Audubon NWR pheasant opener

Dane Eichelberger, Hazen, and Buster, his German wirehaired pointer, had a successful early morning walk for rooster pheasants at the Audubon National Wildlife Refuge upland opener.

COLEHARBOR – There’s nothing like opening day, even if it arrives in the middle of the season. Okay, some explanation is needed.

North Dakota’s pheasant season opened October 10. However, the first day of hunting upland game birds at several National Wildlife Refuges in the state was Monday, Nov. 23, the day after the close of the state’s deer gun season. So, for those hunters who annually wait for the upland opener at Audubon NWR, the day after the deer gun season is very much a second opening day of the pheasant season.

When the pheasant population is high Audubon NWR can be a very, very busy place for the upland opener. Last Monday the amount of hunters walking the refuge for roosters was obviously down somewhat from past refuge openers, a reflection of overall pheasants numbers. But tradition is tradition, and the chance of putting a few roosters in the game vest is always appealing to eager hunters.

Dane Eichelberger of Hazen wasn’t about to miss the opportunity to walk for pheasants at Audubon NWR. Despite chilly temperatures and a biting wind he and his German wirehaired pointer, Buster, started out shortly after sunrise. A short time later he was back at his pickup and Buster was enjoying a long drink of water.

“We didn’t see a lot of birds but I got my limit of three,” said Eichelberger. “It was pretty good but the wind made it a little tough. You don’t hear them get up as well.”

Eichelberger credited Buster with making a difference. He’s one of the reasons for making the annual trip to Audubon NWR for the opener.

“Every years it’s a little different, but it’s nice to get birds to hold for points,” remarked Eichelberger.

It wasn’t long before two other hunters made their way back to their vehicle and a lengthy walk with their dogs leading the way. They didn’t do as well as they hoped in terms of finding roosters but still found enjoyment in the pursuit.

“It was pretty uneventful. My son-in-law said we’d have six birds by 9 a.m. and we almost shot once,” laughed Dave Olson, Minot, while patting his Labrador Gertie, 1 1/2, on the head.

“Today was all right. It was a beautiful morning. We just didn’t see as many birds as we expected,” said Nathan Stremick, Minot, Olson’s hunting partner. “My brother and dad are out there and we’ve heard some shots. Maybe it was better for them than it was for us.”

A few birds could be seen flying across tall prairie grass and setting wings above large stands of cattails. Mostly they were hens, but a occasional rooster too. Only rooster are allowed to be harvested.

Rick Reisenauer, Minot, was in the field at Audubon, walking being a pair of German shorthaired pointers. He arrived back at his starting point with cold hands and no birds in the vest.

“It was pretty tough out there,” said Reisenauer. “We’re not really seeing many birds. They were not in the cattails like we thought they’d be.”

Kevin Sperling, Minot, was Reisenauer’s hunting buddy. The tailfeathers of a rooster could be seen sticking out of his hunting vest as he approached the end of his walk.

“We didn’t see a whole lot but we covered a lot of ground and got one,” said Sperling.

A few other orange-clad hunters could be seen walking through likely cover elsewhere in the refuge but, unlike some years at Audubon NWR, not many reports of shotguns were heard. Still, for the hunters who were making the effort, it was as much about being outside and watching dogs work as it was about putting birds in the bag.

“It’s a tradition. We’ll be doing it every year,” said Olson.


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