I’ve never been very good at relaxing. At home I have a hard time enjoying my homecooked wild game dishes without scarfing them down to work on cleaning up and beginning whatever inevitable to-dos that exist. I rarely sleep in, and I all too often feel the need to earn any relaxation time I gift myself.
But January is a long, cold month. It contrasts so starkly to the bustle of hunting season and the holiday chaos. Suddenly overnight, the notion to sneak in a late-season bowhunt in my tree stand, the pull to give-in to the wagging tail, or the need to do any of the things I’ve ignored over the lengthy hunting season is stripped away. I have all the time in the world and seemingly no urgency to do anything. Of course, there’s ice fishing, and we’ll commit our fair share of time to that, but January brings an invitation to slow down, even if it is forced.
I’ve thus far filled my spare time with taking a first stab at homemade deer sausage stuffing, catching up on the stack of magazines on the coffee table, making some time-consuming comfort foods, watching some favorite YouTube outdoor channels, waffle Sundays, and even sleeping in a little bit.
January and the start of a new year also brings a sense of reflection and clean slates. I’ve never really been a fan of resolutions, but I do enjoy taking some time to think about things I want to do in the year ahead. If nothing else, it offers something to daydream about when the thermometer reads minus 30.
In my world, nothing happens if you don’t plan it. While our calendar already has its fair share of hunting trips, weddings and other weekend getaways, there’s always so much to do here at home. Thus, with no promises to complete them all (and no offense taken if you find my list unappealing, yet want to steal an idea or two that do interest you), I present in phenological order: Eight things I would love to do in North Dakota in 2022, but may or may not get around to it.
1. Wild Pout Chase
Fish for burbot/eel pout/ling, or whatever you want to call them, through the ice. These unique fish sometimes get a bad rap but are phenomenal eating, and in my limited experiences catching them, they put up a good fight. Burbot spawn under the ice in late February to early March and I’d love to spend a night in our portable ice shanty on the big lake trying to hook into one – even if it’s just a wild pout chase.
2. River monsters
Shore-fish for monster pike. Northern pike also spawn early, they’ll move into bays and up tributary creeks to start the process as early as February and won’t begin to move out until late April or even May. While we’ve experienced this through the ice on tip-ups and spear holes, it seems as shed hunting and turkey season ramp up, fishing momentarily takes a backseat. But the real possibility of hooking into not one, but several trophy-class fish in a day might be cause for a promotion to “shotgun” this spring.
3. Prairie recital
Watch sharp-tailed grouse dance from an observation blind. I had the privilege of doing this for a college habitat ecology course and occasionally come across some cutting a rug while in western North Dakota spring turkey hunting, but to view this close up on a crisp spring morning is one of the prairie’s most unrivaled shows. I’m due for a reshowing. Many wildlife refuges offer blinds available for free, public reservation.
4. Spring solivagant
I’m no stranger to solo sits in the deer stand or solo day hunts with Fins, but an actual solo overnight hunting trip is not something I’ve done before. Part of me wonders whether I would even enjoy it. But even in those shorter endeavors, I’ve found there’s something uniquely powerful about spending time alone in the “wilderness,” and Scott’s lineup of bachelor parties makes spring turkey hunting the perfect candidate for experiencing this.
5. Race a pronghorn
Not actually, but a good way to summarize this one: run a Maah Daah Hey Trail Run race. Guilty as charged, I have already done this, but I somehow let 2021 slip by without completing a race of any kind and whether a 1K or 100K, setting goals to work towards, feeling good, getting in shape for upland seasons and an excuse to spend time on the Maah Daah Hey are all reasons this one makes my list. If nothing else, I highly recommend spending any amount of time on the trail, an underrated North Dakota gem.
6. 10,000 casts
Or just however many it takes to catch a North Dakota muskie. The R3 coordinator in me maybe shouldn’t promote such a limited resource that usually requires a great amount of time to successfully target. Yet, again, this isn’t a forced list of eight things you must do, but it makes mine. I’ve chased muskies before, but it’s time to make it happen again. Intrigued? I’m in and you’ll find me this open water season at one of the few fishing waters they call home.
7. Spy a bighorn
That’s pretty much as simple as it sounds. I’m going on five years of living in North Dakota and have spent a significant amount of time hunting and hiking in western North Dakota and have yet to see a bighorn sheep in this state. Now I haven’t gone to extreme measures to make this happen, I just figured after enough trips to the north unit of Teddy Roosevelt National Park, or otherwise north on Highway 85, that it would have happened by now. This is the year.
8. Prairie grouse pilgrimage II
We already have an annual tradition of hunting native grasslands in western North Dakota for the September sharp-tailed grouse opener. We’re not willing to forgo this trip, considering the beautiful scenery and historic vibe. But, on a late-season pheasant hunt to northwestern North Dakota we found the views, hospitality and bird numbers (particularly Huns) top notch and I’d love to return and spend more time in grass than cattails … and have the temps be above zero. It might justify not one, but two grouse trips this September.
Well, there you have it. For better or worse, I’ll let you know how it’s going. Hope your 2022 is off to a great start and that maybe this inspires you to think of your own list of things you’d love to do in North Dakota this year, even if you may or may not get around to them all.