I will do this for as long as I’m mobile, and long after I can’t walk and carry a gun. The man who said “Go west young man” said more than most people will ever comprehend.
Bowbells, ND – I’m pretty sure Horace Greeley never hunted pheasants. Probably didn’t own a shotgun.
But he knew something about the American West when he wrote the now-famous phrase “Go West, young man”, sometime around 1865. That was six years after Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune, made an overland trip all the way to San Francisco, stopping in Utah to do an interview with Brigham Young.
Upon his return he wrote that he believed the simplicity of agriculture, and hard work, could solve many of the nation’s problems of poverty and unemployment characteristic of the big cities of the East. His is one of the most commonly quoted sayings from the nineteenth century.
Said Greely, “It’s apparent to me that the people I met understand that to eat you have to work. If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”
He also believed that people of the West understood that growing what you eat was the guarantee of sustaining yourself long enough to achieve any kind of life success.
Greeley’s ideology wasn’t for everyone, obviously. But people who live in North Dakota have a pretty good idea of what he was talking about…even in this day. There aren’t that many people in North Dakota, only 762,000 according to the 2019 census. There isn’t a lot of development here by Eastern standards. It’s hard to even get pizza here, unless you buy a frozen one and cook it yourself.
But there is a lot of agriculture, and North Dakotans work hard, enjoy the simplicity of life, and don’t view hardships like 14 degrees below zero as something to complain about. It just happens, they say, while they enjoy the things that come with the seasons, including a unique natural environment. They actually have wildlife here that grows naturally, provides a natural food option, and is capable of withstanding winters of 40 below.
Drive the rural roads of northwest North Dakota, where I spent four days this week, and you’re likely to see moose crossing the road in front of you. Ohioans think it’s a big deal if you see a deer.
I’ve come to North Dakota for years to pheasant hunt…because you CAN hunt pheasants here. The reason? There’s more pheasants than there are people, just the opposite of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, or nearly any developed Midwest state you can name.
Here outside Bowbells, (ten miles from the Canadian border) I’m with with Minneapolis-based friend Pat Jewett, and Jackson Center chiropractor Kreg Huffer. They both enjoy the outdoors, hunting, and this is the ultimate place to share the bounty of nature without destroying it. Hunting is no threat. Urban sprawl is!
In fact, you don’t see a lot of hunters in North Dakota, at least after November 1st. When the temperatures start to drop, so do the hunters. It was 14 degrees below zero here on Monday…and you have to really like pheasant hunting to walk outside in that.
Yesterday it was almost balmy – 8 degrees – and perfect, by local standards, for bird hunting. The birds cooperated, and had the advantage most of the day because of winds that reached 30 miles per hour. It made shooting tough – very tough – and the cold temperature and recent snows made the birds very, VERY spooky.
Nonetheless, we had some success.
Better, we made new friends like Doug Clemens, who works for the local gas company. Greeley would have loved him. He works hard, and plays harder. He can pheasant hunt every day of the week if he wants. But this week he hunted with us.
For sure, it would have been easier to have done this in October, but I like being here when there’s absolutely NO ONE here. Another advantage is that when the temperatures drop the birds really fatten up for the hard weather – they’re more brilliant, bigger, heartier, and nothing cooks up better than naturally-produced pheasants well-prepared.
Before someone writes to complain about killing something that’s as colorful as a rooster pheasant…it’s better meat than commercially-raised chicken. I’ll bring at least a dozen home for the freezer. If you’re lucky, I’ll invite you…or at least share.
But you can’t pheasants hunt at night, and at night we go to a local eatery called the 109 Club, where the food is worth writing about, and the people who serve it are vintage North Dakotans. They don’t come better. And you can pretty much gauge that individually because there are only 320 people in Bowbells (pronounced Bow – bells).
As for the hunting, it’s part of their heritage here and no one bats an eye. They hunt to eat – deer, antelope, moose, birds, and waterfowl. Ducks and geese are abundant for the same reason. There are no people. It’s just that hunting them can be brutal when you lay out in a ground blind amongst decoys in sub-freezing weather.
No one seems to mind. It’s part of living here – you work a bit harder for your food, if you choose to. If you want buy it like we do in Ohio…the closest grocery is in Minot, about a 90-minute drive. Doug Clemens makes his own bratwurst out of deer, and he doesn’t share his recipe. It’s that good.
One of these days I won’t be able to walk and hunt…but I’ll still come to North Dakota and eastern Montana to enjoy this natural eye candy. It doesn’t get more beautiful than what you see here, but even Greeley realized…it’s not for everyone. 762,000 is living proof, and this is a big state.
Still, a lot of people would die to have what they have here, especially those who once enjoyed the natural environment that the Midwest lost decades ago, and called it progress.
Progress here is marked by the changing of the seasons. It’s sustaining. Something you plan for and can count on; that and the 320 people you know well enough to depend on. Pheasant hunting isn’t that big a deal to most of them. Just a way of life.
Better than chicken!