Pheasant Hunting Tips – Pheasant Hunting in a Hurricane?

February 15, 2009 by  

By Perry Thorvig

If you know me, you probably think this article is going to be about hunting around Hurricane Lake in Pierce County. Or, it has something to do with chasing Hurricanes in Florida, Well, it’s not about either of those topics. But, it is about a hurricane. Do you believe in hurricanes in North Dakota? We all know there are tornadoes, but not hurricanes, right? Wrong!

November 29, 2002 was a day with winds of bonafide hurricane velocities. Wind gusts reached 70 mph in Richardton. It blew at a steady 40 to 50 mph all day. The wind raised holy hell with those of us trying to pheasant hunt on the day after Thanksgiving.

Ken Ziegler, Jerry Vandelac and I left the Twin Cities at 3:00 a.m. on Friday morning on our pheasant hunting trip to Bismarck to meet Chuck Gosen. It was warm with only light winds when we left. It still wasn’t bad in Fargo at 7:00 a.m. when we stopped for gas and a breakfast sandwich. However, by the time we got to Jamestown, the wind had come up substantially. The prairie grasses in the roadside ditches were waving wildly in the freshening breeze. The weather prognosticators were right on the mark that day.

We arrived in Bismarck at about 10 a.m. and picked up Chuck. We were out to Gary’s place by about 11:15 a.m. We planned to hunt the shelterbelt on the west side of his place and around the grove. It was our season’s first foray into North Dakota pheasant country.

The wind was nasty in town, but it was really howling out at the farm. The wind almost whipped the Explorer’s door off its hinges as we disembarked and prepared for the first walk of the day. I pulled my orange hat with the cheek-flaps over my head and engaged the Velcro strips under my chin. Even then, the penetrating wind almost ripped the hat off my head. I readjusted the flaps and leaned into the wind to start the hunt.

Chuck, as designated poster, pulled himself into the truck and headed north to post the end of the shelterbelt. Jerry, Ken, and I started through the quarter mile jungle of gnarled trees and grasses. Jerry and I were the outside wingmen. Kenny took his lean, blue-grey Weimaraner, Blitzen, through the middle. At least Ken was out of the wind, though the tree branches tore at his hands.

I walked the windward side of the shelterbelt about 10 yards out into the lightly plowed wheat stubble waiting for a rooster to bust out of the heavy cover. It wasn’t long before the roosters started popping. There were no low angle takeoffs. These guys catapulted out of the shelterbelt like popcorn out of a popper – straight up. Within a half-second after reaching the top of the trees, the birds were at warp-speed heading southeast with the 50 mph wind. Getting a good whack at these gaudy ringnecks was nearly impossible. But, Jerry, probably our best shooter, was able to bring down one of these prairie missiles in the push through the shelterbelt. His bird had vaulted straight up and was going away fast when his number fours intercepted the bird. Several other shots were fired at rocketing ringnecks, but it was futile. Man, it was hostile out there.

Meanwhile, Chuck, who was posting had to dodge frightened deer that were exploding out of the north end of the belt in front of us pushers. He had to stand with one foot ahead of the other and brace himself to keep from getting blown off the road into the ditch.

Our next stop was a mile away where we had found a good concentration of birds last year. It was a small stream-bed with cattails in the middle and a little water, now ice. Sure enough, the birds were there again this year. However, we were no more than out of the car and pheasants started taking leave of the grassy refuge. Eighty yards upwind, 70 yards upwind. Hen, hen, rooster, hen. Not a shot was fired because the birds were too far away. We worked our way down to the base of a small earthen dam. A rooster jumped in front of Ken and Jerry but made a jet propelled escape. A hillside on the edge of the small reservoir behind the dam held more birds. These wily flyers took wing more than 150 yards ahead of us pursuers.

How the hell could these birds hear us coming when the wind was blowing 50 mph? I couldn’t hear my own footsteps through the howl of the wind under my earflaps. And, the three of us were being as quiet as we could other than a rare call to Blitzen to slow down. But, those pheasants knew we were coming and made hasty departures. A long walk up the draw extending uphill from the dam resulted in just one hen being flushed. Blitzen was on her for a hundred yards before the flush. We were glad to jump into the refuge of Chuck’s waiting truck after our half-mile push up that draw, right into the teeth of the hurricane.

