What I found was an answer to the question of why Theodore Roosevelt chose this somewhat unheralded land to serve as his wilderness reprieve from life in New York City. Vast expanses of prairie, rugged badlands, thousands of pothole lakes and lush riverways combine to give North Dakota a rich landscape filled with a wealth of fish and game.
Over the course of two trips to North Dakota for different conferences, I covered most of the state. What I found was an answer to the question of why Theodore Roosevelt chose this somewhat unheralded land to serve as his wilderness reprieve from life in New York City. Vast expanses of prairie, rugged badlands, thousands of pothole lakes and lush riverways combine to give North Dakota a rich landscape filled with a wealth of fish and game.
Often thought of as the west, North Dakota is actually one of 12 Midwestern states. With a population of just over 750,000 residents, only Alaska, Vermont and Wyoming are home to fewer people. But at 70,700 square miles, North Dakota is the 19th largest state in the country. So there is a lot of space for spreading out.
Being a Roosevelt buff, I had to explore Medora and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The park’s visitor center is in town, and is now home to the Maltese Cross Cabin, which is where Roosevelt stayed in 1883 while on his Chimney Butte Ranch. The property was located seven miles south of town. Stepping into the cabin, and viewing some of his personal effects, like bullet casings Roosevelt nailed into one of the logs, is an invigorating experience. One wants to stand in the doorway with fists held high and shout, “bully,” to honor one of our nation’s greatest ever conservationists.
My friend, Nick Green with Michigan United Conservation Clubs, and I honored our hero in another manner. We drove south of Medora towards Chimney Butte and headed out on foot into the National Grasslands. With Nick’s two bird dogs along, we wanted to shoot a couple of limits of Sharptail Grouse. We only came up one bird short, with me knocking down three and Nick two. We don’t know if we were walking directly in Roosevelt’s footsteps, but there is no question he was within a rifle shot of where we hunted.
Later in the week, I found myself in a dove field just outside of Bismarck. I knocked down a limit of doves in no time. Our party put about a hundred birds in the game bag that evening, which I along with Nick and another friend cleaned in the parking lot of a local hotel. I marinated the breasts wrapped in bacon, and the next night cooked them over charcoal for attendees of our conference. They were a huge hit.
Deer, turkey and waterfowl are also widely popular for non-resident hunters in North Dakota. It’s one of the few states that gives whitetail deer hunters a legitimate chance at tagging a velvet buck with a bow. The outstanding conservation organization, Delta Waterfowl, has its home office located in Bismarck, because the region is so critical for waterfowl habitat.
The river bottoms, especially along the Missouri River near Fort Mandan where the Lewis and Clark Expedition over wintered in 1804-1805 is high on my bucket list of places to shoot a turkey. Really just for the historical experience. Another must see piece of history is the Custer House at Fort Abraham Lincoln. This is where Custer rode from to the Battle at Little Bighorn. He of course, never returned.
North Dakota isn’t all hunting, either. The fishing is superb. Real high on my to-do list is fishing Devil’s Lake for yellow perch. There’s a deal called Perch Patrol that puts you on jumbos through the ice. I can’t hardly think about eating fresh, lightly battered yellow perch from ice cold waters, dipped in melted butter without starting to salivate.
The perch’s larger cousin, walleye, are also plentiful. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department stocked a record 180 lakes across the state with nearly 12 million walleye fingerlings this year. Fisheries production and development supervisor Jerry Weigel said the number of lakes bested the previous high by nearly 30 waters.
“It’s a great time to fish for walleye,” he added. “Statewide, there are a lot of opportunities, and a good chance of success. This is especially true if you live in rural North Dakota where a lot of varied fishing opportunities exist.”
Colorado, Wyoming and Montana receive a lot of attention. But if you’re like me, and kind of enjoy a way of life many are now referring to as “socially distanced” then you might want to start paying attention to the endless outdoor opportunities in North Dakota.
See you down the trail…
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