In Pursuit of North Dakota’s Upland Smorgasbord

Morning dawned bright, clear, and crisp in western North Dakota as I fumbled through a storage box in the bed of my beaten, old two-wheel-drive Ford Ranger pick-up. It’s not much to look at, but it carries a lot for little gas money, getting me to places I love to visit. Out amongst frosted sunflowers a rooster crowed, not the barnyard variety. My pulse quickened. Somewhere further, another chimed in as if to remind the first he was still there too. Their banter reminded me of why I love this place so much. Yep, I was home, even if I don’t actually reside here.

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Small Gauges Scaled Right for Doves

Shooting doves is an economy of scale.
A mourning dove weighs about 4 ounces. A Eurasian collared dove weighs about 5.3 ounces, and a white-winged dove weighs about 5.4 ounces. Hurling 1½ ounce of lead out one end, coupled with the recoil of a 12-gauge shotgun on the other end, is way out of scale for the task.

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Seven Deadly Decoy Set-Ups for Doves

A barren patch of dry dirt caused dust clouds to appear with each step. Several gray plastic decoys had been strategically placed. Some appeared to be feeding on remnants of sunflowers seeds that had spilled onto the ground from all the picked brown disks drooped to one side. They stood like forgotten lifeless sentries in a field that was once adorned with oversized yellow flowers the size of dinner plates. A metal pole inserted into the ground would be the anchor for the lifelike dove that would be perched atop. Spinning. Drawing attention to other gray birds. Enticing them to fly close so its handler may fire hot lead or steel. 

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Pursuing a Nebraska Mixed Bag

Nebraska seems to garner less attention than its neighbors to the north and south. But that’s part of the charm. South Dakota has more pheasants, but Kansas holds more quail and the Dakotas have plenty of prairie grouse. The annual waterfowl migration passes through all four. However, Nebraska often produces good hunting for both upland birds and waterfowl simultaneously, and that’s the cherry on the sundae.

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The Grouse Safari

I’m not sure who first called it a Grouse Safari. It might have been Ed. But I do think it’s fitting. Just like hunters travel greater distances to pursue big game in Africa, a group of Southern Appalachian grouse hunters travelling several thousand miles to hunt grouse is an appropriate moniker. It’s something friends and I have been doing for about 20 years now.

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The Great Migration

As an American by birth and a Southerner by the grace of God, the pursuit for Bonasa umbellus, or ruffed grouse in particular and woodcock to a lesser degree, requires some commitment and travel to arrive to the promised land of hunting these game birds.

Being a South Carolina native has its benefits and its drawbacks. We have both mountains and the ocean within a few hours from anywhere. In addition, we have temperate climate most of the year and typical Southern hospitality. 

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Doves, Up North

Across much of the South the opening of dove season is a social gathering marked by lots of shooting, good-natured ribbing among friends and, after the shooting is done, a Southern-style barbecue complete with a cold beverage or two.

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