While the first hunting season of fall officially opened a month ago, many North Dakota hunters consider September as the kick-off, starting with dove, then archery deer and now grouse and partridge.
Then comes youth deer, sandhill crane, youth waterfowl and eventually the regular duck and goose opener on the backside of September. In what seems like no time we’ll soon find ourselves knee-deep into the 2010 hunting season.
Sometime this month, most of us will make our first trip into the field, whether or not it's on an opener. It's always interesting to take a look at familiar landscapes on that first trip of the year. Whether it's been 10 months or even 10 weeks since the previous visit, the view of North Dakota seldom stays exactly the same. From localized storms or droughts, Conservation Reserve Program grasslands coming out or a new crop in old field, the dynamics change over the years.
Whether it's primarily a scouting trip, or a first hunt of the season that includes some time before or after to “check things out,” any trip to peruse last fall's hunting grounds will pay dividends in planning the next hunt.
When you’re out on that trip, the Private Land Open to Sportsmen or PLOTS Guide is a must-have. While the lands enrolled in the actual PLOTS program are private, the guide includes a myriad of hunting access and informational materials. It's more than just a map booklet. For most hunters these days, a license, gun, shells, gas, cup of coffee and a PLOTS Guide are essential items for a trip afield.
Like the landscape around them, PLOTS parcels can change subtly from year-to-year as well. Habitat components can change, and some tracts are in the program one year and not the next.
There are even changes that take place after the guide is printed. Every year Game and Fish Department private land biologists sign up a few new contracts after the guide is out. Sometimes existing contracts change, such as if a CRP enrollment ends and the tract is converted back to cropland.
Game and Fish tracks these changes with updated maps on its website at gf.nd.gov.
If you find an area listed as a PLOTS tract in the guide, but it is not marked with yellow triangular PLOTS signs, the department suggests that you err on the side of caution and avoid entering the area until you have checked it out with us.
I should also point out for residents entertaining visiting hunters from another state, that nonresidents may not hunt on lands owned or leased by the Game and Fish Department, including state wildlife management areas and PLOTS, for the first week of pheasant season, which this year is Oct. 9-15. This restriction applies to all types of hunting, not just pheasants.
This restriction does not apply to lands owned or managed by other state agencies such as state school lands, federal lands such as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service waterfowl production areas, or to private land not enrolled in PLOTS.
Even with around 1 million acres in the PLOTS program, plus other public areas in the state, there is not enough public access to provide for all hunting for every man, woman and child taking the field. Most hunters would do well to develop and maintain positive landowner relations, so both public and private lands are options on any given day of hunting.
As you set out this fall, if you’re like me you’ll no doubt find yourself wandering down the same old dusty township road you did last year. While the road may look and feel the same, the adjacent fields probably won't. It's just part of the unique aspect of fall we’ve grown to appreciate.