When The Pheasant Hunt Is Over, It's Time To Cook And Eat

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Thousands of hunters will take to the fields over the weekend for the opening of North Dakota’s pheasant season, which means any number of birds could be headed for the pot, pan or kettle by day’s end.

“You gotta eat what you bring home,” Bismarck hunter Darryl Howard said.

Hunters shot more than 330,000 pheasants last season, an uptick from an off year in 2019 in which the harvest was just short of 257,000. Those numbers have tailed off in recent years, falling from 590,000 in 2015, as habitat has diminished.

The 2021 pheasant population forecast is sketchy, hampered by drought and the long-term loss of cover once provided by Conservation Reserve Program grassland acres that have been turned back to more profitable crops in recent years. Still, hunters and dogs will find birds, and the end of any successful hunt can also mark the start of a unique meal, The Bismarck Tribune reported.

Howard’s approach is a meat and potatoes style, something he adapted after starting to hunt the birds in the 1990s. He grew up in Rugby and spent a dozen years in Minnewaukan before moving to Bismarck and finding better pheasant hunting opportunities.

“I like it breaded and fried in a cast iron skillet,” Howard said. His side dishes might include green beans, spaghetti squash “or just a plain old baked potato.”

Howard, 55, rolls the pheasant breasts and legs in seasoned flour before frying. The seasoning options are only limited by “how brave you are,” he said, adding that the popular boxed mix Shore Lunch works well.

Howard’s wife makes pheasant enchiladas and enchilada soup, always browning the meat as a first step. Pheasant can be substituted for chicken in many recipes but requires a little more patience, he said.

“Cooking slower is better than faster because it can get tough and chewy,” he said.

At an end-of-season gathering of hunting buddies or at fundraisers in the Hettinger area, people anticipate Loren Luckow’s pheasant liver pate.

“I’m not much on liver, but I’ve made that several times,” said Luckow, 75. “A lot of my friends enjoy it.”

The recipe uses a pound of pheasant livers, which calls for a donation from about 16 roosters. Many hunters take only a bird’s breast and legs, so finding livers isn’t difficult, he said.

A simpler recipe but one just as popular is pheasant rollups. Cubed pheasant breasts are marinated overnight in Allegro, wrapped in bacon, then grilled, broiled, or cooked on a George Foreman grill and served as an appetizer.

“I can’t make them fast enough,” Luckow said.

Luckow in the 1980s organized the Cedar Creek Pheasants Forever chapter. He hunts nearly every weekend of the season with a group of men ranging in age from 60 to nearly 80. It’s as much a gathering as it is a hunt, Luckow said.

“If we have six guys and get six birds we’re happy,” he said. “We’re not diehards.”

The group meets at the end of the season for a pheasant feed, which likely will include pheasant casserole. The recipe starts with the simmering of six pheasant breasts or two whole pheasants.

Howard added this advice, which should be heeded before cooking any pheasant recipe: “Make sure you get all the pellets,” he said.

Pheasant hunters pour tens of millions of dollars into the state’s economy -- particularly in the southwest – by paying for lodging, food and drink, gas, ammunition and accessories.

License sales so far in 2021 are down from last year in most hunting categories, but 2020 was a record year as people were looking for outdoor activities during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Randy Meissner, Game and Fish Department licensing manager.

Department data shows 2,473 nonresident 14-day small game licenses have been sold in 2021, down from 2,646 at this time in 2020. Resident small game license sales stand at 6,987, down from 7,556 last year. Resident combination licenses are up just more than 1%, going from 60,640 in 2020 to 61,336 this year.