North Dakota pheasants and a rekindled friendship
Oct. 26, 2001
James and Larry waited at the end of the T-shaped food plot as Deck and Bill worked the dog through chest high millet. Dwight and I flanked the narrow field as the dog and its handlers flushed pheasant after pheasant from the lush growth. Both Dwight and I downed roosters before we had walked 50 yards.
Numerous birds burst from their feeding places as we marched toward the blockers. One hen brushed my pants leg as she scooted beneath the fence and took flight from under my feet.
The four of us reached the point in the millet field where it intersected a wider planting, and we made the 90 degree left turn toward Larry and James, hoping to push any running pheasants their way.
Fifty yards before we reached the waiting hunters, pheasants that had chosen to run ahead began to burst from the cover at the end of the thick growth. James swung on the first cock bird and downed it with one shot from his new Browning Gold 20 gauge. Seconds later, another rooster exploded from cover and flew a similar route to James' right. Another shot and another bird bounced in the clean pasture beside the game plot. Two for two.
Larry Baesler, who is the Regional Director for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) in North Dakota, was holding fire because he was our host on this North Dakota hunt and he wanted his guests to get the first shots. He would eventually shoot his limit of these beautiful game birds before the trip ended.
Larry and I became close friends when we worked together in Texas 20 years ago. He and his charming wife, Marcie, moved their family back to their farm in North Dakota and my son and I had visited and hunted pheasant with them. When James Twiner, formerly my minister in Meridian and now living in Brandon, told me last winter that his dream was to hunt pheasants, I said, "Well, I know the place to go if I can get us an invitation."
The Baeslers graciously said yes, and after ordering licenses and stocking up on pheasant loads, James' dream trip was set. I enjoy wingshooting, but my excitement about this hunt was as much due to my fondness for this family, whom I hadn't seen for 10 years, as to the prospects of bagging game. The 3,400 mile round trip drive was rewarded with a happy reunion with cherished friends.
Chris, the Baesler's only son, went along on the first morning's hunt before he had to return to seminary in St. Paul. We were joined one afternoon and the next morning of our 3-day hunt by Wisconsin Regional Director for the RMEF, Bill Hunyadi, and two of his friends, Dwight Reynolds of New Jersey and Deck Major from Illinois. Everyone scored and Dwight realized his goal of taking a wild pheasant.
Of all the gifts hunters are privileged to enjoy, the cock pheasant may be the most colorful. The orange and brown body and the deep blue head marked with a central blood-red eye background shield and snow-white neck ring are all covered with an iridescent glow, cast as a final touch by the Master Artist in painting this stunningly beautiful creature.
When a rooster erupts from the often sparse cover at your feet, it is as if this supreme work of art is being engendered right before your eyes from the drab earth and weeds that cover the stark prairie. That sight, and its accompanying sounds of beating wings and raspy cries from the fleeing rooster, thrill hunters across the Midwest and those, like James Twiner and me, who aspire to hunt there.
I bagged a sharptail grouse and a Hungarian partridge on our hunt, though I missed my share of these while missing plenty of pheasants. When a North Dakota bird flushes from cover, one must determine instantly if it is a cock pheasant, and if not, is it a hen pheasant or a grouse or a partridge. This is a difficult task for a new or sometime pheasant hunter.
Last week, two Mississippians walked the shelterbelts, fence corners and fields of harvested barley, wheat and sunflowers in North Dakota. Fueled by meals from Marcie's kitchen and aided by Larry's cow dog turned pheasant dog, Toshee, we were revitalized.
We watched countless numbers of one of the worlds most colorful birds leap like monster grasshoppers from our footfalls. At sunrise we heard the chuckles of grouse and crowing rooster pheasants from distant covers across undulating black prairie. And we are richer for the experience.