GreenSkins Classic Recap – 2003 North Dakota Duck Opener

March 30, 2009 by  

By Chris Hustad

As I sit here typing my first keystrokes, I’m looking out an airplane window watching North Dakota disappear behind me. As I prepare for my out of town business all week, I can only sit back and recap the prior weekend in my mind. It was the duck hunting opener for North Dakota residents, and for the Nodak Crew it went a little something like this…

The weekend started on a Friday, as I wanted to get an early start on scouting and minor preparations for the GreenSkins Classic. I picked up Taylor Ells (Maverick), my usual hunting partner, and tried to find an ingenious way to fit his gear into my truck. For anyone that hunts with me, I do not pack lightly. After tucking everything humanly possible into the truck bed netting, we got on our way to Lakota. The trip was full of enthusiasm, as I’d received good reports from early scouters and we had a strong NW wind blowing through the state. It was the start of a front….waterfowl weather.

After spending very little time getting checked in at the hotel, we hopped back in the truck and ventured into slough country. There had been strong N/NW winds all week, not just that Friday, and many days were coupled with patches of rain. It had been a very dry summer but with a few inches of rain in September it looked about normal. From the beginning it looked to be another year of good duck numbers as every pothole showed signs of waterfowl. I drove past hundreds of potholes and fields in route to the potholes from my childhood memories, nestled a couple miles off any road and miles away from civilization. As I pulled up spotting the first roost in that area, I was amazed as it was covered with ducks. I didn’t even have to spot the others to know we’re back in slough heaven. Unfortunately, this fantasy doesn’t go any further…a local outfitter locked up all 3000 acres so we were forced to move on. After another 5-minute hike over to plan B, we found a few clouds of ducks filtering through a barley field nested with a half dozen small potholes. We spotted a yellow posted sign down by the approach, so we went over for a closer look. I got out of the vehicle and walked up to the sign, marking down the name and location when a near quack got my attention. I looked up to see an empty barley field…than pulled my head back down to finish taking notes when yet another quack grabbed my attention. I looked up and focused in on the “empty barley field” only to unravel a couple thousand ducks staring at me 30 yards away. The early season, brown plumage allowed them to literally disappear into the worked field. To my amazement the birds went back to feeding despite my presence, and I figured these birds will work just fine. After getting permission for the field and scouting out plan B and C, we headed back to the hotel.

After getting settled at 8 p.m. I decided to head into the bar early to greet everyone as they registered for the GreenSkins Classic. I grabbed a cocktail and watched the last couple innings of the Twins Game in an empty bar. That didn’t last long as thirsty scouters started showing up and the Twins put another series to rest. The bar was full of familiar faces, everyone sporting a gigantic smile. How could you not?… was hours away from the duck opener and we were surrounded in good company. Sleeping would’ve been almost impossible, so we stayed up and BSed with members of many other teams. Slowly guys slipped away to sneak in some much needed rest for the next day, and I followed suite shortly after.

The next morning came all too quick, and after filling up the thermos we were on our way. After a short drive, we crept slowly into the same approach that was filled with mallards the night before. We took position off the high ground of the field, about 150 yards away from the transition slough and started setting up our decoys. Just as we finished putting out the last one, mother nature greeted us with low clouds, heavy NW wind and a steady mist. It was the duck opener, and it was perfect duck hunting weather.

The morning started with flock after flock of mallards pouring into the decoys, well before we could identify the sex. We let ‘em go, and waited patiently until we could pick out some drakes. It wasn’t long before a pair came in, with a drake clearly in our faces. One shot later it came down, than someone hollered, “the other’s a drake too!” and it quickly fell to the ground as well. Whoops….2 birds into the season and we already had a suzy in the bag. Considering we were scoring for the tournament, hens meant certain defeat as someone will always be patient enough to take all drakes….as was the case last year and again this year. But that also meant the pressure was off and we casually took the rest of our limit of mallards, pintails and widgeons.

We started picking up around 9 a.m. and got back to the hotel by 10. The hotel was filled with the smell of BBQ, as 3 of the rooms had BBQ goose simmering in the crock pots all morning. After preparing the kabobs, spuds and onions for the grill we started scoring the teams coming in for the tournament. The first couple teams came, sporting some pretty nice bags of ducks and geese. For the most part everyone was wearing smiles, except for two teams that had gotten downwinded before shooting. As enjoyable as waterfowling can be, hunters would prefer to be fooled by Mother Nature rather than other hunters, and can leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth. But the taste of BBQ goose and garlic buttered spuds can cover up that bad taste in a hurry, and it was the final nail in the coffin as the early afternoon nap greeted almost everyone in the tourney.

After the final teams were scored, it was obvious who the winners were. The “Mallard Whackers” team composed of Zach Herrman (Decoyer), Tyler Ellenson (Goosebuster3), Dan Larsen, and Matt Heinzen scored a perfect limit of ducks, with 20 drake mallards and 4 drake pintails (and 4 bonus snows). They were the recipients of plaques, Heartland custom duck calls, and the Big Eddy Spinners graciously donated to the tournament by KFGO and Ed Schultz that morning. A couple teams fell just short of 1st, like us, scratched some hens. But overall the true winners of the GreenSkins Classic was Delta Waterfowl and the $975 donated to their Duck Production Program.

Later in the afternoon, the hotel parking lot became empty as everyone ventured out into the countryside to scout for the following morning. Pressure was fair to heavy in the morning, and I assumed the birds would get pushed around. I checked on the backup spots from the day before and they were empty, as was the areas surrounding them. Signs of the morning success were prevalent, there wasn’t much waterfowl around. After putting about 70 miles on the truck, and watching the sun get dangerously low, we got a phone call from my buddies up north.  They claimed they found the motherload and I had to see it for myself. As I pulled up to them, it didn’t take long to realize they were right….they had found the motherload. A barley field was surrounded by a couple dozen sloughs, each of them filling with hundreds of ducks every minute. Birds came from everywhere, and every duck wanted to be in that field. It took 5 minutes for a slough to empty as they bounced around the field to feed. After gaining permission for the field it was time to get back to the hotel. I entered the restaurant only to find disappointment in the faces of many of the scouters. “Where did the birds go?” was a statement I heard a few times. A couple of the groups came up short and couldn’t find a place to hunt. My observations from earlier that evening were shared by many, some were lucky and some weren’t. There were some backup spots that were passed around, and everyone found themselves a place to hunt.

The following morning found us in a 2-acre transition slough that was filled with thousands of ducks the night before. We set out 6 bags of decoys, and a couple of spinning wing decoys. About 10 minutes after we started the early birds were already buzzing our slough. You couldn’t always see them but the sound was unmistakable. As shooting time drew near we were welcomed by the sound of snow geese. The high pitched bark of a snow goose raises the hairs on the back of my neck. I was raised a snow goose hunter, and they still get me as excited now as they did when I was a kid. But as soon as I entered the daydream, reality struck as these were obviously mature birds down this early who wanted nothing to do with flying over our pothole and we were about ready for the duck game. By 9 a.m., like the morning before, we were picking up the decoys after a successful morning.

I am becoming convinced that the glory days of the spinning wing decoys are drawing near. The first time I ever used one the birds would hover over them allowing easy harvests. Now the birds want very little to do with them and our hunting got better as soon as they were pulled. It’s for the better though in my opinion…one less thing to fix in the off-season.

Overall, the weekend was awesome. I met a lot of new faces, shared some classic stories, and got to experience some great waterfowling. As I finish this article, I’m only an hour away from Stuttgart Arkansas, the duck hunting capital of the U.S….but in my mind the real duck hunting capital is in my memory from the weekend before.


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