North Dakota Goose Hunting – A Generation of Change

March 24, 2009 by  

By Perry Thorvig

(Part 2 of a 3 Part Series)

There have been many changes in waterfowl hunting in North Dakota in 27 years. This is the second of a three part series and describes the changes in waterfowl equipment.

Equipment

Waterfowl hunting equipment has changed substantially in the last 27 years. Perhaps the biggest change is that there is a whole lot more of it. There are more catalogs selling the stuff and it gets harder to resist the latest gadgets that marketing gurus tell us will fill our game bags with more birds. We had virtually no equipment other than our guns when we first started hunting. My first hunting trip to North Dakota was in a two door Ford Granada sedan. Now, I have a four-wheel drive SUV and a 10’x5’x5’ enclosed trailer that is barely big enough to carry all the equipment that we think we “need” for a waterfowl hunt.

Decoys

The decoys we use now are far lighter and more compact than they were in the old days. That’s good, because so many more decoys are needed now compared to 27 years ago. Of course, the fellow that we hunted with in Jamestown in 1975 did use some pretty light weight methods to attract geese, but I can’t really call them decoys. He set out newspaper pages in the plowed field that were weighted down by clumps of black dirt. Now, that was primitive, but cheap. Anybody could hunt snow geese in those days! But, that was the last time I saw that kind of “decoy.”

We started our decoy acquisition in 1976 with 20 dozen heavy rubber Quack shell goose decoys. I think the total cost was about $400. How would you like to buy shell decoys today at $20 a dozen? Our spread consisted of 100% snow and blue shells. These decoys were extremely durable. We could drive over them with a truck and not break them.

The Quack folks still make these decoys, but you never see them in any of the major catalogs. I think I know why. They are heavy and require the assembly of all the heads. Pulling all these decoys out of a field by hand in 1985, because it got too muddy for us to drive out and get them, almost killed Ken Ziegler and me. Those babies had to go. We also had to insert more movement into the decoy spread.

Movement came from Northwinds. The first Northwinds had a cloth windsock and a stuffed cloth, rather than plastic, head. They came out in the late 70s. The first production of these decoys was in Devils Lake. They then moved to Fergus Falls, Minnesota and were manufactured there until recently. We bought our first five dozen Northwinds in about 1988. They were made with plastic heads and stakes much like they are now. I have been adding to the supply each year. I now have about 235, which is considered a pretty small set by most snow goose hunters.

The windsocks have proved to be more durable than one might think. Although, they have required continued maintenance each year. Our oldest ones are now 15 years old.

When we didn’t have many of them, we assembled them each morning and disassembled them when we left the field each day. Then we started to get too many to do that. We put them in mesh decoy bags. However, the stakes sometimes got smashed in the decoy trailer under the crush of the rest of our equipment. So, we built special compartments to add to our make-shift hunting/boat trailer to hold just the Northwinds. This technique worked pretty well until we got so much other stuff that we had to buy an enclosed trailer.

Then, we started putting the Northwinds in 50 gallon plastic tubs. This system has worked great. The lids for the tubs keep the decoys from getting smashed and breaking the heads off the plastic stakes. The tubs also have rope handles and can be pulled easily around the field to set up and take down the decoys.

The latest step in the evolution of our use of the Northwinds is the removal of 90% of the heads. The remaining heads are in the sentry position. The socks without heads are held on the stake with cable-ties and a rubber gasket made from a small diameter black rubber hose that has been cut to fit on the end of the stake. The removal of the heads, except for the sentries, has decreased the overall bulk of the Northwinds by about 50%. They now take up far less room than they used to, but are just as effective in the field.

Recently, the Northwinds have been augmented by 14 dozen Last Look decoys. These decoys provide greater numbers and fill out the spread. They are also very compact and do not have any parts that can be lost. They deploy very quickly and will not droop in low wind conditions.We still have a few blue goose shells to balance the all white Last Looks. I think that the shells may also go soon when Last Look makes a blue phase snow goose decoy.

