Public Land Roosters

February 15, 2009 by  

By PJ McQuire

PJ McQuire - always smiling

PJ McQuire - always smiling

“I could have shot that one.” said UND student Nick Anderson, as a Mallard flew over us at the break of dawn, the skyline pink in the East.

At that moment there were nine of us sitting on a gravel road just south of Bismarck moments away from the 2004 pheasant season. Ahead of us was a P.L.O.T.S. section of grass and cattails. Two dogs whined in their kennels as rooster pheasants crowed in the field.

The land we were about to hunt was open to public hunting, but only residents for the first week of the pheasant season. P.L.O.T.S. stands for: Private Lands Open to Sportsman. This program serves two purposes; providing habit for animals and public land for hunters. Currently, there is a couple thousand more acres in this program than there was at this time last year.

As the legal shooting hour arrived we lined up along the road and made our way into the cover. Of course I had lined up right in front of the tall cattails. Within the first ten yards of our opening drive we had pheasants flushing. The first three birds I saw were hens. I heard more people calling out “hen” until I actually saw flying birds.

About fifty yards in, a rooster exploded next to me flying out behind us. I quickly fired the first shot of the morning. Too quickly, I clearly missed and the bird was stuck by pellets before my autoloader could cycle another round. My buddy Nate’s dog (no pun intended), Rudy, quickly found and retrieved the bird.

About halfway into our drive we only had three birds in the bag. Not the start that the group had hoped for, but that’s pheasant hunting. Brad Anderson (Fargo), planned all the details and looked like a frustrated, losing coach at halftime. Amazing how quickly an attitude can change with a flush and another bird was on the ground. Things were suddenly on the up and up and smiles were appearing on everyone’s face.

As our group headed into the second pass of our drive the sun was to our backs. This made the identification of the male or rooster pheasants a little easier. Especially that early in the season when there is a lot of young birds out and about, not fully dressed for the occasion.

Suddenly, the dogs started to become real “birdy” as we got closer and closer to the gravel road. When we were about fifty yards out we got the first big flush of the day.

About fifteen pheasants took to the air. Only three of them were identified as roosters, two of them meeting their fate. “That rooster that got away was sponsored by Federal.” joked Matt Jones, a junior undecided major. I wasn’t close enough to shoot at any of the birds, which was a good thing for the still flying bird. Either way we shot two more pheasants before the drive was done and huddled at the pick-ups.

It was a nice clear day and we split into two groups to hunt smaller P.L.O.T.S. sections for the rest of the morning. Matt Levi, Brad, Nick and I had our limit of fifteen birds before the sun settled in the West. We did hunt pretty hard for the birds we got, except for when we stopped for a greasy burger and when we took a nap in a roadside ditch.
 
I  would like to thank Brad Anderson and Nate, aka Smiley, for another awesome weekend.

For this group of North Dakota college students, the opener was excellent and we owe it to the P.L.O.T.S. program, sponsored by the ND Game & Fish Department.

Once more of the crops are taken down and the birds cover is reduced, the hunting will get increasingly more productive. Late in the season is my favorite time to hunt, so I’ve still got a lot to look forward to!


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