Solo prairie hunt suits man just fineEvery year, the pheasant hunter and his yellow Lab go west in early November. Alone.
By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune
Every year, the pheasant hunter and his yellow Lab go west in early November. Alone.
The hunter pitches a tent at a little campground, lives simply and hunts birds.
The hunter is a friend of mine. He does the big hunts, too. Lots of hunters, plenty of dogs, orchestrated marches. He likes those hunts, too.
But once each fall, he needs to get away on his own. He drives far into North Dakota and sets up camp. He cooks most of his own meals on a single-burner stove.
“I love camping. I don’t mind sleeping on the ground,” says the hunter, 59, after this year’s hunt. “When you have a good bird dog, it’s really unfair to hunt them once a year.”
They hunt for two and a half, three days. They hunt mostly on one farmer’s land. His name is Larry. My friend knows the rules. Larry wants to be asked for permission to hunt every day. The hunter always takes Larry a big bottle of Dave Rogotzke’s maple syrup, collected just outside of Duluth. Larry likes that. Larry has never denied the hunter permission to hunt. Unlike some North Dakota landowners, Larry asks for no money from the hunter.
My friend likes talking to Larry, listening to his stories. He is in no hurry. He will have time to hunt.
Larry tells him about the 34 inches of snow they had in October. How his cousin lost 350 head of cattle. They went into the draws for protection and were drifted over. Gone.
When the conversation with Larry is finished, my friend and his Lab, Rose, go hunting.
“I saw lots of birds,” he said. “They were in winter mode, roosters all grouped up, 40 eyes staring at you.”
A lot of the birds flushed far ahead of him, but he got close to a few. Rose put them up, brought them back.
“I could have done better,” he said. “There must have been three other shots I should have made.”
That’s the way it always is. Opportunities lost. Still, he shot his three-day limit of three birds a day.
He never saw another hunter, on the road or in a field.
Evenings came on fast.
“It gets dark about 5:30,” the hunter said. “I turned in about 7:45. There’s nothing to do. I’ve never gone to bed after 8. The Big Dipper is in the northwest sky when you crawl in the tent.”
The nights were cool, down to 20, he said
“When you’re a winter camper, 20 is toasty,” he said.
For most of three days, this is what he does: Talks to Larry. Hunts. Cooks supper. Walks Rose one more time. Goes to bed.
“I don’t mind being alone,” he said. “I love the ability to be on your own schedule and pace.”
He tries to break camp about noon on the third day, but he usually gets away later than that. It’s hard to leave.
“The drive home always seems longer,” he said. “Kind of a hunter’s jet lag.”
Sam Cook is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/samcookoutdoors or on Facebook at “Sam Cook Outdoors.”