Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has a music degree from Ohio State University.


I said I wanted to see lots of birds in a challenging environment, and didn’t care if it was cold.  North Dakota host Doug Clemens had both pheasants…and propane!

For years now I’ve enjoyed America’s best wild pheasant hunting out West, and frankly, had it pretty much to myself…along with friends like Pat Jewett, Jerry Moenning, and Doug Clemens.

The trick is, you see, go late in the year when all the early-season shootniks have had their fill of 50-degree days and dumb, late-hatch birds unwise to the ways of dogs and hunters.

Those birds sit tight, flush predictably, and frankly make it easy on dudes with soft kangaroo-skin boots wearing Pheasant Forever shirts that are professionally laundered – folded with medium starch.

But I don’t like it that way.  I like to hunt during the last two weeks of the season when it’s cold, windy, and while all the hunt club heroes are home by the fire bragging about making those routine straightaway shots.  That’s what I told host Doug Clemens (from Bowbells, North Dakota) I wanted when Jewett, friend Kreg Huffer, and I arrived at his place in mid-December.

We had called the previous day when we over-nighted at Jewett’s house in Minneapolis, the midway point of a 19-hour drive.

It’s not all hunting, and you never know what you’ll see in North Dakota, including morning light like this.

“It was -18 here this morning,” said Clemens, who works for the local gas company when he’s not chasing ringnecks and geese.  “There’s birds, and they’re grouped up because we’ve had snow.  You should get exactly what you want.”

After hunting in North Dakota for twenty years I’ve come to discover you can get much more than you expect.  Bowbells is just ten miles south of the Canadian border, and you see wildlife in counties named Divide and Burke that you would otherwise only see on the National Geographic channel – Shiras moose, both whitetail and mule deer, antelope are plentiful, ‘jacks’ (jackrabbits) and coyotes.  It looks like the opening scenes from Dancing With Wolves, and a local eatery/gas station/slash post office might have two pickups and three horses parked outside.  Western North Dakota is big cattle and cowboy country.

“Sposed to warm up some in the morning,”  said Clemens over an evening meal of his home recipe deer sausage, so good you want to ration it.  You don’t want to run out of something that special.  “And we’ll be doing a lot of walking so get a good night’s rest.”

You could hear the wind howl outside, pushing the sub-zero night air.  I shuddered to think of the wind chill as my head hit the pillow.  And with visions of pheasants flying, guns popping, and dogs retrieving, the combination of dread and excitement made it hard to close my eyes.

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But Clemens woke us at 6 with the smell of his ‘deer’ bacon – better eating, better for you, and as good as anything fried can possibly be.


“Should get up to 12 today,”  he said, grinning.

Of course it took until 3 in the afternoon to get that high, which meant it was about zero when we set foot in a 500 acre wheat field looking for what the locals call ‘potholes’.  They’re two-acre depressions, filled with water, ringed with cattails, and frozen solid two feet down.  And getting to those potholes required about a mile walk through foot-deep snow and some drifts three times that depth.  The morning chill literally smirked at the handwarmers I had smoking in my coat pockets.

You earn these birds. Tough, and wise to the ways of survival, we never saw another hunter.

“I was out here a couple of weeks ago,”  said Doug.  “We saw a lot of birds around these ponds, and with the temperature and this snow they’re going to be burrowed down in those cattails.  Tough walkin’, but it oughta’ be good shooting.”

He knew what he was talking about.  Ten paces into the cattails Jewett rang up the day’s first rooster.  On the sound of his gun another one climbed out of that tangled mess right in front of Kreg Huffer’s dog, Winston.  ‘Huff’ dispatched him with a quick and accurate shot.  This particular patch of cattails was little more than a dried-up marsh, and as we got towards the end of it and in sight of some abandoned out buildings, hens (mostly) and a few ringnecks began to boil out the far end and out of range.  Frustrating as that is to see bird flush wild after you’ve worked so hard to find them, Doug was reassuring.

“There’s another, bigger one across that hill straight ahead,”  he said.  “If there were birds in here there’ll be birds there, too.”

Across the hill turned out to be another half-mile walk, but the pond on the other side was three times bigger and down out of the wind.  The moment I crunched into those cattails they exploded with flushing birds, and an opportunity for a double – side-by-side roosters making a lot of cackling noise with their getaway attempt.  I was shooting an old favorite Winchester Model 12 pump, and while I love to carry that gun I’m not a real slick pump-gunner.  The first bird I dropped without issue.  But accustomed to shooting doubles and over-and-unders, I forgot about pumping up another shell.  I nearly pulled the trigger out of the receiver, and never did got off a second shot.

It didn’t matter.  By that time the three of us had the pond surrounded and birds were pouring out in all directions.  Huffer shot a double, and had a chance for a triple…but that double accounted for his daily limit.  Jewett was just on the other side of the hill and we could hear him popping away at fleeing birds we had just flushed.

Prairie monument…They call it ‘big sky’ country, and there’s no sky, anywhere, like it!

By the time we reached the far end of the pond we were all limited out, weighted down with a dozen birds, and had an hour’s walk to get back to the truck…through the snow and into the wind.

I’m no ‘newbie’ at this, and knew from past experience to dress for whatever comes your way out there.  But on this day there was no such thing as warming to the task.  It was nearly 2 in the afternoon when we got to the truck – 2:30 by the time we got back to Doug’s garage to clean and process birds, and I was chilled to the bone.

“You even look cold,”  Huff said, pouring me a short glass of anti-freeze.

Friend and guide Doug Clemens gave us just what we asked for…birds and a challenging hunt.

By the time we got the birds cleaned the sun was disappearing beneath the horizon and we headed to the Trail’s End Cafe for a bowl of authentic chicken tortilla soup.  Somewhat fortified, and after some photo editing done back Doug’s place, I could barely walk to bed.

“I think I’ve got a better place to take you tomorrow,”  he promised.  “And hey…it’s going to be warmer.”

The excitement had worn off.  All I wanted was sleep and to be out of the wind.  Tomorrow is always another day when you’re a pheasant hunter, but few days could have been better than this one.  Doug Clemens had given me everything we wanted – big late-season roosters, a good workout…and we never saw another hunter.

“I’m not coming out here this late in the year again,”  said Jewett, struggling to get situated in his sleeping bag.  “Too cold, and too hard.  I’m too old for this.”

But I’ve known him for years.  He’s a pheasant hunter.  I didn’t buy a word of it.

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