Pheasant outlook optimistic: Hunters flock to Regent as season begins

Lee Donner, right, a Regent native who now lives near Waco, Texas, chats Friday with his friends Jim Stipcich, middle, of Helena, Mont., and John Gerbino, left, of Short Hills, N.J., at a campground off Main Street, Regent.

REGENT — This small southwest North Dakota town typically has two busy seasons: harvest and hunting.

The latter kicks off this morning with the opening of the state’s pheasant hunting season — and Regent is one of the places to be.

Like many rural North Dakota towns this weekend, Regent’s population of about 170 more than doubles, and bars and the little lodging it has fi ll up as hunters from around the state and nation flock to the outdoorsman’s paradise.

“It gets crazy,” said Karen Kouba, co-owner of the Cannonball Saloon and the city’s auditor. “It’s hard to find help just for this period of time. But I think we’re staffed OK this year.”

For Curt Honeyman, a Regent native and a longtime hunting guide with outfitter Cannonball Company, it’s the start of a busy time.

“I think I’ve got the first 35 or 40 days of season that I’ll be guiding,” Honeyman said.

Known in southwest North Dakota as a longtime basketball coach in Regent, Honeyman has spent his falls working for the Cannonball Company since it formed in 1991. He said the wet spring and summer had him worried about the upcoming pheasant hunting season. But he agrees with the latest North Dakota Game and Fish Department roadside surveys that show pheasant numbers up 30 percent from last year.

The Game and Fish Department’s annual pheasant harvest report shows an estimated 76,000 people hunted pheasant in North Dakota in 2013. With good weather and a bigger pheasant population, that number is expected to increase this year.

“I think the birds are going to be up quite a bit,” Honeyman said. “I was hesitant about that because of the spring that we had, but it looks like they did better than we anticipated and had pretty good hatches. I think there’s going to be plentiful amounts this year.”

Anthony Veroline, a Game and Fish upland game management technician in Dickinson, said the upcoming season looks “optimistic.”

“I think hunters this year should have more success finding birds on the landscape than last year,” Veroline said.

The pheasants’ spring nesting appears to have gone well and younger birds in western North Dakota benefited from the abundance of sweet clover in fields and ditches during the summer, Veroline said.

“Cover from predators, a little bit more shelter for them — especially for chicks when they’re roaming around with that clover overhead,” Veroline said. “It’s not just in the prime Badlands out on the buttes. You look at some of those roadside ditches where those pheasants will hang around, the clover was in that and that was probably beneficial for those young birds.”

John Gerbino, a veteran duck hunter from Short Hills, N.J., is in Regent for the first time. He came with his friend, Lee Donner, a Regent native who now lives in Waco, Texas.

Donner spent a few minutes trying to teach Gerbino the finer points of the sport and how different it was from hunting ducks.

“It’s going to be all new to me, and I’m going to see if I can take some of the duck hunting experience and see if it translates to pheasant hunting,” Gerbino said with a smile. “… I’m excited to be here. It’s a long journey, but it’s going to be worth it from what I’ve heard. We’ll see. I’m hearing some pretty big stories. Hopefully it’ll prove true.”

It’s likely to be a beautiful start to the hunting season — if not too warm, Cannonball Company Manager Nicole Haase said — as high temperatures in southwest North Dakota are expected to be in the upper 60s, according to the National Weather Service.

“The weather should be great for the weekend,” Haase said. “It might be a little warm for the (hunting) dogs, but we’re anticipating good weather otherwise.”

It’s also the time of year when the economic climate improves in small towns like Regent.

“A few years back, I’d talked to the state tax department and they’d said it’s just amazing the sales tax we’ve collected compared to other cities our size,” Kouba said.

In Regent, where nearly every business is locally owned, being busy is never a problem.

Gary Wiseman, the longtime owner of Regent Garage, said harvest and hunting season keeps him on his toes.

In the fall, he stays stocked up on gasoline, diesel and shotgun shells for the hunters. And he knows he’ll end up fixing a few fl at tires created by some of Hettinger County’s backroad.

But Wiseman is fine with that. “Otherwise, it’d be kinda quiet,” he said.

Author: Dustin Monke

Former newspaper editor. Now I market the best baked goods and donuts in America. But every once in a while, I write a cool story too.

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