimed. He wanted to know why Ike wanted them out of there since the hunters were not on Ike’s property. One of the hunters trying to de-escalate the confrontation that was developing was annoyed at the exuberant hunter’s attitude and said, “What difference does it make what their reasons are? We didn’t ask him why he wanted us to leave. They just don’t want us out here. It’s pretty obvious. Their fed up with us poking around on the edge of their property.” The exuberant hunter snarled back, “Hey, I just wanted to know. We have our rights too. ”

This particular group of hunters were done with the opener and left the area for several weeks. However, other unknowing groups of hunters encountered birds passing between Tina’s slough and the sunflower field just across the road to the south. The drooling hunters repeatedly pestered the Marshes asking if they could hunt the slough just beyond their barns. The answer was always, “No.” But, the response got more emphatic as the season progressed until it was a resounding, “NO, WE’VE HAD ENOUGH OF YOU HUNTERS FOR A YEAR!”

Three of the group of seven hunters that infuriated Tina on the opening weekend of the season returned on the Friday after Thanksgiving. They drove several hours to work their dog and shoot a few birds. On Sunday, at about 8:05 A.M. they approached Ike and Tina’s place from the west and saw a rooster standing on the road. “There’s one,” said the excited driver.” “No way,” said the hunting companion in the front seat, “that bird’s headed for the grove of “our friend’s” house. We don’t want to piss her off so early in the morning.” The driver didn’t even tap the breaks to slow down. As the hunters reached the Marsh driveway they saw several more birds in the ditch. “Too close,” said the hunter riding shotgun.

These hunters had learned that the road ditches were off limits until they were a half-mile down the road. A rooster scampered across the road and dove into the grass under the barbed wire fence along the road ditch. It would have been easy.

The hunters proceeded a half-mile further down to the section road. They were now 3/4 of a mile from Ike and Tina’s. Two of the hunters and their dog left the car and prepared to start a half-mile walk along the grassy, abandoned railroad grade into a stinging northwest wind. The hunter that was going to block the grade doubled back on the road toward Ike and Tina’s and got out to post a half-mile from their house. As he pulled on his mittens, he looked west toward Tina’s refuge. It was about 8:15 A.M. Pheasants were already flying back to the slough after feeding in the sunflowers on the south side of the road. The hunter counted 67 birds glide across the road just over the top of the telephone wire. Others were walking back across the road.

Two pickups with their lights still on approached from the west toward Ike and Tina’s place and the hunter who was watching them. One of them blew dust right past the Marsh’s place. But, one stopped quickly not far beyond their driveway. A road hunter and his dog hit the gravel. They were five feet out of their car headed for a bird in the ditch when a scream came from the nearby farm house door. Tina was awake already. “You can’t be shooting there. You are too close to our property.” “Sorry,” called the sheepish hunter, caught in the act. Their voices carried a long way in the quiet morning air.

The hunter who was supposed to get down to the end of the railroad grade to block for his two buddies, lingered next to his car watching the drama down the road involving the hopeful road hunter and Tina. He chuckled when he heard her screech from almost a half-mile away. The road hunter was now approaching him. The hunter who had watched the road hunter get admonished by Tina, held up his left hand and flagged down the road hunter. The road hunter slowed his vehicle to a stop and rolled down his window. He had a questioning look on his face. Now what?

The watching hunter stepped toward the road hunter’s vehicle and said with a grin, “I knew she was going to chew your ass ” The road hunter’s face broke into a smile when he said, “Oh, that would have been such an easy bird, too.” “Ya, I know, we have had run-ins with her before,” said the other hunter.

The hunter had watched the birds crossing the road and Tina’s performance too long. He needed to hurry up and get out to the grade to block for the approaching walkers and their dog. All three of them were disappointed. No birds were flushed at the end of the grade. The drivers proceeded to the shelterbelts on the north side of the Marsh property. The blocker hopped back in his vehicle and drove past a watchful Tina. He turned north just past her grove and down a quarter mile to where his two hunting partners would emerge from the shelterbelt in ten minutes and enter the slough near the road.

The drivers flushed a few hens, but no roosters, until they got down into the slough area 75 yards from the road where the blocking hunter waited for them. Then, a rooster flushed off the end of the keen Weimaraner’s nose. Three shots were fired as the bird tried to fly untouched toward Tina’s refuge. He made it across the fence line but the hunter’s third shot folded the ringneck. Tina’s antennae detected the three shots.

The blocker joined his two partners in the slough to see if they could bust another rooster in the thick grass and cattails near the road. Two minutes later, old Ike, who had been dispatched by Tina, drove slowly down the road and parked right on his property line extension to the gravel road. He watched the hunters as they approached his fence line. It was almost like he was daring them to get any closer to the fence.

Remembering the confrontation in the same spot six weeks earlier, the blocker said, “That’s it boys. We better get out of here.” “What do you mean?” the other two hunters protested. “We are not on his property,” they shouted. “You know, I am getting a little pissed that he is out here harassing us again,” continued one of the hunters. “Besides, that old red thing he’s driving could get sprayed with Number 4’s if a bird gets up and flies that way. He is not parked in a very smart place.”

“Just calm down,” said the blocker. “We know that they are protective of their property. We have finished our drive. Let’s just get out of here and leave them alone.”

The hunters crawled up out of the ditch next to the slough and put their guns into the back of the waiting SUV. Ike left without saying a word. He drove slowly toward his grove and to the house to report to Tina. “Did you say anything to them?” she asked Ike. “No,” he replied, “they were not on our property and it looked like they knew that they better end their hunt because I was watching them.” Tina said in frustration, “Maybe, we made a mistake moving out here.” Ike did not respond.

Maybe they did.

These hunters, and others, will be back next year. Tina’s refuge holds birds that fan out to feed in adjacent fields. The hunters know that. They are trying to figure out a way to appease the Marshes while still participating in their favorite North Dakota fall pastime.


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