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Youth Pheasant Hunting

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When the pieces fall into place for that perfect hunting or fishing trip, the experience makes countless memories for everyone involved. I had the opportunity to be a part of such a coming together of various factors recently during North Dakota's youth pheasant weekend. Enthusiastic and responsible hunters, a willing dog, a number of birds, incredible land, and great support were all part of the equation.

On Saturday and Sunday, Gunnar and I helped guide some up-and-coming outdoorsmen through the fields of Barnes County. In this age of XBox, text messaging and a million other distractions, it was great to find willing hunters aged 12 to 16 to give me an excuse to run my dog for roosters before the traditional opener. I was pleasantly surprised by these young men. They were courteous, respectful, good shots who were always safe with their firearms. This reflects not only their assimilation of hunter education knowledge, but also their ability to apply it in the field. One of the young hunters took his first pheasant ever on the trip, and a few shots down the road, filled his limit. Exciting no doubt for him, but also for Gunnar.

Last year, my dog was good. I was about as proud as I thought I could get when he began running circles around roosters, pointing and flushing with great frequency. But this weekend, he was great. I mean really great, ten times better than last year. I watched in amazement as he switch-backed on a wily rooster. He pointed birds in tumbleweeds, tail curling off to the right as his body stiffened. He flushed hens from cattail beds, and sprung after them like he was possessed by the ghost of our old springer spaniel. It was a weekend for him to remember too.

I don't know when the "good old days" were, but I think we are living in them now. The number of birds just five miles south of of my hometown is staggering. Both days combined, the young hunters shot at two dozen roosters and took nine. I remember my dad explaining to me as a child that to see a pheasant in southeastern North Dakota meant ninety minute trip to Oakes. I'll take these good new days over the good ol’ ones.

The weekend also showed that it has come together in terms of habitat, conservation and access to land that holds birds. Through programs like CRP and PLOTS, hunters are not only finding birds that have a better chance at survival, but also have access to the land where the birds are. Further, many landowners leave their parcels unposted or in PLOTS to allow hunter access, especially during youth seasons. My groups walked PLOTS most of the day, except for two small pieces of unposted land. To those farmers, I extend a hearty thanks for allowing access to young hunters and for enrolling in CRP and PLOTS. To the Game and Fish Department, thanks for providing programs like PLOTS which ensure access to all, especially developing hunters

Further, without the support of the Game and Fish Department, the weekend would not have been possible. The idea of a youth hunt may be a turn off to some, but to these young men, it could have possibly turned them on to a lifetime of hunting. There were no worries about letting the adults take a shot, there was no problem with missing a bird or having to keep up. If we want to hook more youth on things like hunting and fishing, it is imperative they have "their" time in the field.

The weekend gave me a chance to watch my dog develop and showcase his skills, but more importantly, gave me a chance to watch young hunters turn into outdoorsmen. And when a plan like that comes together, there’s no greater experience…in our outdoors.