Watch What You’re Shooting At

February 15, 2009 by  

By Perry Thorvig

It sure was nice of the State of North Dakota to close PLOTS lands to non-resident hunters on the opening of the North Dakota pheasant season last year. It kept a lot of NRs out of the state. We, however, had private land to hunt thanks to North Dakotan Chuck Gosen and his friend Gary. Chuck had cleared the way with Gary to use his land on the opener.

Jerry Vandelac and I left home about 1 p.m. on Friday and got to Bismarck around 7:30. Kenny Ziegler and Mike Ferber got in early in the afternoon and got the camper trailer set up next to Chuck’s garage.

Our Friday evening arrival coincided with a sumptuous birthday party dinner provided by Chuck’s wife Patty. The party was for Gary’s wife who turned 39 that day!!!! (Patty was marvelous again this year. She made two great meals for us on Saturday and Sunday nights. Boy, you just can’t beat her cooking. She also took care of Kirby, my old dog, on Saturday.)

We went to bed early on Friday night in anticipation of an early departure and 20 mile drive to Gary’s place in the morning. I was hurting a little. I had been stung by a bee on the right forearm the day before. Fortunately, there was some ice left over from the birthday party that I could use to place on my arm. It really reduced the swelling and pain associated with the sting. I slept well.

We were out of the driveway and headed for McDonald’s for breakfast at about 6:30 a.m. Several pheasant “dudes” were there to get a McMuffin before heading into the field. They sure had on some pretty Orvis shirts. (Bunch of wussies!) They sure didn’t look like us.

There was a steady stream of traffic headed out of town in the pre-dawn darkness. The red trail of tail-lights going up the highway and over the far hill reminded me of morning rush hour in the Twin Cities. It was not very amusing, however, when three cars in front of us turned off the main highway and headed toward our hunting location. It was even less amusing when those cars did not drop off to places along the way and turned into the section we were planning to hunt. Those cars were joined by others and by the time it was time to make the first steps into the pheasant fields, there were probably 20 orange clad hunters moving all over “our” section. Holy cow, this hunting pressure thing is for real!! We were over 20 miles from town!

The morning was a little cool with a slight wind. The five of us got loaded up and exchanged the strategy for the first push. We had the handicap of hunting with no dog this year. (I had brought my cancer-laden dog Kirby along just for the ride. He is too old and has no lung capacity anymore.) Kenny’s three- year-old weimaraner, Blitzen, had been killed by a car that summer. That tragedy left us with only five human noses to try to hunt pheasants. Could we do it? We all wondered.

Our first push through a shelterbelt resulted in no flushes. How can that be on opening day? It looked like Blitzen would be missed. Other hunters were starting to shoot. As we took a little breather at the end of our first push, we could hear roosters crowing back toward where we had parked the cars. There must be a couple over there, we thought. Chuck and I decided to drive out of the abandoned farm yard back to where we had parked the other car. We would block for the other three hunters. Just as we got to the main road and were about to park our car, Chuck spied a rooster in the grass about 50 yards out. Chuck excitedly pushed me out of the car and said, “Take em.” My shot from the driveway catapulted that rooster out of the grass along with about 10 more birds. Ooohee. That patch was loaded.

Those 10 birds only flew about 20 yards and settled down.

Ahhh, first day birds! What a joy to hunt birds that had not been shot at before. We have hunted this same area the last two years, but in late November. There are a lot fewer birds at that time of year and they are a whole lot wilder.

Our other three hunters were marching steadily toward the center of the pheasant patch. Chuck and I deployed as blockers and waited. We had a lot space to cover. As the rest of our party approached, a rooster jumped into flight and headed southwest between Chuck and me. I mounted the lightweight Remington auto 20 gauge and caught up with the escaping rooster. It was a fairly long shot but the number fives hit home. The first rooster of the morning was on the ground.

Five more birds were shot by our group in about three minutes out of that patch of grass right next to the road. We high-fived and felt good about getting the morning off to a nice start. We lost no birds for lack of a dog.

We then headed for the abandoned railroad grade five miles to the north on Gary’s other property. The brushy, weedy grade looked great. It was. Birds started flushing within a hundred yards of the starting point of the drive. But, these were just the preliminaries. When we got toward the end of our half-mile march, the roosters really started to pop from the cattails along the edge of the grade. Chuck (fastest gun in the west) got some good shooting while blocking the end of the grade. However, several birds still escaped because we did not have enough blockers.

We walked an uneventful quarter-mile to the north to a ten-acre slough. The cover was a little light and only produced a few hens. We trudged another half mile back to the road where Chuck met us. The whole mile and a half walk down the grade and through the slough resulted in four more birds. Flushes and shooting had been good, but not spectacular.

