Published November 08, 2012, 12:01 AM

Pheasant fun day

NEAR FINLEY — The pheasant rooster that exploded from the knee-high grass at Teresa Mattson’s feet put an exclamation point on what already had been an action-packed hour.

By: Brad Dokken, The Dickinson Press

NEAR FINLEY — The pheasant rooster that exploded from the knee-high grass at Teresa Mattson’s feet put an exclamation point on what already had been an action-packed hour.

The rooster’s strategy of surprise paid off, and the bird sailed across the field unscathed by the shotgun blasts that followed when Teresa, 12, and her dad, Ken, collected their wits enough to shoot.

Jacob Mattson, 15, was out of ammo and could only watch his dad and sister. Ditto for Cooper, the Mattson’s 2-year-old black Lab that already had flushed more than a dozen pheasants and retrieved seven birds for his hunting companions.

Chalk one up for the pheasant this time.

“My heart stopped beating,” a smiling Teresa said moments after the encounter. “That was a little scary. It scared the living daylights out of me.

“That was exciting.”

A seventh-grader at South Middle School in Grand Forks, Teresa and her older brother were afield with their dad last Saturday for the inaugural “Fun Day Pheasant Hunt” hosted by the Finley Wildlife Club.

Located about 65 miles southwest of Grand Forks, Finley isn’t traditional pheasant country. The wildlife club decided to do something about that, buying 200 pheasants from a farm in Princeton, Minn., and releasing them on private grasslands in a six-township area around Finley.

The hunt was open to anyone at no charge beyond the price of a hunting license, provided they brought along at least one youth 17 or younger to enjoy the experience. Maps were provided to everyone who registered, showing the general locations where birds were released.

The club also rounded up a slew of door prizes and hosted a hot dog and brat supper for the community last Saturday night at the Finley American Legion club.

“If one kid gets his first pheasant, it’s worth it to me,” said Brian Tuite, secretary-treasurer of the Finley Wildlife Club. “That’s what I want to see.”

For the kids

According to Tuite, club members landed on the idea of a pheasant hunt as a follow-up to a dove hunt they hosted in September 2003. The club also has sponsored several coyote tournaments in recent years but decided they wanted to do something for the kids.

Releasing pheasants seemed like the perfect option, Tuite said, and so club members rounded up about 15 sites to release the birds. All of the land offered a mix of the grassland, slough and brushy habitat pheasants traditionally prefer.

“We knew the area we wanted to keep it in,” Tuite said. “The people around here are pretty tremendous for this, support-wise. We actually had one guy who pulled his No Hunting sign for us. The landowners around here support us pretty well.”

Last Saturday’s weather was ideal for hunting pheasants, cool with nearly no wind and a mostly cloudy sky: Perfect for walking, in other words — and not too hot for either dogs or hunters.

Tuite also got his wish of seeing four young hunters shoot their first pheasants, among them Teresa Mattson, and Peter Wysocki, 13, of Grand Forks.

Hunting with his dad, Rusty, Peter bagged two pheasants.

“It’s great, and a day like today couldn’t be beat,” Rusty Wysocki said after he and his son had wrapped up their hunt. “It’s nice to be able to go out for an afternoon in North Dakota and not get blown away by the wind.”

Wysocki, who hadn’t hunted pheasants since 2004, said he also appreciated not having to drive 200 miles for the opportunity.

“He wouldn’t let me shoot,” Wysocki joked about his son. “It’s kind of nice not to have to travel very far from Grand Forks and have some activity.”

Also having a successful day afield was Neil Schmidt of Valley City, who joined son-in-law Mike Stromsodt of Finley, grandson Max, 13, and a young friend of Max’s from Buffalo to try their luck.

The crew had their limit of 12 pheasants by noon, Schmidt said.

“It was really fun, but we still had to work for them,” Schmidt said. “I suppose we went five or six miles.”

The most fun, he said, was watching the kids shoot.

“I held off three or four different times,” he said. “Let them shoot.”

Giving back

Buying pheasants and transporting them from north of the Twin Cities to release doesn’t come cheap, and Tuite said the wildlife club used proceeds from a fundraising auction it holds every two years to pay for the birds and the food served Saturday night.

They also banded 14 birds that would have been worth cash prizes during the event, but none were shot until the next day, Tuite said.

Galen Geer, president of the club and a longtime outdoors writer from Finley who has numerous contacts in the hunting- and shooting-sports industries, secured door prizes from companies such as Lansky, known for its sharpeners of knives, arrows and tools.

Tuite said events such as the pheasant hunt are a way for the club to give back to the community. The club also awards an annual $1,000 scholarship to a graduating high school senior and has donated money to charities and people with medical bills.

“We kind of feel the only good wildlife club is a broke wildlife club,” Tuite said. “That way, we’re going to keep raising money and doing things.”

He said the club recently learned of a grant program through the North Dakota Game and Fish Department that provides funding for youth hunter events.

“If we could get that, we could do this every year easy,” he said. “If we can get a kid to get their first pheasant every year, that’s well worth it to me.”

The success of this year’s inaugural pheasant hunt also gives the club something to build on, Tuite said. About 40 people, including more than 25 youths, registered for the hunt, Tuite said, and he heard of 12 limits being shot.

“We were happy,” he said. “We had no idea how this was going to turn out.”

The Mattsons, after shooting seven birds in their action-packed walk that saw a pheasant bust from cover only to elude the shotguns, bagged their final two birds to fill their limit later that afternoon at a site south of Finley.

Jacob Mattson even won a knife sharpener during the drawing that evening.

“It was a great day,” Ken Mattson said. “Being out there with your dog and kids and everything, it was really fun. I told the guys I really appreciated it.”

As for Jacob, he described the hunt as “ridiculous.”

And in the lingo of today’s teenagers, “ridiculous” is good.