I’ve lost count of the number of continuous days of sub-zero weather here in North Dakota. I do know the weather turned cold enough to freeze the sloughs and drive the waterfowl south earlier than I expected and the bitter cold has cut into my upland bird hunting. Over the past three weeks we’ve also had our share of snow storms and now that winter is officially here we can expect more of the same for two more months.
Severe winter weather is the norm for North Dakota. I know there are other parts of the country, like upstate New York, that get hammered with much more snow but we get a combination of wind, snow, and more wind with sub-zero temperatures that will quickly kill anyone who underestimates nature’s brutality. I came close to making that mistake earlier this week.
The weather was finally clear, the wind was averaging 10 mph and the ambient air temperature was only about -10 (F) and I knew that the pheasant were holed up in the thick cattails of the frozen sloughs. After loading Cookie, my possibles bag, shotgun and two vacuum bottles of coffee (a small one for my bag) I was ready to go. Because I live in North Dakota I maintain a survival kit in each of our vehicles and that kit includes some high calorie survival food. I was not worried about needing the survival kit because the drive to where I intended to hunt ringnecks was less than 25 miles. Secondly, I would be less than a hundred yards from the road because I would hunt the cattails and frozen sloughs that bordered country roads.
Everything was going well and Cookie had pointed two birds (both hens) and she was getting birdy on another and I was sure it was a rooster (gut feeling). I decided to cut across what appeared to be open ground so I could angle to where Cookie was pushing the bird (did you know that pheasant will run under the snow). If everything worked right the rooster would flush at a right angle and I’d have a good shot. Cookie had already crossed the open snow once and I had taken several steps when suddenly I was in snow up to my hips and I knew that I could quickly flounder.
The commotion panicked the pheasant (a rooster) and it flushed in what would have been an easy shot except I was preoccupied with getting out of the snow. There was no way I could walk out so I worked around until I could swim out of the snow drift. While I struggled Cookie was barking furiously at me and once grabbed at my sleeve. (Was she trying to help?) It took me several minutes and by the time I was on solid ground I was exhausted. I pulled myself up so I could conserve my body heat while I ate a couple of glucose tablets and topped that with a small cup of coffee from my little thermos. After catching my breath and regaining some internal heat I pushed myself to my feet and walked, with Cookie at heel, back to my Suburban. I unloaded my shotgun, loaded Cookie and my bag in the back and then I pushed myself into the driver’s seat and started the truck to let it warm up while I drank more coffee and fished an energy bar out of the survival kit. The total exercise of the walk around the frozen slough, through the cattails and ultimately getting out of the snow drift had lasted less than thirty minutes. The wind chill was -28 which meant that had I spent much longer struggling in the snow drift I would have been flirting with serious frost bite. Fortunately I got out with nothing more than snow under my hunting coat and in my pockets.
This short flirt with the truth about nature sent me a wake up call—I wasn’t paying attention to the elements around me. This is something that we (hunters) need to remind ourselves of every season. As the season passes we sometimes become complacent about the elements that are nature and we make mistakes. Hunters cannot afford mistakes because nature does not let us beat her, we just escape—occasionally.
Stay safe when you hunt the closing weeks of the seasons.
10 months ago