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A Real Taste of the Uplands

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Cayla in the field hunting

“When’s the last time we went out and didn’t at least get a shot at a rooster?” I ask my husband this question in early November leading up to a crew coming to North Dakota to film an educational course on upland bird hunting. Well, the joke was on me because in addition to last year’s deer season blizzard, the week they were coming called for trace snow amounts but whipping winds and subzero temperatures. Despite the forecast and my ever-growing belly, I remained hopeful I could put us on a few birds.

This was all part of a Multistate Conservation Grant project that North Dakota Game and Fish Department partnered on. Modern Carnivore, a media company working to reconnect people to healthy living and wild food, was sending two cameramen and host, Mark, to North Dakota to cover the upland culture and species of the Northern Plains, while also showcasing the growing community of women hunters. Well, if they wanted an accurate portrayal of life in this neck of the woods, they got it that particular week.

Hunter holding harvested quail with dog in background

At the first spot we were greeted with 20-below-plus windchills. The plan was to snowshoe across the grassland portion of a waterfowl production area to some cattails that often harbored some pheasants. Not this morning. I took the frozen wetland edge and could not believe the ratio of pheasant tracks to flushes; a heck of a lot to none. It was a long slog back to the trucks for naught.

After a quick warmup and a snack, we headed to a PLOTS tract that once again had proven fruitful for much of the season. While trudging across the harvested wheat field, I watched a covey of Huns flush and then we marked them as they landed in a small cattail slough. But aside from some distant flushes, we once again had empty game bags until the Huns erupted a little earlier than I was hoping. Mark was able to get a shot off, save the day, and harvest his first partridge. Fins brought it to me, and I felt a little relief that we hadn’t come up empty handed.

Wild game dinner

The final stop was “The Honey Hole,” affectionally noted as such in our household because of its proximity to home and habit of holding a lot of pheasants. We raced there as daylight faded with just 15 minutes of shooting light left. And to my sincere, unbelievable surprise, there was not a single bird in there that evening. I felt foolish, exhausted and disappointed. I guided us to the three spots I would go to for the best day of pheasant hunting and I never pulled the trigger. Whether it was the snow, wind, or just bad fortune, the cards just weren’t in our favor that day. And I guess that’s upland hunting sometimes.

We returned to my house and made potpie with our one Hun and a pheasant from our healthy freezer cache. The warm meal and company certainly helped erase the chill and the woes of the day. I guess we successfully gave viewers a glimpse of an authentic day of North Dakota hunting, but I’m not sure they’ll be itching to visit.

Nevertheless, the free course is now complete just in time for upland season. You can find it here on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s website. No matter your upland hunting experience, I think there’s something for everyone within the five stories and landscapes covered, as well as lessons on bird biology, equipment and strategies.

You can follow along with Ruben and hunt valley quail in California, a seemingly much more enjoyable endeavor than mine, or get a taste of the East Coast hardwoods in pursuit of ruffed grouse with Amanda and her 83-year-old grandma. I hope you learn a thing or two and are inspired and empowered to hit the uplands this fall or maybe plan a trip to pursue a new species.

And with grouse opener looming, soak in this sunshine, because it’s a heck of lot better than snowshoes and fogged up shooting glasses.

Screenshot of pheasants forever program page
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