Freelance Wing-shooting Out of State Style

Four days of hunting. Four limits of wild rooster pheasants. It’s not an easy feat by any stretch of the imagination, but my pals and I from Michigan had a few things going for us when we made the big drive to North Dakota. 

We weren’t on a game farm or a pheasant ranch. The roosters we ultimately stuffed in our game vests weren’t pen raised of freshly liberated as is the case with elite hunting clubs. No guides picked us up from the airport or told us where to stand while in the field. We hunted just the way we liked…one man, one, or two dogs, and a long walk on the Great Plains. 

The satisfaction of planning the trip, finding a place to stay and do-it-yourself  hunting made the whole pheasant hunting experience incredibly rewarding. 

Our hunt didn’t just fall into place. With a little bit of planning, shoe leather and grit, our hunt unfolded with the same unpredictability as a good movie, a competitive college football game or the first date with your future spouse. 

My first out-of-state bird hunt was back in 1992. Over the years I learned a lot about how to pull off a great hunting experience without breaking the bank. Even though I can now afford to stay at an expensive lodge with leased land, the satisfaction of planning my trip adds to the joy of the hunt. Here are a few tips that may help an inexperienced wingshot put together an out-of-state hunt. 

-Talk to a state upland biologist about hunting opportunities. They’re usually quite forthright when it comes to finding good places to hunt. Conservation officers’ phone numbers are usually published on line or in the hunting guides. They’re usually very helpful when it comes to finding birds and promising habitat. 

-As opposed to paying the landowner to hunt, bring edible goodies from your home state. Michigan is famous for its wine, cherries, maple syrup, fudge and Vernor’s ginger ale. Trading those morsels for hunting privileges cultivates a mutually beneficial relationship. By showing up at the landowner’s doorstep bearing gifts, you stand a much better chance of securing access. Make sure the person who answers the door sees the goodies in your arms. They quickly will get the understanding that you’ve come bearing gifts.   

-Keep an eye on the weather. In 2019, heavy rainfall delayed the corn harvest by several weeks throughout the Midwest. It’s no fun – and not productive hunting – when there’s field after field of standing corn. Plan a date after the pheasant opener, but before the start of firearm deer season.

-Book a place to stay. I like the mom-n-pop style motels or B&Bs in small towns where dogs are allowed in the rooms. More often than not, the motel owner has a sense of where the birds are and may be able to point you in the right direction. Those smaller motels may even have bird cleaning facilities and a freezer to keep your game. 

-Know the rules about access to land and shooting hours. Some states allow hunters to probe the ditches on either side of the road. Other states – like Michigan – require permission from the landowner(s). North Dakota allows hunting on property that isn’t posted, while Iowa allows hunting in the ditches even if the bordering land is posted. Shooting hours vary from state to state. Iowa’s hours are from 8am to 430pm which makes things easy. No need to figure out when sunrise or sunset occurs as the case with North Dakota’s rules. 

-When going out to eat, be sure to make nice with the wait staff at the local diner. Leave a nice tip and mention that you’ll be in town for a few days. Gradually float the idea that you’re bird hunting and need all the help you can get when it comes to finding a place to hunt. The waiter, waitress, or bartender can give you an idea of the landowners who are in the bar or diner. Picking up the tab for a $6 plate of eggs, or $3 beer goes a long way in finding a place to hunt. Don’t be surprised if the landowner has hundreds, or even thousands of acres to hunt. Farms that size are normal in the heartland. 

-Buy a plat book or download the app that shows who the landowners are. It’ll pay dividends in finding out who owns the juiciest land to hunt. Pull up Google maps and check out the little nooks and crannies of cover not visible from the road. Those overlooked areas can be dynamite when searching for birds that haven’t been harassed by other hunters.  

-Send thank you notes to the landowners after the hunt. Christmas cards are a nice gesture too. Those extra touches endear you to the landowner and make it easier to gain access the next time you call or knock on their door. 

Once you’ve lined up ground to hunt, the fun begins. Where to park, how to handle your dog, stealth, working into the wind, not slamming doors, blockers, strategy and shooting tips is a whole other matter best saved for a future installment, but suffice it to say it all matters.      

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