By Nick Simonson
The internet coming along was one of the best things to happen to me, and not just for looking up Simpsons quotes and confirming my hunches with Wikipedia. Going to bed at a standard 8:30 or 9:00 pm each night, even on the weekends, precluded me from seeing some of the funniest moments in late night comedy. From Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers on the weeknights digesting the day’s political and social ridiculousness into their eight-minute monologues, to the resurgence of a sharp-as-a-knife Saturday Night Live on the weekends, You Tube, Hulu and just about every social feed allows me to watch those snippets which my usual quarter-to-five wake time prevents.
It seems too this year that in the hunt for upland success, the late-late-show is happening a bit early, as I am finding more and more pheasants tucked deep into those spaces of brush and cattails where they’d normally be closer to Christmastime, when the ground is white with snow, and the cold north wind whips a chill across my cheeks. This isn’t surprising, considering the year we’ve had, but I feel that late season is happening on my timeline, much like my choices in comic relief.
Drought conditions have stunted a lot of warm season grass growth, leaving hillsides sparse. In many of those areas where the grass did grow, some spaces have been hayed to provide for livestock, further reducing cover available to birds on the landscape. It’s not uncommon in the still early mornings (when they occur in this windy autumn) to see roosters and hens sprinting from fenceline to fenceline to find cover. It’s a trend that many other hunters are seeing as well, according to Jesse Kolar, North Dakota Game & Fish Department Upland Game Supervisor.
“Normally mid-to-late-season, we get a cold spell with snow and that drives the birds into thick cattails and thicker cover. This year we’re hearing reports of that happening that a little bit early, and it’s probably not because of cold or snow, but more just because a lot of those cattails and riparian draws are the main cover left this year, so bird hunters are finding birds in some of that thicker cover already,” Kolar explains.
With those factors in play, I’ve adjusted my tactics to take in all of the upland action I can. Targeting deeper areas, even if it means a little more effort is required, has resulted in more flushes and more roosters in the bag. Despite there not being the usual coating of white on the ground, I’m comfortable in sweating it out a bit to go deeper and get denser to find birds in those areas of cover that are a bit out of season. On those days where it does get chillier, it’s likely the birds will be there too, according to Matt Morlock, Pheasants Forever State Coordinator for North Dakota and South Dakota.
“It’s that same old case of getting into the habitat and really figuring out where they’re at that day and really keying in on that habitat type. This time of year, it’s typically shelterbelts, cattail sloughs and then warm season grass stands. Where it’s a little bit thicker, as the temperatures start dropping, they’re looking to get warm just like the rest of us, so look at the conditions that day and key in on that stuff. If it’s a little warmer, I dial in on those grasslands, they’re going to be out in that moving around. But if it’s a little bit colder out, hit the cattail sloughs, that thermal cover. If it starts snowing, then you dig into the trees,” Morlock advises.
So while things may seem like a fast-forward into the late season as to where birds are relating in these warmer-than-average times and a year where cover comes at a premium, making those adjustments is as easy as logging in and getting set for the best of what the late stretch brings, even if it’s a few weeks earlier than normal.
Simonson is the lead writer and editor of Dakota Edge Outdoors and an avid uplander.
Featured Photo: The author and his lab, Ole, found this pair of roosters while walking deeper cover despite a warm November Day. Simonson Photo.