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BCO Log : ND Pheasant Opener Hampered By Weather

BCO Log : ND Pheasant Opener Hampered By Weather

Pheasant Hunting Season Is Open… Sort Of

Seems like this is becoming redundant, but the opening day of a hunting season in North Dakota was significantly hampered by weather. So you could hunt pheasants, probably only if you could shoot them in your back yard.

The Weather Channel predicted 10-24″ of snow across much of North Dakota, and they were WAY off with some places only getting 2″, and some getting over 30″. But, the wind kicked up in typical North Dakota style and 45 mph gusts were common. I-94 and I-29 were closed across much of the state and truck stops over flowed with stranded truckers and motorists. 

That meant, only a few crazy (stupid?) hunters wandered out into the North Dakota countryside in pursuit of our favorite game. I was sort of smart and waited for Sunday but even then the interstates were closed going east of Bismarck, so of course I went west.

Getting to my favorite early season hunting grounds, I could tell I was in for some work. The road to my primary spot had been traveled earlier in the day and was looking pretty ripped up. I have a big pickup but in reality I didn’t want to tear up the road any more than it had been. I’ve been down some of those roads three days after a guy with a big 4WD shredded it and it’s not fun. So I went to option two. 

The road to option two was totally blown shut. At least I knew no one had been in there yet. The downside was I would have to walk nearly a mile to the hunting area, and back up for that matter. So I pulled on the stocking cap, let the dog out of the truck and headed out through foot-high snow just to get to where we wanted to hunt. 

Now ordinarily this area would be constantly disrupted by the sound of near-by gunfire. There is some great land, private and public, near hear and on opening weekend the sound of distant shotgun blasts usually fill the air. But today, nothing but the wind. I didn’t even see another hunter much lesss hear them.

Long story short, we were exhausted when we got to the cover, kicked out a few close hens, kicked out some roosters on the wrong side of the trees, and had one good shot that I passed up because the cock was heading across the river and I didn’t feel like walking three miles to pick up a downed bird. 

This week the weather outlook appears better but there’s still a LOT of snow that has to melt so the roads could be sketchy for a few days. Won’t stop me from wandering out late in the week, but be careful out there.

If you are planning a hunt to North Dakota be advised there is a TON of standing crops. The weather has been extremely wet so farmers have not been able to get into the fields for harvest in many cases. At some point they will be forced to abandon the harvest until the ground freezes so some of the usual cover the birds are forced into might not contain the same amount of birds because they are still running around in the unharvested corn, sunflowers and wheat. 

Good luck and stay safe!

Blast & Cast Outdoors Log : Pronghorn Hunt… SUCCESS!

Blast & Cast Outdoors Log : Pronghorn Hunt… SUCCESS!

Successful Pronghorn Hunt

Due to a big fall snow storm heading our way, I had one day to head to southwest North Dakota a find a pronghorn. Little did I know my hunt would be over by 10am.

I usually don’t hunt big game alone, but the impending storm, usually boring glassing and waiting on pronghorn hunts, and the possibility of having to work mid-week on the phone and/or computer forced me to head out on a Tuesday morning all by myself.

I got a late start, heading out from Mandan, ND about 45 minutes later than I wanted. It was still dark but I knew I’d be late to the hunting area.

Traveling through North Dakota in the early mornings can be relaxing, but BORING. There is almost no traffic, there is beautiful scenery if you like mostly flat landscape, harvested fields and wind towers. Thank goodness for Siriux/XM radio and saved podcasts on my phone!

I got down where I could hunt south of New England, ND about 8am. The sun was already up, but on my way to where I planned on hunting I spotted my first goat. It was a decent buck standing in typical pronghorn cover… right in the middle of four square miles of harvested wheat. The only way I was getting at that one was with a drone strike, so I left him and would circle back if needed.

I turned south on Highway 67 towards Scranton, ND, already 130 miles from home, and after a bit headed off onto the dirt roads to start looking for antelope. I saw a couple of small herds with no, or very small, bucks. Saw a few clusters of whitetail does, and a few pheasant out getting their morning gravel ran for cover as my truck rolled by. 