There were no flags in 1975. They evolved from the initial use of goose kites in the late 70s and were used by us for a few years. But, they were always a hassle to fly. The wind had to be just right. We quit using them. Flags were added to our attraction arsenal in the 1990s and have become a very valuable tool.

I won’t even talk about Robo-ducks, other than to say, they weren’t around when we first started hunting.

ShotgunsThe same kinds of guns are around now as in the 70s. Of course, now there are the super magnum 3 and ½ inch 12 guages. And, there are synthetic and camouflaged stocks.

We gave up our automatics and changed to pumps in the mid 80s. We found that our old automatics would not stand up to the abuse they took in the goose blind. There was too much jamming because we just couldn’t keep them clean enough. The Remington 870 pumps are now the favorite gun in the goose blind. Maybe with the growing use of the low profile blinds, automatics will become more reliable because they can more easily be kept out of the mud, dust, and dirt.

The old shotshells blew lead pellets at the birds. I was just really getting comfortable with Remington buffered lead shot when it was outlawed. That ammo had some killing power!

In about 1991, we went to steel shot. The faster steel actually helped some bad shooters who shot behind birds. It’s speed made up for lack of adequate leads and a lot of birds fell at shorter ranges.

Now, there are the expensive combinations of tungsten and bismuth. I have not used them, yet. Some guys shoot both steel and the combination shells by loading the steel first and leaving the tungsten and bismuth for the second or third shell for longer-range shots. That’s a little too complicated if you ask me. When the action gets heavy, the hand just goes into the pocket and jams shells into the gun as fast as possible. There’s no time to figure out which shells are which.

Blinds

The new blinds have made a huge difference in the comfort and ability to hide the goose hunter. Our concealment method in 1977 was to dig a shallow trench and pile up a little dirt for a head rest. We then laid flat on the ground and covered up with camo nets that also covered our faces. It was a bit crude compared to nowadays.

White coveralls or pullovers became popular in the 80s. Our trench got shorter. But, we built up a bigger back rest and lined our trench with a couple of boat cushions. We were off the cold ground. This was a very comfortable way to hunt. The hunter had a nice back rest and was seated in a very good shooting position.

Eventually, the marketing wizards convinced us that those low profile blinds would be nice. They didn’t have to work at it too hard. The 1990s brought a lot of rain and wet field conditions to the hunting experience. I don’t like rusted guns and being soaking wet – even in supposedly waterproof Gore-Tex. We bought our low profile blinds in the spring of 2001. They are nice. I have survived some below 20 degree hunting days and had geese right in my face. But———I still would like to shoot from a more upright sitting position without being in the blind, if I could stay well hidden.

Clothes

Hunting clothing has also changed greatly and improved the hunting experience. Some of you may take your modern hunting clothes for granted. You shouldn’t. Some of the old stuff was miserable.

Waffled, cotton long underwear is what we used in 1975. We almost froze to death when it was 45 degrees. An hour or so of putting out those Quack decoys brought on a good sweat. The cotton underwear soaked it up and kept that cold sweat next to the skin all morning. Layers of sweaters and jackets had to be worn to counter the effect of the cotton underwear. The total clothing package was so bulky that the hunter could hardly shoot his gun.

Polypropylene and Gore-Tex arrived in the mid 80s. This made a tremendous difference. The number of layers of clothes that a hunter wore were cut in half and the hunter could stay warm and comfy at much lower temperatures. I remember sitting out in morning temperatures of 17 degrees in 1987 and not really feeling cold at all for the first time in years. Of course, when there are geese in your face all morning long and you are blowing a call for three hours straight, it tends to keep you a little warmer than normal.

The camo patterns available are almost beyond counting now. In 1975, there was one pattern – the old army circle pattern.

Polar fleece jackets, neck-gaiters and lining of pockets and collars are also great comfort features that were not around in the 70s. Polar fleece next to the skin rather than canvas or nylon is true luxury, in my opinion.

Next month – hunting tactics and communication.

Part One of the Series


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