Pheasant Hunting – North Dakota

Gil shoots a rooster.

Regents, North Dakota.  Before this weekend, what did this sleepy town of just a few hundred souls mean to me?

Nothing, of course.  But now it’s where Eric and Sarah and Cheryl and Shirley and the Cannonball Company wait for the one time of year (October) when pheasant hunters from all over the country arrive to bring some economic vitality to southwestern North Dakota.  And they deliver.

When a person has only been game hunting 4-5 times in his life, he certainly has a layman’s perspective, but from that humble and inexperienced viewpoint, pheasant hunting has to be one of the most appealing sport hunting varieties out there.  It appeals to me as a result of these criteria:

  1.  One doesn’t get up before dawn to go.  In fact, show up around 9:30 am and you’re just fine.
  2.  One doesn’t position oneself somewhere out there and just sit waiting for the game to come to you.
  3.  One doesn’t have to be particularly quiet.  In fact, making noise helps to flush up lots of big, beautiful wild birds who create a rewarding sportsman’s challenge
Mix in a little expertise and some respect and knowledge about age-old tradition and rituals of game hunting and you’ve got quite an experience.

 

Relaxing in front of the Cannonball River after the hunt.

My stumbling into this trip was quite the accident.  It happened after an invite by my brother Terry and his friends Gil and Bob.  Terry as many of you may know, has become a virtual rockstar-esque photographer of the tradition of English double gun shotguns for various magazines and gun companies across – well, I guess you’d say – the world.  His recent trips include Europe and Africa, not just for hunts but to accompany some of the world’s foremost gun enthusiasts and gun makers on hunts.  He’s landed in a sweet spot and the assignments include photographing and writing stories for magazines, photographing and designing books for gun makers or photographing wealthy hunters on trips to fairly exotic locales.  His #1 partner when he gets to invite friends is Gil and between them, they’ve let themselves get caught up in collecting expensive 19th Century guns, and learning and appreciating all the rituals and traditions of English double gun bird hunting.  (Well, I’d be remiss to omit the fact that they’ve added a few traditions of their own – such as playing any song from Grand Funk Railroad’s first 3-4 albums at full volume while driving out to the fields.)

So to give you a bit of a taste of a day of North Dakota pheasant hunting, we’ll fast forward to Day Two when our young local guide Eric Kuntz directed us to the valley near the Buffalo Drop, a small cliff overlooking the Cannonball River where history says the Indians would drive herds of Buffalo off the cliff for easier processing.  The native grasses below the cliff along the river bank overlooking this serenely beautiful setting provide the perfect cover for both rooster and hen pheasant to hide.  We arrive in the proper mood after listening to “Are You Ready?” and “Got This Thing On The Move” played at volume level 11, and descend into the valley with our guns. Terry outfitted me with a Westley Richards 12-bore drop-lock side-by-side from the 1920s. He shot a

Terry and I along the Cannonball River

12-bore Purdey side-by-side, while Gil used a Woodward 12-bore side-by-side, both from the 1890s.  These three gun makers represent the very best of the English double gun tradition.   Terry and Bob, along with our guide Eric Kuntz and his dog Maya cross the Cannonball River while Gil and I move out ahead along the ridge, hoping that they’ll flush birds who will move west along the river bank towards us.

Our strategy doesn’t work so well, as Gil and I flush some birds out in front below and many of them move out well before we’re in range.  Meanwhile, the flat field across the river proves fecund for Terry and Bob and after Gil and I descend down along the northern bank, we hear shots out of sight in the distance.  As we approach a bend in the river, a bird gets up for me and I’m able to hit it just before it moves out over the ridge.  Gil hits two quickly, and then gets his third right down at the river and it lands on the other side.  He has to ford the water to retrieve the bird and just like that he’s reached his daily limit of three birds.

Bob, Trent, Gil and Terry with the first day's game.

Gun now on his shoulder, Gil breaks the jam box out of his shell bag and decides to DJ the rest of our hunt.  Eric, our guide has rejoined us as we walk along the river bank.  While we’re fully distracted chatting it up and laughing about the music going out in the middle of a remote field in North Dakota, the hallmark flutter of a pheasant getting up jolts us back to reality.  ”ROOSTER!” Eric yells out.  It turns out to be my best shot of the day.  I had to turn virtually all the way around and remain calm while drawing a bead on the majestic bird flying away from me heading over the ridge.  Boom!  Just one shot, and the bird goes down eliciting the approval of all present while Maya, our bird dog, crossed the river, climbed the steep bank and retrieved the bird then crossed back over to return it to Eric.  A classic hunting moment complete with a water retrieval!

Separated from the group on the north side of the river, it took a while to get my last bird.  The further west we went along the river, the more difficult it was to cross.  Alone with no dog, it isn’t always easy to flush up a rooster.  Eric and Maya eventually joined up with me again and before long my last bird was bagged.  The remainder of our day was sitting high over the river on the hill having lunch, a few swigs off a flask and cigars listening to music and arguing over what year a particular song came out.  Believe it or not, we had cell signal and arguments were mostly resolved by mixing a little technology among the brambles.

To meet Eric or one of his colleagues and to enjoy a similar pheasant hunting experience, contact the Cannonball Company- travel through Delta Airlines to Bismarck, ND, drive 1-1/2 hours west on Interstate 94 and then half and hour south to Regents, ND.

Maya doing an inventory of the day's birds.