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Tales from the pheasant opener

Rain. Snow. Slop. And in some places, all of the above. Last weekend's North Dakota pheasant opener will go down as one of the most miserable in recent memory, thanks to persistent rain across much of the state and heavy snow farther west. Some p...

Rain. Snow. Slop.

And in some places, all of the above.

Last weekend's North Dakota pheasant opener will go down as one of the most miserable in recent memory, thanks to persistent rain across much of the state and heavy snow farther west.

Some parts of western North Dakota recorded nearly a foot of white, sloppy snow.

There were exceptions, but the overall hunting success was down in most parts of pheasant country, based on anecdotal reports from hunters and wildlife officials.


"It was a tough weekend for pheasant opener," said Stan Kohn, upland game biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck.

Kohn spent a wet, rainy weekend in the Grand Forks area checking prairie chicken hunters -- he didn't see anyone with birds in the bag (again, blame the weather) -- but he said he's heard a real mixed bag of pheasant reports.

The best reports he'd heard, Kohn said, came from the northwestern and central parts of the state.

"It sounded like it was spotty in some areas, not too bad in some areas, and a lot of in-between," he said. "For hunters that are used to the traditional opening, it probably ended up more of a social event than a hunting event."

On the plus side, Kohn said he hadn't heard any reports of pheasant mortality such as the die-off that occurred during opening weekend 2005, when a blizzard hit western North Dakota.

From the field

Bad weather also affected those who rely on pheasant hunters. Loretta Mehrer, Mott, N.D., who offers a pheasant-cleaning service with her husband, Gilbert, and son, Carvel, said their opening weekend workload was down from last year.

The trio has cleaned as many as 300 pheasants in a day, she said. This year, she said, they did about 150 birds opening day; by Monday, that number had declined to about 60.


Still, the decline might have had more to do with hunting pressure than fewer birds. I exchanged e-mails with a hunting acquaintance early in the week who'd spent the opener in the area between Mott and Richardton, N.D. Snow missed the areas he hunted, and he encountered very few hunters and lots of birds.

"Crushed 'em," he wrote.

Hunters in the far southwestern corner of the state weren't as fortunate, he said, and heavy snow kept many hunters out of the field -- especially Sunday.

"A lot of guys just went home Sunday morning without hunting," he wrote.

Jesse Beckers, North Dakota biologist for Pheasants Forever, experienced the bad weather firsthand while attending a chapter banquet last Saturday night in Watford City, N.D. After the banquet, Beckers said it took him three hours to make the 86-mile drive in heavy snow from Watford City to Dickinson, N.D.

"I couldn't see 20 feet in front of my pickup," he said. "I took my time, got a cup of coffee and spent the night in Dickinson."

The next morning, Beckers headed across the state to join family and friends in southeastern North Dakota. They saw good pheasant numbers, he said, but plenty of birds were sitting tight.

License sales


So far, license sales reflect a modest decline in nonresident pheasant hunter traffic. Paul Schadewald, administrative services division chief for Game and Fish in Bismarck, said about 11,200 nonresidents had purchased small game licenses electronically as of Monday, down about 9 percent from last year at this time.

But that number changes by the day.

"We'll be selling probably 500 to 1,000 licenses a day," Schadewald said. "And with the weather forecast looking good, people will be continuing to hunt."

Besides its impact on hunting, the widespread precipitation means hunters also have to be especially careful when traveling off the beaten path.

Greg Gullickson, outreach biologist for Game and Fish in Minot, said some hunters opening weekend were venturing in areas too wet for travel.

It's a matter of courtesy, he said.

"A lot of these prairie trails and roads get chewed up, and just because you have a four-wheel-drive doesn't give you a right to be chewing up these areas," he said.

Gullickson characterized his opening-weekend hunt as "tough, but he says there's plenty of reason for optimism once conditions improve.


"Numbers might be down, but they're down from absolute record numbers," he said. "There's still a great plenty of birds and a great plenty of opportunity out there."

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to bdokken@gfherald.com .

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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