It was now about lunchtime. We drove the five miles back to Gary’s place and pulled into the farmyard for a little picnic lunch. We lounged around for 45 minutes in the warm October sun and congratulated each other for a good morning’s shoot. We only had a few birds to go for our limit. After finishing lunch, we set up our drive through the shelterbelts surrounding the farmyard. The shelterbelts form a letter “b” with the long tail being along the west side of the driveway. The loop in the “b” encircles the farmyard and buildings. We decided to start at the lower right (southeast corner) of the “b” and work west toward the tail and then north.

The first stretch of shelterbelt is only about a 100 yards long and 30 yards from where we were eating lunch. Our five-person party split in two. Three of us went over to the east to start the push. The other two went to a little driveway break in the shelterbelt to block. The drivers started in and it was only a matter of steps before roosters started flushing. Those son-of-a-guns had been in there watching us eat lunch. The shooting and yelling was hot and heavy for the guys on the north side of the shelterbelt. I never got a shot since I was walking the south side of the belt.

We counted birds when we got to the end of the short stretch of shelterbelt – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and ten from the morning. Damn, we were done for the day and it was only 1:00 p.m!! And, I never got a shot after lunch.

We headed to town and cleaned birds. We spent the late afternoon socializing and eagerly awaiting Patty’s great home cooked meal.

Saturday night, Mike Ferber’s brother-in-law to be, Randy, called to see if we were going out in the morning. He wanted to go along if he could. None of us, except Mike, knew him. But, we told him to be at our place by 7:00 a.m. Randy showed up right on time and brought along a little surprise. His small golden lab, Chrissy bolted from the car as he got out to introduce himself to us. After Randy gave us a few verbal shots about being Minnesota hunters (like hunting deer from trees), we left in two vehicles to pursue the wily ringnecks. (Randy would take a few shots from us later in the day, too.)

It was good to be hunting behind a dog. Little Chrissy made an immediate impression. She had a good nose. The first flush was brought down by the last shooter in line (me) as the bird passed five other hunters who didn’t have the sleep seeds out of their shooting eyes yet. Chrissy bolted toward the downed bird and came running back with a mouthful of pheasant. Nice job.

We hit the RR grade again and repeated out success from the day before.

On our way back to Gary’s for lunch Mike, Randy, and I worked a fence line on the west edge of Gary’s place. I drove up about a half mile and blocked with my lame old dog Kirby. It was a chance for Kirby to get out of the car and pretend to hunt. Mike, Randy, and Chrissy made the long walk up the gentle slope to where I was blocking. Randy kept Chrissy in check by occasionally giving her a correction on her shock collar. Each time, she made a yelp. The walk up the fence line was just a walk. No birds.

Mike and Randy continued further south past me toward a thicker patch of grass and trees. Kirby and I joined them for a short walk just to give Kirby a little exercise. We had walked no more than 30 yards when a long tailed ringneck flushed with a cackle and surprised us because he had been so close to where Kirby and I were posting. Mike and Randy put the lead in the air. Unfortunately, only a little of it hit the bird. It was impaired though, and glided into the patch of grass and trees.

We worked that patch hard but could not find that bird. Finally, Kirby and I gave up and walked back to the car. He had had enough exercise. We were about half-way back to the car when I heard a weird sequence of sounds. Randy and Mike may have flushed that rooster again as they continued down the fence line. I heard two or three shots and then a yelp from Chrissy as if she had been corrected by Randy. It seemed strange that Randy would give her a correction on her collar right after a shot was taken. It sounded like they got the bird though.

I continued my walk back to the car. I swung the car around and drove down the prairie road to pick up Mike and Randy. I didn’t get too far before they were on there way back. Mike had a funny look on his face as he came up to my rolled down window and said, “I shot the dog.” Now, I was absolutely shocked. So that’s what that yelp was about after the shots were fired.

Poor Chrissy had run after the low flying pheasant and run right into Mike’s shot string. Mike had shot her right in the ass! Chrissy was bleeding from her rump and from her ears. Some of the pellets had gone right up the flanks of the dog and caught her in the ears.

 The dog was piled into the back of the SUV and bled all over our stuff. We made the short drive to the farmyard. Lunch was put on hold until we could tend to Chrissy’s needs. The little lab never made a whimper as we tried to stop the bleeding and clean her up a little. Fortunately we were able to stop most of the bleeding.

Needless to say, Randy’s and Chrissy’s hunting was done for the day. Randy was going back to town to see if the dog had to go to the vet. She was roughed up but did look like she was going to be okay.

We ate out sandwiches in near silence. None of us knew quite what to say. But, all of us were thinking, “Nice going Ferb. You will be lucky to marry that guy’s sister!”

Ferb will have to live with this little incident for the rest of his hunting days with our crew. And, knowing this crew, they won’t let him forget it.


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