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A family tradition: Pheasant hunting in Williston, N.D.



By Eric Ladd
Explore Big Sky Publisher

If someone were to ask what you knew about Williston, N.D., how would you reply? Some might answer it’s the land of oil, crime, “man camps,” uncontrolled development and the highest-grossing Wal-Mart in the country. But others would describe Williston’s endless miles of dirt roads flanked by golden farm fields, multi-generational families living on homesteads, legendary sunsets, and tasty home-cooked breakfasts.

Williston is in the midst of a culture clash as the hydraulic fracturing boom brings in thousands of transient workers to this once-quiet North Dakota town. Williston’s rapid growth has benefited many pocketbooks in the community, but also filled the streets with oversized diesel trucks pushing some locals, who prefer a slower pace of life, out of the city limits.

For more than 20 years, a close family friend of mine has taken a father-son hunting trip to Williston and returned home with tales of mile-long tree rows filled with 30-inch-tailed pheasants. For the past couple years I’ve joined in on this journey to chase the sporting birds, and while some hotels now have security bars on their lobby windows and you have to keep a close eye on the speeding oil tankers, we’ve found the fall Williston bird-hunting tradition still intact.

Our hosts are a father-son duo native to the area, and are always good for a tour of their backyard roads as we chase the wild game bird. We enjoy early morning drives to secret hunting spots, and feast on homemade stews and cornbread for lunch in the shadow of grain silos. Many of our classic hunts are now littered with oil wells, the distinctive natural gas flares adorning each of them. But we still manage to find birds and come home with great photos and plenty of tales about the “one that got away.”

Three tips to surviving Williston:

1. Get a room at one of the newer hotels in town as many of the seasoned locations have seen better days. Recommended stay: Best Western Plus: (701) 572-8800

2. Breakfast at Gramma Sharon’s – arrive early and be prepared to leave full. Ask for a Scotcharoo desert bar to go (if you have a hunting group ask for the whole pan!)

3. Where to hunt? North Dakota laws dictate that if land isn’t posted, you can hunt it. Find a local guide and when in doubt, knock on the farmhouse door to ask permission.


Bird hunters’ support of conservation efforts is growing more important with development encroaching on habitat around the region. Find your local Pheasant’s Forever chapter and show your support. Southwest Montana’s Bozeman chapter is active in preserving habitat and hosts an annual fundraising banquet every April.

Visit for more information.

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