North Dakota – hot, hot, and hotter

Tuesday.

North Dakota Enchanted Highway PheasantsThis is not North Dakota weather. By noon, the temperature was 81 degrees and we were hunting in tee shirts. I have hunted in snow out here and brought lots of warm clothes this trip. Those come in handy, because the temperature yesterday morning when we started hunting at daylight was 37 degrees. But it got hot quickly, and by early afternoon the temperature was 76 degrees.

It was cool this morning, 38 degrees, but as soon as the sun rose, it heated up quickly. Mid-way through our first hunt this morning, I was sweating in my warm clothes and heavy coat.

We didn’t see lots of birds today – even the pheasants seemed to be laying low in the heat.

I shot very poorly, got just one bird in the morning, but then connected on my most difficult shot of the day in late afternoon. I immediately went from despondent, discouraged, hot, and tired, to elated.

Luckily, I’m hunting with some exceptional shooters, and even though we didn’t see many pheasants, we got a dozen birds today. Today’s top shooters were Donnie and Frank with three birds each.

This is the first time I’ve hunted here without a dog, and because of that, we lost a half dozen wounded birds today. The fields are thick with grass, and finding even a dead bird is tough. But a wounded bird runs, and we have little chance of catching up to and finding it. I lost one wounded bird today.

Last night, Chef Pete cooked a fantastic presentation of pheasant with a tasty sauce. It was a feast.

Tonight, Pete and Jim are going to Dickinson to dine with Pete’s friends there, so the rest of us are without our favorite chef. We’re cooking potatoes, with burgers on the grill. And cold beer, of course, which never tasted better after a hot hot day.

By 8 pm, I was in bed, dead to the world.

Wednesday

North Dakota Frank Sweeney with pheasant“Having fun is really hard work,” said Jenness Robbins last night as we drove to the lodge after a very hot and tiring day of pheasant hunting. He was so right.

But today was a whole lot better. It was much warmer this morning, 57 degrees when we hit the road about 30 minutes before sunrise, so the early hunt was very pleasant. And it stayed cool all day, with a stiff wind, so the hunting was much more comfortable.

We must have walked 6 or 7 miles before breakfast, and the walking is really tough, through thick grass and bushes. The birds hold tight, and I nearly stepped on a hen pheasant this morning. When it started struggling to get up out of the grass, it got my attention, and I looked down to see it right next to my foot.

I made two really good shots, missed three tough shots, and was very satisfied by the time we returned to the lodge at 1 pm.

After nourishment and naps, we were back at it. Well, ok, we sat around the table for about an hour, snacking and trading hunting and other stories. That’s part of the fun of the hunt.

But at 3:30 pm, we headed to the 442 to hunt. Kysar Lodge’s lands are named by acreage: the 120, 140, 160, 320, and 442. With five sizeable parcels, and 7 knowledgeable hunters, we often have lengthy debates about which parcel to hunt, and what strategy to use. General Jimmy Robbins generally leads the discussion, but everyone gets into it. Today, we must have spent 20 minutes on the debate, and finally, the General made a decision and off we went. For one hour we’d hunt the 160 – and then just before sunset we’d set up in the 442  and cut off the pheasants as they returned to the field to roost after feeding in the wheat fields.

We lost quite a few birds today. This is the first time I’ve hunted North Dakota without a dog. We thought the lodge owner was going to hunt with us, and he has a dog. But he left on Monday, so we are dogless. That makes it really hard to find and retrieve a downed bird if the bird isn’t dead. Wounded pheasants run fast and far, through the thick grass, and we have lost quite a few birds each day, something that really bothers all of us.

I wandered a stream on the last hunt today, put up quite a few birds, passed up a shot at a rooster because he was flying right into the sun, passed up a shot at another rooster because he was small and flew over the stream, which would have made the retrieve very difficult. So I ended the day with two pheasants, and was not at all disappointed that I didn’t get my 3 bird limit.

Today we only got 12 of our 21 bird limit (Jim was the only one to shoot his limit of 3 birds), but it was a wonderful day, cooler, more relaxed, with a stunning sunrise and sunset, great meals, good company, and I got this column written!

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.