The area looked very odd with little or no corn and sunflowers this year… mostly wheat. That’s a huge departure from the last five or six years, but good for this hunt for sure. It will be even more strange how it affects the deer hunt in a month or so. 

I was fifteen minutes into hunting when I got an email from a colleague to give them a call about a client. This is where it gets strange. Modern work life finds a way to inject itself into nearly every part of our daily activities, especially when you own your own small businesses. Just a few years ago, receiving email or getting a phone call where I was hunting would be sketchy at best. We would run in and out of cell tower range all the time, but now it’s very reliable. And knowing I was close to where I had seen a nice herd of pronghorn last week out scouting, I pulled the truck onto an approach at the top of a hill and called her. 

After a 30 minute call, I was happy I didn’t have to break out my laptop, which I brought with just in case, bid good day to the caller, and glassed the 15 miles of countryside I could see from the top of this hill. Should have taken a photo, but if you’ve actually seen a Great Plains vista you know the smartphone wouldn’t have done it justice anyways.

In the distance, I saw a couple of pronghorn does walking across the dirt road I was on. No buck that I could see, but that wasn’t unusual. So I started heading that directly, pausing at the top of each hill to see if I could see the herd. As I got closer there was one that stood out. Not a huge buck, but decent. He hung towards the back of the rest but was already across the road and into an area I could hunt. I pulled to the fence line marking the edge of the land I could hunt, and took a look. Decent mass, wide, and the curl swept back. 

Given the storm was probably going to hinder or even cancel the hunt this weekend, and next weekend I already had plans, this was my best shot. So I grabbed my rifle, binoculars, orange cap and started walking along the fence line on the back side of a hill towards a place I might get a shot. 

If you’ve even hunting pronghorn you know their site is everything. They hang out in wide-open areas and can see with amazing accuracy for miles. I learned this about a 1/4 mile into my hike as a small doe crested the hill, spotted me and alerted the others. The entire herd, including the buck started heading south at a relatively slow pronghorn speed, but that’s still WAY faster than I could run back to the truck. 

I got in and headed to get in front of them, which I did and got out waiting for a shot. They slowly came into view at about 250 yards. I was down in a ditch fairly hidden, but would need to reveal myself to get a shot. I waiting for the buck to get into range…  and they stopped. 258 yards on the rangefinder. Not a great shot, but they didn’t seem too excited to get closer. After fifteen minutes I was just about to stand and shoot… and they took off running. I have no idea why, but I jumped up and cracked off a shot before the buck got going. I hit just low, and now they were at full speed. 

Back into the truck and down the section line I went. Over a couple of hills, then the third and they had stopped. So I backed up the truck out of sight knowing they could already be at full speed heading off. I got into the opposite side ditch and started walking to where the herd had stopped, peaking on occassion to see if they were still there, and they were. 

Eventually I got even with the herd and the buck was by himself. 307 years according to the rangefinder. Luckily  I  had sighted my .270 in at 200 yards so I knew the ballistics. About 11″ drop if sighted at 100 yards, about 8″ if sighted at 200. So I put down my bipod and used the road as a brace, aimed for the low part of the chest then went about mid-way on the chest and let it fly. The pronghorn went down, and 45 minutes into the hunt, I had tagged out. 

It’s definitely not the biggest pronghorn I’ve seen. Hell, I’ve only shot two and this isn’t even the biggest one I’ve shot. But this was a great example of doing what you can with what you have to work with. The weather on opening weekend made the roads pretty much undriveable, especially the back section lines. There was a massive fall storm heading towards the hunting grounds and my home 150 miles away that evening, so weekend two was going to be tough. And the third weekend I had already agreed to go out of town for a football game.

So it was today or nothing. I found a nice buck, got it down and loaded, made it back to town and had it skinned and boned by the evening, just in time for the wind and snow to hit.

2019 pronghorn was a success, so now it was time to focus on my favorite season of all, pheasant season which starts on October 12 in North Dakota. Then another year of pursuing a muley buck in November

Have a fun and safe hunting season everyone!

