If you move, you loose; if you stay your dead…
Last waterfowl season was my worst. In general, 2019 was not the year of celebrations. Lots of reasons. None of them good. My domestic situation changed. I changed jobs, (loosing some vacation time). And then came waterfowl season.
For me, the whole year is the swim and October is the island. For a year I have been planning, preparing, dreaming of my mid October odyssey to my ex-families 6000 acres of prairie pot hole paradise. I love this country. Love it. Love the wide open, golden fields, the wildlife, and even the solitude. This is lonely country. But I never feel lonely here.
I was longing for this trip; yearning for it. I needed it. I planned to travel the 22 hour trip from my home in Oregon to Donneybrook North Dakota with my best buddy, (my only close friend) Chase. Chase is my three year old black lab. We were going to be there for three days by ourselves and then pick my brother up from the airport. Camping out, enjoying the sun, barbecue, camaraderie, the land and the birds. What could go wrong?
Turns out, a lot. As my daddy would say, “There is many a drip, between the cup and the lip”.
The weather report sucked. Winter weather advisory from Idaho to North Dakota. Some might have suggested postponing the trip. But with my brother having purchased his airfare, my vacation from the new job having to been negotiated, and my lack of willingness to delay my urges, I decided to leave half a day earlier.
Not to bore you with a playby play, but let me say the trip was “sporty”. Near white out driving for hours, not being able to see the road, going 25 miles an hour for hours on a highway between Misoula and Great Falls. I drove on, too scared to fall asleep. I jokingly claim “I ain’t scared of nothing…. But this scares the crap out of me”. I admit, this was the scariest drive I’ve ever experienced.
The good news is the snow let up at Willingston North Dakota. Only 1000 miles of it. The bad news is it was followed by ice. I got the truck pulling my trailer stuck on level ground at a red light leaving town.
Finally got to my camp and set up. Next morning sun was out and I scouted. I have hunted this area for 20 years. I have never seen wheat still in the fields in October. Almost NOTHING had been harvested. I talked to my ex-inlaws and learned that from here to Saskatchewan nothing had been harvest due to the wet fall. I also couldn't find birds. I drove over 350 miles in two days looking for birds. Pot holes that in good years held 2000 birds or more now would hold 5. The vast majority held zero. Again I have hunted this country and NEVER had seen the sparsity of birds that I was experiencing.
I picked my brother up at the airport and gave him the bad news. We went out and scouted a bit. My brother sagely opined, “Well it can’t get any worse.” Oh, he was wrong.
A stormed moved in that night and another blizzard hit us. A day and half in the hotel watching the snow fall is what was in store.
An afternoon hunt was aggressively squeezed in. Shot two ducks; got the truck stuck. Had to call to get pulled out. So far, this has been the highlight.
After locating a few geese on a pond and a harvested field (harder to find then you would think), we got a plan to field hunt in the morning.
As usual, I always have new gear that I “hope” helps me kill birds. This year I had gotten the “Goose Tree”. A flying goose decoy system. Three goose flying decoys. Heavy duty canvas and steal supports. This is not a gimmick item. This is a very unique set up. To be honest, I initially was a little skeptical. I thought I would need a lot of wind to make this thing work. Then I talked to the owner. Larry Juhl, explained his theory about why the goose tree is so effective. “Geese follow those in front when landing in a field. The white ring of tail feathers on a goose is only viewed by another goose while in flight and gliding in to land. Geese learn to focus on those markings”. Makes sense.
The set up I got involves three flyer decoys on a pole stand. It is something stored in my goose trailer. It is pretty simple to set up (takes maybe a minute and a half). I put it up in the center of a wedge (wide U) spread and put our layouts in front fifteen yards of them. Our blinds where spread wide with a clear landing zone right between my brother and I. No wind.
Now I would love to tell you how we piled them high that day. However, there just wasn’t that many birds around. Our first group was off in the distance and I leaned on a call. I was curious about how the birds would react to my new set up.
I love seeing the birds react to a call. The feeling when you think, “I did that”. Got them to turn. And these did. They turned at lost altitude and were on a line. Right to the tree. I was impressed. A flock of six and three stayed. Both my brother’s and I’s semi autos were acting up and not cycling well; just one more thing to challenge us.
Three hours pass and three geese are seen on the horizon and with a little coaxing with the short reed they appear interested. They circle wide and then lock on the tree and come straight in. This time only one escapes the barking of our guns….. the damn things don’t cycle well again! Of course my brother has an excuse that he got something is his eye and couldn’t see well. Sure.
That was it for hunting. We loaded the trailer and scouted all the way to Canada without seeing anything. Getting up at 5AM to prepare for another day and my brother announces he is blind. Can’t see out of his right eye. So we wait for urgent care to open and then off to see a doctor. Long story short; two days watching tv and driving dirt roads while his eye recovers.
Last two days we hunt and scratch out a couple of birds each day. Mostly lying in blinds feeling a little cheated.
I am an optimist by nature. I always look for the upside. This trip taught me that if ANYONE tells you, “It can’t get any worst”. ALWAYS remember, “Oh yes it can!’ And if you are with me… It probably will!
Until I see you in the field, be safe, be good, and BE LUCKY!