October 2nd and Third
Headed to North Dakota for my BIG hunting trip of the year. This trip is a one-way 1,553 mile trip from my home in Chattanooga. Pulling a 7’ x 7’ x 16’ enclosed trailer and getting the dogs out every three hours it takes two full days. I am taking Bear; my 5 year old well trained English Lab with a rebuilt knee and my new pup Boo. Boo is a white lab I have owned for five months of his eight month life. He is just starting his training. I plan to expose him to some hunting and birds but not rely on him. I am picking Rick, my older, little brother in Bismarck as he is flying in from Lake Charles LA, in the evening on the 3rd.
This year my in-law told me he had been seeing a thousand ducks a day in a harvested pea field. So, without any scouting on my own; arriving to the hotel at midnight, we were in that field at 5AM sitting up. Now to my surprise, I had another trailer pull into the same field as I. This has never happened in my ten years of hunting here. I went over to find out that three local guys had also been given permission to hunt this same field. A quick discussion and it was decided to hunt together.
This year we set up all the goose decoys around and behind the blinds and the duck decoys in front of our blinds. We put out seven spinners. The guys we had just met explained they saw 2,000 ducks in the night before but could not pin point were exactly they were in the field.
At the hint of light we had ducks buzzing and in the decoys. Maybe 200 duck over us a good 10 minutes before shooting time. As legal time arrived….. the ducks left. Time passed. And passed. And passed! One hour after shooting time our first flock worked the decoys. Boy did they work them. One circle and low with fixed wings 30 ducks came into to land at our feet. Five guns rose from the concealed layouts and opened up. Six drake mallards and a pintail hen had all their problems solved in a fraction of a second. Congratulations were yelled as Bear darted from his blind to collect our prize. Before he could get them all a second flock was locked on and committed. I shouted “Down” and like the well trained duck machine he is he hit the dirt and was motionless, as the ducks came in I reminded all to be careful of Bear and called the shot as they were higher in the sky. All rose and six more ducks failed to leave with the rest. Five more drakes and a hen. This was getting good!
I was alternating between a double reed Mr. O call I had recently gotten and a Cadence Call from Straight Down Game Calls. Both sound great! But even though I always try to take credit by saying it was the calling …. these ducks wanted in our spread!
This time several guys helped Bear to collect our ducks and then run back into the blinds as more ducks were coming in. In only 40 minutes from when our shooting started we had limits for all five guys.
We took pics, laughs, shared stories and shook hands. These were all good guys and good sportsmen; the kind of guys I like.
That afternoon, we went to scout. We drove into a 30 mile an hour wind all the way from Tennessee to get to our location. Our first day we had a 30 mile an hour wind and today was the same. We were seeing 100 to 200 birds on most of the small patches of water but did not locate any in the fields.
I have a rule that I frequently break, to not hunt the same field two days in a row. I wanted to honor that light. So we picked a new field near some pot-holes that had some birds on it. We again set up the 100+ Canada decoys and a couple dozen ducks with four Mojo Teal and a Baby Mallard Mojo out in front of us.
Right at shooting light a pair of geese came in from far off locked in committed and glided right in apparently intent on landing a couple feet from one of the four mojo teal I was running. My Browning Cynergy barked twice and both rolled into the decoy spread.
That was it … for a while. How long? Long enough for me to start to wonder why I didn’t hunt the field from yesterday? Why didn’t I hunt the water? After an hour of questioning all my decisions here came a flock of forty birds. Almost all mallards and lots of them drakes. They circle three times and then came in low and in front and as the first of the flock were getting ready to touch down I called the shot. Four beautiful drake mallards fell to a volley of shots from my Browning Over and Under and my brothers Maximus.
As Bear was chasing a cripple off in the field here came more. Barely getting back down in the blind and the next birds were being collected. Two green head drakes and a pintail drake. This was getting really, really fun!
An hour later, two beautiful limits of ducks and two cackler geese. Time to pick up.
While scouting that afternoon Rick, my brother, commented that the numbers of ducks was shrinking. We noticed less birds on the water as we drove down the dirt roads and not as many in the air as the day before.
Let me be clear, we were seeing birds, just fewer than the day before.
We found an isolated pond of maybe 3 acres that had some birds on it. We knew the ducks would be somewhere in the miles and miles of wheat, and barley fields and would need to water in the mid-morning.
