By Nick Simonson
With the mourning dove opener about a month away, and grouse and partridge starting the weekend after that, it’s time to take stock of not only where bird populations are at across the state’s upland areas, but also to prepare for the seasons ahead. Execute on these activities now to find better success this fall.
1. Stay Tuned. While North Dakota’s crowing counts for pheasants were down this spring, hunters are eagerly awaiting news from the summer roadside surveys where members of the state’s Game & Fish Department will tally the number of broods and their sizes around the four regions where pheasants are most common. Bookmark the department’s page and check in as August wanes to learn more about the summer survey results. Additionally, anecdotal sightings of not only pheasants but also sharptailed grouse and Hungarian partridge should start coming in as well. Staying in contact with fellow sportsmen, farmers and route drivers of a hunting bent that frequent the countryside will help put together the information needed for a good season, and where efforts should be focused.
2. Shoot & Get Clean. Log enough rounds at a trap range or sporting clays facility to get comfortable with any new upland guns purchased this season and make certain that everything on old favorites is in good working order. Prior to the start of dove or grouse seasons, thoroughly clean and go over each shotgun to make sure they are spotless and functional. Repeat the process before pheasant opener as well to keep equipment in tip-top condition at fall’s midpoint.
3. Hoof It. Speaking of conditioning, start upping the mileage walked now, whether it’s on the pavement or in the hills to get those leg, core and trunk muscles ready for the field. A couple of miles each day, whether on walks with the family or a four-legged friend will help prepare for what’s to come this fall. Vary the terrain or try hiking on a designated trail away from town to provide added challenge and realism before the season starts. Sweat expended now means less spilled in the field come fall.
4. Scout It Out. Check in on favorite hunting haunts and take stock of their conditions, especially public lands – with the waning drought, most areas of habitat should be unhayed and in good condition going into fall. Note what is planted near favorite PLOTS or WMA lands, as those crops can greatly influence where birds rest, loaf and feed on those acres. If last year’s corn field is now soybeans, be prepared for an earlier harvest, or watch to see if a field on the other side of the grass is now in corn. Plan hunts accordingly and get a good estimate of when each crop will be harvested, with small grains like wheat going in August, and soy and corn coming down in October or later, depending on the weather. Once the crop cover is removed, look for birds to relate closer to or deeper in the grassland areas found on PLOTS, WMAs or WPAs.
5. Tap a Map. The options are endless with modern day mapping. From smartphone apps to GPS chips, hunters can mark, modify and notate in-field findings in a moment. Use these technological tools to make short work of what is observed in the process of scouting and early on in the season. With vendors like Kirsch’s Outdoors making maps specific to the state, including public and private land boundaries, it’s easy to not only keep track of encounters, but also make contact with friendly landowners for permission.
6. Open a Dialogue. Use this time leading up to the season to talk to landowners. Whether it’s a long-standing relationship that has resulted in open access, or an introduction and discussion about potential opportunities, now is the time to confer about upland options on private lands with farmers and ranchers. Take time to learn about any restrictions, or if anything has changed in a hunting area and see how things are going on their farms to get a better idea of the lay of the land – literally and figuratively.
7. Start a Journal. Whether it’s a photo album, a leather-bound diary or simply a Word document, begin a journal that will cover all of this season’s upland adventures and jot down what’s observed in the next few weeks to set up a memorable autumn. While unwritten stories are subject to some embellishment to the point of being comedic, those that are recorded and turned to some cold spring day often provide a memorable (and often more accurate) depiction of those special moments afield with good friends behind great dogs. Make it a point to come back and add to the stories after each hunt this fall, regardless of success. Next season and many years down the road, those entries will provide the insight for future success and the nostalgia that sustains the hunting heritage.
Keep these seven tips in mind as upland seasons approach with the turn of the calendar. They’ll mean more birds in the bag, more fun in the field, and a way to remember it all.
Featured Photo: A rooster pheasant flushes over a twilight grassline. Simonson Photo.