Hunting the Pot-Holes
I am lucking in that I get to hunt some of the BEST duck hunting country in the world. I have in-laws who own approximately 6000 acres of a grain and cattle operation in North Central North Dakota. Since the family has been farming this country since the early 1900’s, I also have connections for most of the surrounding farms. As my late father-in-law told me upon my first hunt, “You can hunt as far as you can see in any direction”. Pretty sweet.
What I love about this land is how wide open it is and yet how much diversity there is. Pea fields, wheat fields, sunflower fields, corn, and soybean are the main crops. Pastures with Berry bushes and thorn trees with berries are plentiful. Small quarter to a hundred acre bodies of water seem to be everywhere. In the spring and summer every pothole will have some ducks or geese on them. In the fall, at the right time, they will be covered with waterfowl.
Generally, I love to shoot mallards and pintails. Don’t get me wrong; I will shoot all types of ducks but when the ducks are thick I will focus on the green heads and long necked pintail. The best place to intersect the Mallards and Pintails is in the fields. So that is where I most love to be; in a layout with a hundred full bodied geese decoys behind me and two dozen duck decoys in front.
However, I never make the trip to North Dakota without my water hunt gear. There have been trips I have never taken it out of the trailer. Usually on a 7 to 10 day trip it will get out of the trailer once to twice. This last trip we got rain. A lot of it. The fields became swamped and the field gear was impossible to get out. So, to the water I went!
The first decision is to find a pothole that lies in a way that you have a good hide on the upwind side. In this country the wind blows. It blows hard more often than not. The ducks like to be on the calm water. When the wind blows hard and you have a good wind break on the upwind side, you can position yourself without decoys and kill birds; I’ve done it.
Although I have used layouts on the side of the potholes and A-frame blinds, my favorite hide is to be with my back to the east blowing wind sitting in the reeds without a blind. Now here is a noteworthy tip. Bring a seat and a gun rest. I have a Marsh seat, a seat on a stake with a cross stabilizing shank. I use it in deeper water. The best seat is a five gallon bucket. I carry in a SRB Field Rest. Now because I am a better brother then most, I got a couple of these and offered one to my brother. He made the poor decision not to take it into the first Pothole we hunted. He only made that foolish gesture once!
These potholes are shallow, silt field and mucky. The kind of muck that makes you sweat as you throw a few decoys out. And on the bank where you sit it is mucky, muddy, and messy. A SRB Field Rest allows you to keep your gun clean and readily available. Beyond the obvious enhancement to your shooting it also dramatically reduces the chance of getting your barrel fowled with mud. They adjust quickly for height and allow you to have your weapon pointed safely and securely and really available. I really like them.
As for decoys. I am not throwing a huge spread at these ducks. These are local ducks for the most part as this year the migration hadn’t really started yet. I also did not deploy the seven Mojo spinners I have. My experience is that the spinners are GREAT when you have migrating birds in but that the local birds shy from them. So a dozen mallards and few pintails is all I used on this day. Positioning the decoys on the edges of the calm water made a nice “pocket” for incoming ducks to land.
This year, the limit is six “big” ducks and two additional teal. Teal are rarely seen in the fields so we are eager to nail a few. As soon as shooting light arrives so do some bluewings. I heard them before I saw them. A whistling thunder as a flock of six streaked by. Both my brother and I let the excitement get to us and we each fire a round in the general direction of the birds. Boo, darts out into the water confused as to why no birds can be found. To rub it in, Boo runs across the pothole as if to say, “Certainly one of you hit something”.
The element I enjoy most about these hunts is that we know birds will visit us and that we will get our shots. There is no “pressure”. My brother and I take turns and rarely compete for the same duck.
As the morning moves forward we focus on the teal and hold out for the mallards. Experience teaches me that the mallards will head back to the potholes after they feed in the fields. And for once a plan came together. About 9:15 AM the mallards started coming in groups of two and three. Talking back and forth my brother and I would spot the drakes and let one and then the other take the shot. A couple of gadwall that just came in so pretty, cupped and committed, just couldn’t be ignored.
So by 10:00 we have are limits and are thinking Sharptails!
The pickup is always tough here. The mud grabs your feet and pulls you down. I am luckier than my brother. I have a pair of Waterfowl Wading Solution Waders. They are the breathable kind. Now I don’t know you, or what challenges you face, but I will tell you these waders are good enough to improve your whole life. I have used the heavy neoprene waders forever. And I HATED them. But these breathable waders are just like wearing a pair of coveralls that keep you dry. Easy to move around; they don’t add to the work of struggling through the muck!
So how good are those waders? My brother had ordered a pair before our trip ended!
After a day enjoying my dog, my brother, the great outdoors, and a few ducks I contemplate how truly blessed I feel. I don’t know about you but I KNOW for me, if God created all of this ….. then he really loves me!
Until I see you in the field or on the water….be safe ….be good… and BE LUCKY!