Don't call it quits just yet; hunting opportunities abound in N.D.
Where has the fall gone?
The local news recently reported that the first major snow storm of the winter was about to wreak havoc on the Valley.
While some outdoorsmen might view the changing of the season as an end, others see it as a beginning; an opportunity.
I say, bring on the white stuff!
But don't bust out your ice-fishing poles and auger just yet, there's still plenty of hunting to be had.
Some of the best pheasant hunting of the year happens after the first few measurable snowfalls. Standing crops such as corn and sunflowers still will hold a majority of the birds, however, grasslands, cattails, and CRP always tend to attract at least a few pheasants. Thankfully, North Dakota farmers have been hitting the fields hard during the past couple of weeks, forcing pheasants into remaining cover. Look for more and more birds to be pushed into huntable areas as the season progresses.
With snow on the ground, birds get less wild and tend to hold tight. This makes a dog's work a bit easier and allows a hunter to get up to a pointed K-9 before the bird flushes.
Also, pheasants seem to flock up a bit more as the temperature drops. Though bumping singles and doubles may become less common, the chance of flushing a covey containing several birds can make for great late-season excitement.
A downside to late-season pheasant hunting is that the remaining fowl are likely war-torn veterans. Roosters don't make it through hunting season - the North Dakota pheasant season ends Jan. 3 - without seeing a lot of pressure. These birds would rather run than fly, therefore hunters should change their strategy accordingly.
Walk sections of land that end at some kind of terrain change, such as a harvested field, prairie road or body of water. When a pheasant has been pushed to one of these edges, it will be more apt to flush than continue to travel by foot.
But pheasants aren't the only feathered quarry still available to diehard upland hunters not afraid of a little windchill. Hungarian partridge, sharp-tailed grouse and ruffed grouse seasons all end Jan. 3. These birds have been hunted for the past couple of months, too, longer even than pheasants. Bagging one isn't impossible, but will take different strategies than earlier in the season.
Sharp-tailed grouse covey up in huge flocks later in the years and I've personally seen coveys of sharp-tails with at least 50 to 60 birds. This can make for some heart-stopping action, but walking up on 60 sets of eyes and ears can be frustratingly hard, at best.
Play the wind in your favor and watch for treed "scouts." Usually, at least one or two sharp-tail are lookouts for the rest of the flock and perch high in a tree or bush. Successful hunters will look for draws or other cover to make their sneak on coveys. Make sure to place cover between yourself and the birds or else they'll flush well out of gun range.
Ruffed grouse and Hungarian partridge also may be a bit jumpier this time of year, but if you play the weather right and hunt with the wind in your face, the tides can turn in your favor.
Don't forget the waterfowl
This year was tough on waterfowl hunters promised abundant numbers of ducks and geese by the Game and Fish department.
But disgruntled hunters shouldn't blame the Feds; blame the weather. An October cold snap early in the season froze ponds and sent many of the birds south. Then warm weather through much of November kept Canadian birds stuck to the north, meaning much of the past few weeks has comprised of stale remnant flocks.
With the snow on the move, however, get your gear and head for your favorite honey hole. The regular season ends Sunday, Dec. 6, so your time is limited and whatever migration happens will happen fast.
But what if you really want to get out and bag a couple fat mallards in late December? Head west to the high plains unit and get your fill from Dec. 12 through Jan. 3. Though not as fabled as the prairie pothole region of North Dakota, the high plains unit does contain the Missouri River and Lake Sakakawea. Both can hold large numbers of ducks, especially later in the year when other bodies of water have been frozen for weeks.
Canada goose season also is open late out west and the Missouri River zone around Bismarck doesn't close until Jan. 1. Though finding a spot to hunt may be tough in this tightly-posted area, persistent waterfowlers can locate good hunting if they put some miles into scouting.
Still time for deer
If you're like me and still are holding onto a concurrent, second, or third season antlerless deer tag, consider picking up a smoke pole and participating in the muzzleloader season, which opened Nov. 27, and closes Dec. 13.
Or, if you can't get your hands on a muzzleloader, consider breaking out archery equipment. Unused concurrent antlerless tags can be filled by bow and arrow, too, but only in the unit they are licensed for. The season closes Jan. 3.
Buck tags from the firearm season cannot be used during the muzzleloader season or archery season, however.
With less hunters and overall pressure during the late season, getting a deer won't be a piece of cake, but it may be a bit more enjoyable than the circus that rolls into town during the regular firearm season.
Get after those 'yotes
Probably my favorite hunting to do after I've gotten my fill of feathers is chasing ol' Wile E. across the plains.
In North Dakota, coyotes can be hunted all year long and there is no daily or possession limit. That, and finding places to hunt are nearly limitless as many farmers jump at the chance when asked for permission to hunt coyotes.
Though many gut piles from the recent deer season have filled the bellies of these varmints during the last couple of weeks, it won't be long until food becomes scarce once more and calling becomes increasingly effective.
If you didn't take notice during other hunting seasons, it may be wise to scout out some locations before the snow flies. Look for dens and scat around field edges and treelines. If you were like me and kept track earlier in the fall, make a plan of attack before reaching the spot so as to not leave scent where a coyote might cross.
Use cover to your advantage and sneak into spots with the wind in your face. Coyotes tend to come in downwind, however, so make sure you're in a spot where you can easily swing to face a target slinking in from behind.
Fur prices aren't as high as they were a few years ago, but farmers and ranchers will be happy you're helping to keep the population in check.
Besides, chasing coyotes during the winter doldrums is a surefire way to keep cabin fever at bay.
That is, at least until ice-fishing starts.
Shoberg is Sports Editor of the Pioneer as well as an avid hunter and fisherman. He can be reached at 701-451-5717 or firstname.lastname@example.org