By Nick Simonson
Leading up to this weekend’s North Dakota Pheasant Opener, targeting classic areas will be key to bagging birds and producing a memorable hunt. The winding creek bottoms common throughout the state provide repeated and alternating pinch points that concentrate birds, and with the right pressure, force them into the air. Knowing how to work these stretches properly with the hunters and dogs available in a party will produce pheasants in a pinch.
Cutting through the glacial drift dressed in the black-and-gold of tilled cornfields, a winding creek bottom was the site for one of my most memorable mornings of pheasant hunting. As the half-wet gully turned back and forth between the banks, each side of grass would grow and shrink, giving more width back to the other. It wasn’t long before we began to follow an age-old pattern that had always produced concrete points and exciting flushes on hunts in the past, no matter where we were.
As we made a turn midway through our walk, the grassy edge tapered from twenty yards to about six feet in width, and my friend’s dog began switchbacking wildly as the real estate in front of him vanished.
“Here it comes,” my buddy hollered as his black lab paused and leaped forward sending a rooster the size of Godzilla thundering into the air, squawking as if he was set to destroy all of Tokyo.
The scene played out over and over during the mile-long walk through the small valley. Wide grassy areas and lobes of land formed by a turn in the waterway would tighten back up along the tilled field. As they did, birds went skyward or tried to run the field edges in front of us, forced into the next grassy area to repeat the process. These pinch points are where hunters fill their bags; perfect funnels formed by the markings of ancient glacial flows and modern farming practices that give birds little option but to flush. Motivated by instinct, pressured by the pursuit of dogs, and if hunters do it right, the birds have no choice but to take to the sky.
Coverage is Key
Setting up a flush in a pinch point, however, isn’t a guarantee. It’s important for the hunting party to work the area leading up to that spot properly. This means in those wide areas where birds might be bunkered down, hunters should be spread evenly, cover the ground as best they can, and let the dogs do their thing to get the birds moving toward the pinch point.
Our group of three was able to cover the sometimes 80-yard width of the creek, thanks to a dry back half of summer which provided numerous places to cross the channel without getting wet. One of us would jump from side-to-side when an extra man was needed in the wider areas. Slowly we’d walk the thicker spots on one side, and allow the outside man on the other bank time to creep up on the thinning grass strip in front of him. The hunters on each side would trade shooting opportunities as the width varied during the walk.
It was also key to let the dogs get on scent in the wide areas of grass and begin pushing birds ahead. We were fortunate to have a slight breeze that blew toward us through the creek valley on that particular hunt, further aiding our canine friends as they located scent and pushed the birds along; as the grasses narrowed, the dogs were able to quickly close in on the birds and flush them.
On one of the final turns of that morning, a group of five pheasants exploded in all directions when room on the pinch point in the creek bottom ran out. Those that ran the field after the first flush were quickly turned when my lab looked back and saw them trying to escape into the next grassy patch. He darted back toward me and sent another hen-and-rooster pair into the air. While not every bird will flush at every pinch point, the later tight spots often stack up many birds that have been running for quite awhile and are ready to flush after the long pursuit.
By spreading hunters evenly, walking through the wide spaces slowly and completely, and letting the dogs work each area fully leading up to the pinch point, a hunting party can find some of the most exciting and continuous moments coming in the form of huge flushes in the smallest of spaces.
(Featured Photo: Butch Parieseau of Eveleth, Minn. with a pair of fine roosters picked up at pinch points in a creek bottom between two harvested fields. Simonson Photo)