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North Dakota Pheasant Hunt: Miserable Conditions, Fabulous Company, and a Lifetime of Memories

By: Randy Tucker

You might say Gino and I hit it off literally. It was the beginning of the fall semester of 1977 at the University of Wyoming.

We were both living on the second floor of Crane Hall, a primitive dormitory devoid of any of the amenities of modern life. A central shower/restroom facility on each wing of the six-floor structure with just a single tiny closet for each of the two students assigned in a “double.”

Gino didn’t know anyone, and I was returning for my junior year and was one of a couple of dozen of familiar faces that had called Crane home for the previous two years.

Gino was a big Italian kid and word quickly spread that he’d been spotted bench-pressing 405 pounds in the weight room in the basement.

Good to know, especially since he seemed to have a very bad attitude. Gino would knock people into the wall as he walked by with a menacing look. I’d witnessed it several times, and one afternoon he bounced me into the wall.

Never one to accept a bully, I turned and punched him hard in the arm. Heads popped out of several doors down the hall, waiting to watch me get pummeled, but it didn’t happen.

Instead Gino looked at me and said, “Why did you do that?”

“You’re acting like a damn baboon, and I’m tired of it,” I said.

He looked puzzled then extended his hand and said, “My name’s Gene.”

We’ve been the best of friends for almost 43 years now.

Back in 2008, my son Brian was a safety on the Dickinson State University football team up in North Dakota.
He was a red-shirt sophomore and playing on special teams.

Gino was the city engineer for the small Wyoming town of Pinedale, and I was the technology director at Wyoming Indian Schools on the Wind River Reservation.

Both jobs were demanding, stressful, and done largely by ourselves with no help in or outside our job sites.

My daughter Staci married Adam earlier that year in August of 2008, and I had coached football with my son-in-law’s brother Phil.

Somebody came up with a bright idea to go pheasant hunting up in Dickinson early that November.

Gino was game, so was I, and Adam and Phil were excited to join us.

Brian had a bye week, so we all decided to spend a long weekend pheasant hunting.

Gino drove over South Pass through the Wind River Mountains to Riverton where he joined Phil and me for the trip east and north to the pheasant hunting paradise that is the Dakotas.

We met Adam in Lusk at my late father-in-law’s house on Oil Street. My wife Sue rode with us to Lusk where she spent the weekend; the guys headed north to Edgemont, South Dakota and up the back road towards Belle Fourche.

From Belle Fourche north to Buffalo, Belfield, and finally to Dickinson, the vistas are so long and the land so flat that you can see the curvature of the earth as you travel.

We hit the state line between North and South Dakota and spotted dozens of ring-necked pheasants on both sides of the highway for miles.

Yes, our excitement was peaked.

We arrived in mid-afternoon on a Friday and found Brian.

The four of us checked into the No-Dak Inn, a perfect sportsman’s motel, complete with game cleaning stations and ample parking for trucks like my GMC twin-cab 1500HD.

As I mentioned previously, Gino and I were desperately in need of a break from our careers.

Brian suggested we start at a place called Liquid Assets in Dickinson.

The name lived up to the place’s fare, upwards of 28 beers on tap, and they came in 39-ounce tankards. Gino and I downed a couple of them within the first hour, and in moment of epiphany, my 22-year-old son Brian said, “Dad, give me your keys.”

“Why?” I asked.

“You and Gino have downed two of those, you’re not driving tonight,” Brian said.

Good advice from my son.

We had dinner, bought a few rounds for Brian and a group of his football teammates, and humored a bachelorette wedding party taking place in a back room.

It was an older group of gals, and they kept asking Gino and me to buy them drinks. We bought a couple for them, much to the surprise of Adam and Phil.

After a little while, they became annoying, and I called Brian and a couple of his friends over.

“You guys get rid of these women,” I said.

Sure enough, a few minutes later after a conversation with the boys, they left in a huff. I’m not sure what he told them, but it was effective.

We were getting tired and drove back to the No-Dak Inn.

“Sorry fellows, the Wi-Fi is out,” the woman at the desk said.

That kind of statement was more of an open challenge than anything else to Adam and me. He was an IT professional in Laramie while Staci finished her nursing degree at the University of Wyoming.

Adam just grinned and said, “Oh, that’s too bad.”

Gino and I shared a room, as did Phil and Adam.

Adam asked me rhetorically, “What do you think their router password is?”

“Probably Admin, Admin,” I said.

Sure enough, it was. A few keystrokes by Adam, and magically the Internet came alive at the No-Dak.

Early the next morning, the same gal said. “You guys are lucky, the Internet just came back on.”

“Imagine that,” I said. “What a coincidence.”

We set out just after dawn on a 10 below zero, sun-lit North Dakota morning.

Gino carried his 12-gauge Beretta semi-auto. Phil had a side-by-side 16-gauge. I brought my older model Remington 870 and my Iver Johnson single shot, both in 12-gauge. Brian had his Remington 870 super mag with the ventilated rib, and Adam shot a left-handed 870, also with a ventilated rib. Both of their guns chambered much larger 12-gauge shells than the 2 ¾ inch my old guns did.

We had permission on several farms owned by the parents and grandparents of kids Brian went to school with and proceeded to chase the wily ring-necked rooster.

There were hens everywhere – you had to move them at times with your boots not to step on them.

Roosters weren’t so accommodating.

Anyone who doesn’t believe in natural selection has never hunted in a “roosters only” pheasant area.

A storm a few weeks earlier had drifted the hard-packed snow up to 10 feet deep along the wind breaks of short conifers and willows that surrounded the wheat, corn, and soybean fields of Stark County.

The cold was brutal, and it didn’t warm up for the entire weekend. The afternoon wind added a bit to the sub-zero briskness, but it didn’t dampen our spirits.

We discovered the roosters holed up in those hedgerow windbreaks, but they were smart birds that didn’t flush and instead ran just ahead of us, darting in and out of the trees.

After a fruitless couple of hours, we started to drop each other off on the far end of these quarter-mile long rows, drive to the other end, and then walk toward each other.

The strategy worked, and a few roosters flushed, but not even close to a limit by the end of the day.

The second day was more of the same until we watched Phil corner a bird in a lone, squatty pine tree.

The bird wouldn’t budge, and when Phil reached in to try to get it to fly, it spurred and pecked him hard enough to draw blood.

Phil is a quiet spoken guy who rarely shows any temper at all, but when the rooster finally flushed, it took both barrels from the 16 gauge. Not much meat to process that night at the No-Dak on that one.

Miserable conditions, fabulous company, and a lifetime of memories – it was a perfect weekend.

We drove back towards Lusk to drop Adam off so he could drive back to Laramie, and Gino, Phil, and I followed the setting sun home to Fremont County, tired but refreshed.

Randy Tucker is a retired history teacher and freelance writer from western Wyoming. He has a lifetime of experience in farming, ranching, hunting and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. Contact him at ratucker@wyoming.com.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.