Planning for a Pronghorn Antelope Hunt

Planning for a Pronghorn Antelope Hunt

Planning for a Pronghorn Hunt

Making sure you have the right gear is important to any activity, especially when you are wandering far from home, and that activity is something you only get to do every 5-10 years. Get ready for that pronghorn hunt by making sure you are packing the right gear, ammo and clothing.

Pronghorn antelope in a field in rural Saskatchean.

Well, Mother Nature, you won this round.

In North Dakota there’s a lottery for pronghorn tags. WAY more people apply than get drawn and the herd had moved way south for many years due to some horrible winters AND summers, but this year I finally secured a tag!

I had driven 150 miles to where I would be hunting tomorrow. Yesterday a fall storm blew threw and dumped over 3″ of wet North Dakota snow on already saturated ground, making the roads as close to impassable as you can. No one was driving them, not even the farmers and ranchers.

I slogged my way over to my primary hunting area, and the dirt roads were like driving on a hockey rink. The clay had gone super slippery, and after fighting it for nearly three hours, I decided to cut my losses and get to the highway. I drove past a few small herds of pronghorn, marked them in my mind as I drove by, keeping the throttle down, and resigned myself to coming back out another day.

UPDATE : I didn’t go out opening day, Friday, Oct. 4 due to the weather, couldn’t go out Oct 5 due to a wedding, and it rained about another inch, so I’m not going out Sunday. So the first weekend is a total loss. But, I may try to get out mid-week once the sun and wind dries out the roads a bit.

So now on to today’s topic. Taking the right gear is essential to having a successful, safe hunting trip.

Checklist

  • YOUR LICENSE AND TAGS!!
    In North Dakota, and I’m assuming in other places, you must have a signed General Game hunting license, and a stamp affixed to that license for certain game, including pronghorn and deer. In 2017 alone there were 334 instances of failing to carry a license on the hunter’s person, 18 instances of failing to affix a stamp and other violations totaling over 600 total. Carry your license, affix your stamp(s), and follow proper tagging guidelines. It’s also a good idea of taking the hunting guide and regulations sent to you by the licensing organizations to refer to when in doubt.
  • Florescent Orange torso and head cover.
    This is mandatory in North Dakota and other states. Anyone hunting deer, pronghorn and other big game species must wear orange coverage on their chest and back and an orange cap or hat.
  • Firearm. 
    Duh. Unless you’re going to run a pronghorn down and kill it with a knife, a firearm is necessary. Also, make sure you’ve checked legal caliber, magazine capacities, and even centerfire/rimfire, especially when it comes to handguns where barrel length can be regulated. I’ve only seen one time where a hunter left home without his rifle… it happens. Also, it’s rare for me to only take one firearm, especially when I’m the only hunter. You never know when a gun fails and that big buck is just a stalk away with a non-functioning firearm.
  • Ammunition
    Don’t trust your labels on plastic ammo cases or metal storage. Don’t drive miles and miles only to find out you brought 30-06 ammo for your .270. And make sure you have enough. We also think it will be one shot, one kill. But anyone hunting in the Great Plains know you occassionaly take shots and miss. Make sure you have enough lead (or non-toxic ballistic).
  • Optics
    A good set of binoculars is a must. Finding pronghorn isn’t difficult, but finding the big buck in the herd can be tough and they tend to be hundreds, of not thousands of yard off. Spotting scopes are nice as they really allow you to get in close to find the antelope you want to hunt. And rangefinders are wonderful if you have time to use them and know your rife’s ballistics. 
  • Knife
    A sharp, rugged, well-functioning knife is a great tool regardless of the type of hunting you are doing. Field dressing an animal with a dull knife is not only frustrating, it can be dangerous when the knife slips instead of cuts or you have to hold if differently because it’s just not cutting. Get it sharpened, buy a new knife, or I have moved to a knife with replaceable blades

That’s the “necessary” list of gear. Now, what else is helpful in having the best hunting experience?

  • First aid kit
  • Cold weather gear
  • Smartphone and charger
  • Mapping App
  • Weather App
  • Extra socks
  • Vehicle Tow Chain
  • Handheld radios