The state's pheasant forecast for the season that opened Oct. 8 was not a good one.
However, the opener wasn't nearly as dismal as some of the projections indicated. In fact, hunter success was quite good in many areas of the state.
While some of the opening day success may be attributed to contacting pheasants that had previously been undisturbed, it was also apparent that the birds proved quite resilient in areas where lesser populations might have been expected.
Kim Fundingsland/MDN - - Kristi Johnson, left, Toby, and Curt Johnson, all Devils Lake, put a limit of rooster pheasants on the ground by late morning of opening day. Although they were successful, Curt Johnson said he saw very few pheasants prior to the opener.
Kim Fundingsland/MDN - - Wes Borgen, Minot, left, son Zack Borgen and their trio of German shorthaired pointers enjoyed the Oct. 8 pheasant opener. They were hunting with friends in the Benedict area.
"We got kind of mixed reports," said Stan Kohn, upland game biologist supervisor, North Dakota Game and Fish Department. "Obviously there's some pockets holding birds.
"It wasn't all bad," he added. "A certain percentage of folks were pleasantly surprised, but a number of folks hunted longer than anticipated."
Kohn said that reports from the field in the southwest part of the state, where pheasant populations are usually very high and limits often taken on the first walk, indicated hunters had somewhat spotty success.
"Some at noon had not filled out yet," Kohn said. "The wardens reported most of the folks had to put in a fair amount of time walking to get a few birds."
The weather was excellent for the opener not too hot for dogs and very pleasant for hunters. Some hunters discovered some of their favorite covers proved to be much thicker and higher than expected. It made for tough work at times but the reward was a chance to put a rooster or two into the air.
"We're done early today. We've got our limit. There's always tomorrow," said Curt Johnson, Devils Lake, while returning to his hunting vehicle before noon opening day. "There's quite a few birds behind us here, so we were kind of surprised."
Johnson, who was hunting in the Lake Audubon area with wife, Kristi, and dog Toby, said he had scouted the area and saw only a few birds. He was expecting quick success, but wasn't about to let the possibility of fewer pheasants keep him home opening day.
"I work road construction and this is a chance for my wife and I to get away no kids, a little family time," said Johnson.
Kristi Johnson, while pulling a pair of rooster pheasants from her hunting vest and trying to keep them away from an excited Toby, shared the same thoughts.
"Just watching the dog, the birds, it's just beautiful. I can't miss it. We try and do this as much as we can," said Kristi Johnson. "Toby is the best dog. He always retrieves the birds and gets right on them."
Families and the pheasant opener goes hand in hand. Wes and Zach Borgen, Minot, father and son, were hunting with other family members in the Benedict area opening day. Although they found a few roosters, they were putting in a few miles to do so.
"You can tell they're down a little bit," said Wes Borgen when asked about pheasant numbers compared to previous years.
"It's pretty good," laughed Zack Borgen. "We're getting our birds."
Pheasants are often more visible and easier to approach on opening day than any other day of the season. Hunters expect the number of flushes to become fewer as the season progresses. That's because a number of birds are harvested and the level of wariness increases. There will be some challenging hunts in the weeks ahead.
"I think it's the thrill of trying to find them and then, when they fly, you've got your shot and you have to make the most of it," said Kristi Johnson. "To me it's a challenge and they are a great bird."