This morning we took a dozen decoys and two assault mallards from Ure-a-duck and two spinners and set up a small set in one corner of our small pond.
The wind was still hitting the 30 MPH mark. Now I have done a product review on the Assaults. Although they look great and move alright in a medium wind, the 30 mile an hour did them in. They flew off the stake, moved in a scary erratic manner and after going out in the muck to fix them a few times I pulled them.
The temperature had warmed up a bit from the first couple of nights. Mid-day temps were in the low 50’s. I had recently purchased a Muddy Water light weight wind proof jacket that I got to use. I LOVED it. It was made for this. The camo is dead on for the areas I hunted and the light weight wind and water proof elements of the jacket was great on days that might lead me to shed a layer as the sun moves up. The wrap tight cuffs keep the water out while out in my waders. It proved itself as a great garment on this trip.
The ducks came in steady from shooting light until we limited. A variety of ducks and our two additional teal (something we had not had coming in to the fields). I was using my new Wing Stopper teal call and whistler and took pintail and 2 widgeon as well as the teal.
I always enjoy using new equipment and techniques and this was the first time I had whistled for widgeon or pintails. I fell in love with the call.
After the morning ducks, we walked for some sharptail with Boo. As usual, if you walk enough you will get to the birds. This was Boo’s first live retrieve and after dancing around the bird and barking he finally pulled it off!
Scouting that afternoon found very few birds out and about. Potholes that held 300 two days ago were empty. Ponds that had 500 now held four. Very few birds seen in the air. So our dilemma is where to go?
Now here is my bias; I love drake mallards and pintails. If I were to pick my favorite ducks it would be those two. Hunting the water we got a variety, but the fields we got the mallards and pintails! So the next day we hunted a fields
The next day found us hunting a high field between five big pot-holes each over 60 acres. My logic was we would catch birds jumping form water to water.
Prior to shooting light, maybe eight birds had landed in the spread one at a time. At shooting light we each took two. Mallard drakes. The ducks kept coming in two and three at a time, committed, feet down. Rick and I were able to call our shots. A great hunt that ended in time to pick up and get to town for breakfast before 10:00 AM.
Scouting showed even less birds then the day before.
On our next morning we choose a different field which again sit between several pot holes. The wind had finally settled down to an 8 to 10 mile an hour level. As we sit up in the dark I could hear a bunch of hens on a body of water over a half mile from us. They were loud. As shooting light came Rick and I each dumped a nice drake mallard when a group of five ducks set their wings to come see our decoys.
As the sunrise hit us I could still hear mallards to our west making a bunch of noise. I retrieved my binoculars from my bag and spied the pond to our west. To my surprise there were thousands of ducks on that 300 acre pond. As I was telling my brother of my astonishment at the number of birds, on a line from that pond came the geese.
Thousands of geese. Across the horizon. And guess what was traveling with those geese? More ducks. I leaned on the Mr. O double and soon flocks of fifty to hundred and fifty were one after another coming into our spread.
At first it was over whelming trying to pick out the most mature green head or drake pintail to take but let me tell you this; it was a blast! We collected our “perfect limits” of all drakes mallards and pintails.
We managed to gain the attention of a couple of flocks of geese even with the Mojos running. Rick nailed one and I missed two. At one point in morning two geese came in low right in line with the sun. I lost them for most of the entirety of their approach only to see them at the last moment prior to their touch down. Easy at your feet shots and I blew it!
It is funny that I had been making pretty good shots each day on escaping ducks and even sharptail but these geese in my face at 25 yard were beyond my ability!
As we were getting ready to go get the truck our friend from our first day called and asked how we were doing. He explained that he had two guests with him from out of town and had scouted a field with a couple thousand Canada geese and Snow geese but didn’t want to hunt them till the morning.
He asked if we were going to hunt the afternoon and if perhaps he could join us again. I told him Rick and I had limited out this morning but were going to chase some sharptail and if he wanted I would leave my spread up and would play guide in the afternoon. He was eager to accept and I was happy because I needed to do some training with my new pup Boo.
They came in to the field about 4:00 PM and they took eight birds for the three of them before sunset. I got a chance to hold Boo near my blind and send him on some retrieves. All in all a nice evening.