We hadn’t eaten any lunch before we went out that day. Those lone breakfast sandwiches in Fargo were long since turned to calories and burned up by the exhausting walks through the shelterbelts and cattails. We explored one crumbling prairie town for a gas station where we could get a sandwich. Main Street was a ghost town. The only thing that was still in service was the post office. Who did that serve?

A few snow flurries started to fall as we headed for the local town that Chuck knew would have some provisions. The snow came down harder and streaked horizontally across our path as we approached the store. Oh, that’s all we needed, 50 mph winds and snow to boot.

The road to the store contained several pheasant sitings. At one spot, there were three roosters standing on the asphalt roadway. As we got closer, the birds headed for the ditch. One bird stopped about five yards into the adjacent grassy field and tried to hide as I jumped from the car and scampered into the ditch. The wind and snow hit me like a two by four in the face as I got ready to shoot. The bird flushed right in front of me. I was intimidated by the wind and missed an easy first shot. The second shot never came. I only had time to inject one shell into the gun.

The trip back from the convenience store revealed another rooster trying to sneak into slough grass to evade us. This time, all of us leaped from the truck and charged into the little slough. I had just finished wolfing down my sandwich and did not have my gloves on. The gun was full of shells, but the wind ate at my unprotected hands like a wolf chewing on a deer carcass. Five minutes was all we could stand in that little slough. We left. The rooster stayed without a shot being fired.

Another two miles down the road was a spot where we had seen a rooster crawl into a thin fence line on our way to the store. Chuck took me around to post the fence line about three hundred yards north of where Ken and Jerry entered the fence line in pursuit of the bird we hoped would still be there. I hustled across the wheat stubble to post the end of the walk. The snow had turned to sleet and was driven by the hurricane. Ken and Jerry walked right into to the little knives of ice. They pulled the brims of their caps a little lower and stuck their chins against their chests. They would raise their heads only if they heard the bird flush. It never did. Their three hundred yard walk was all their tender pink cheeks could take. I didn’t see any blood, but their cheeks were red when they got to me. The ice, snow, and hurricane wind had virtually debilitated these two rugged outdoorsmen in just three hundred yards. That would be the last major push of the day.

A right turn took us down a nice two-track grassy prairie road as the clock ticked into the last hour of hunting for the day. Several birds flew and ran across the trail about 200 hundred yards in front of us. The field on the right was posted. The 20 acre CRP patch to the left wasn’t posted. Again, we scrambled out of the truck and headed into the unposted CRP. But, this time we were walking with the wind instead of into it. A dozen birds flushed behind us and flew away. Nothing flushed in front of us. We took note of this spot and agreed to return on Sunday.

One more bird crossed the trail about a mile further south as we approached it. This guy was a runner. By the time we got to where he had crossed, he was well into the adjacent field and flew away before we could get a shot.

Our ordeal in the hurricane was over for the day. One bird is all we had been able to shoot. But, we had found some good spots and would return on Sunday if calm returned to the prairie.

We joined a genial group out by Dickinson on Saturday and got a few birds as the conditions began to improve.

Sunday brought us back to Gary’s place. We got two birds there on a Sunday morning that was absolutely gorgeous. The conditions were perfect. There was not a cloud in the sky, about a 10 mph wind and 30 degree temperatures.

As our last effort before we started our long journey home, we drove eight miles over to that grassy prairie road that showed great promise toward the end of the day on Friday. We were only a quarter mile down the road where we had seen the runner on Friday. Jerry spotted what he thought was a rooster on the edge of the trail. I said, “Jerry, one just went into the fence line down there where that bush and shadow area is.” He said, “I thought that was a bird, but it didn’t move.” Jerry loaded up and walked about 75 yards down the road. I followed him in the truck and stopped about 40 yards from where the bird went in. I then jumped out of the car and hopped the fence to block any getaway. Soon, Ken and Chuck joined us in their vehicle. We had the spot where the bird went in surrounded. “This should be a piece of cake if the bird didn’t run down the fence line,” I said to myself. Kenny brought in Blitzen. It took about 10 seconds for Blitz to get on that hiding ringneck. One nudge of Blitzen’s long snout forced a rooster to flush. Ken and Jerry fired and missed because they had to wait for the bird to clear Chuck and the vehicles.

I was the last hope. The bird was getting out there pretty far by now but presented a right to left crossing shot with the light wind. I started the swing behind the bird, swung ahead of it and fired. My 1400 fps lead load caught up to the rooster and broke a wing. Two more shots on the ground as it was trying to run away brought him to a flip-flopping halt. Not a piece of cake after all!


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