I just saw my first snow of the year in ditches from the storms that pounded Western and Central North Dakota mid-October. We had heard reports of water, water everywhere and found it to be true. Besides being the gateway to the west and home to prairie winds, North Dakota is also in the heart of the “prairie pothole” region of the Upper Midwest, the duck factory of the nation. Potholes, wetlands, rivers flowing over their banks, fields under water, yards and ditches with standing water made it a water fowler’s dream come true.
We had rented a hunting shack/cabin in small town NoDak for $30 a night per person. Dave Kell of Hudson and Jon McCorkle from North Branch had gone out Friday to scout. Later that night son Josh from Hudson and I joined them and got their scouting report. They had a great location where the shack owner had taken mixed bags of Canada geese, both greater and lesser and just about every sort of duck imaginable at the end of a flooded cornfield by a wetland. When we hit it the next morning the waterfowl failed to show, probably shot off this pond by the previous hunting party. I did manage to bag a big rooster pheasant walking out to the car.
It’s not hard to find waterfowl in North Dakota and trespassing laws are plain and simple and advantageous for hunting. After watching hundreds of ducks working a small river, high water pushing it over its banks, we found a great place to hunt. Setting out a few decoys, a Robo Duck decoy and settling into good cover it didn’t take long for the action to begin. These ducks wanted to feed in flooded weed patches next to corn. Once set up we worked them in with Josh and me manning the calls attracting ducks in small groups at a time. Green winged teal, blue winged teal, wood ducks, mallards, gadwall, widgeon, buffleheads, redheads, ring necks and ruddy ducks would make up our game bags and future meals. Kell’s Yellow Lab, Finn, as well as Springador’s Nala, Jon’s dog and Bern and Windy belonging to Josh and me, retrieved more ducks in a day in NoDak than they had done in Wisconsin during two weeks of hunting.
Pheasants were cackling from the corn but would occasionally come to edge cover to roost or rest. After the first morning’s duck hunt I had Windy work a weed filled berm on the opposite side of an irrigation ditch by standing corn. She was soon into hot scent and flushed a big rooster that came flying right back at me. As I pulled up and dropped that bird, Windy flushed 6 more roosters from the same spot but these birds stayed out of range.
On day two before Jon and Dave headed home we again hit the flooded river and limited out. Jon, fighting Parkinson’s, was spot on with his shooting, dropping not one but two doubles, pairs of green winged teal while sitting on a camp stool. To say he was happy showed as he was all smiles and thankful that he was able to tag along. We’re planning a return trip just before freeze up. With cold weather knocking that day may come sooner than later.
Jim Bennett is an outdoorsman who lives and worked in the St. Croix River Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org