Hitting a new field in the same manner today. The wind was more northerly and at a modest 10 mph or so. Hunting a barley field with pretty much the same set up, goose decoys with a couple of dozen ducks and four Mojo Teal. And again the shooting was fantastic. Concentrating hard on “Drakes Only”, Rick collected five Drake Mallards and a Pintail Drake and I took four mallards and two pintail. We each dropped a goose and got into town for breakfast by 10:30AM. At one point, while lying in the blinds a string of sharptail glided past the edge of the decoys coming from somewhere in front to behind us. I recognized them a little late and they were right about 55 yards out. I popped up and pulled the trigger twice on my Cynergy. Two sharptail rolled in the field. Maybe my best couple shots of the trip!
Our afternoon was again spent walking up some more sharptail grouse. We walked along some think brush along some pot-holes in a new spot with Boo and collected our six birds in a couple of hours. Boo does alright on the retrieves but likes to walk behind me. I will add that to the list of training needs this dog has.
On Sunday, we hunted on a pot-hole on the water. Mostly just to change things up. We put out about 30 decoys with the Mojo Teal and the Assaults. I wanted to give the assaults another try. The wind was out of the south at 12 to 15 mph.
We collected birds one to two at a time with a consistent although not blistering pace. Rick dropped two Shovelers and two Gadwall and two Mallards and his two Additional Blue Wing Teal. I took six Blue Wings and two Widgeon. It was a nice relaxed hunt.
We hit town for breakfast and scouted for our last day of this trip. We were seeing plenty of birds on the water and in the Air but were not having luck finding the specific X in a field. This is BIG country with a ton of barley, wheat, peas, and standing corn. It has more water than anyone I talked to can remember. The birds were pretty evenly scattered.
Back at our hotel we got the chance to talk to a successful Moose Hunter and several other Waterfowlers who were also doing well.
This day I was going to go see my son who is working in the oil fields in the afternoon. So we decided to hit a pot hole and focus on the teal; seeing if we could take full limits of Blue Wing Teal. I wanted to really put my Wing Stopper BWT call to use.
Twenty decoys, four spinners, and 33 minutes after shooting light we declared “mission accomplished”! Fast and furious the teal came bombing us in groups of 5 to 15.
Back in the field with our full spread. The weather was nice …. almost too nice. Day time temps in the high 50’s night in the low 30’s. But the ducks remained.
At first light a flock of a dozen or so came straight in to the decoys, actually landing not more than ten feet from the front of the blind. I was surprised and proud that Bear did not break. I could hear him whining however and knew he wouldn’t hold forever. I suggested Rick take a drake to his left as I was going to kill the bird in front. We both rose and I turned that mallard into mush! I never heard Rick shoot and turned to ask him why not when he told me he nailed his; we shot simultaneously.
Counting the drake I shredded, we collected a limit of ten drake mallards and Rick got a hen and I a gadwall to round out our morning.
On this, the last day of our hunt, we wanted to again hit the field and to focus on the Drakes! We discussed leaving the Mojo’s out and trying to target the geese with the belief the ducks probably would show up with or without the Mojos (but the geese may not). After adequate contemplation, realization that as far as a 10 day hunt, this has been the BEST consistent hunting I have enjoyed, I decided NOT to screw up a winning formula.
We again put out all the geese with the two dozen ducks and the four mojos in front. We got our blinds very well hidden and got Bear situated in his blind.
Now I am not a religious guy, but watching the sun rise in a cut barley field with the sounds of ducks in the air, and the distant cackle of a rooster pheasant is a powerful spiritual experience for me. How can anyone refute a creator in the face of this evidence? I don’t know much but I know that if God gave me this day then he loves me!
Today was like the others. We had smaller flocks of Mallards and Pintails committing to the decoys offering easy unpressured shots. I enjoy hunting with a crew of guys but there is something special about hunting with my brother and calling our shots. No rush, no competition (as long as I win) easy going. Sometimes in a larger group I will focus on getting the first shot, or distracted if multiple people are targeting the same bird. This just doesn’t happen when you have the numbers of birds we have encountered with just Rick and I.
Pick up and loading the trailer tight, we run by the Hotel and check out and I race to Bismarck to get Rick to his plane. Now I will have 26 hours or so driving to reminisce about this experience and my gratitude for having lived it.
I am exhausted. The drive home will tax me even more. I will drag myself into work but probably be to shot to get any real work done. I will crash to recover for several days. And then, by the following Saturday …… I will wish I was back there doing it all again!