Hunting Alone

March 24, 2009 by  

By Perry Thorvig

Who would think that there is actually a “down side” to having the luxury of a lot of time to hunt? The problem is that it may be difficult to get enough hunting partners to accompany you. My hunting partners usually set aside one long weekend a year to hunt geese in North Dakota. The rest of their vacation time is dedicated to opening weekends for ducks and deer in Minnesota and long weekend fishing trips to the Rainy River. Lately, I have added another partner so that if I want to make a second trip, I will have a companion.

The year 1999 was one of those years where I ran out of hunting partners before I ran out of the desire or legal days to hunt. That year was somewhat different than most years because our group decided to try Canada after a rather frustrating year in 1998 in North Dakota. Our goose harvest numbers had been declining steadily for several years. We wanted to see if the pastures actually were greener on the other side of the Peace Garden. We had been hearing the same old story for years – “Well, the snows are just across the border in Canada, eh.”

That year, we tested the theory. The locals were right. The birds do stage big-time up at Whitewater Lake. There were virtually no birds on the south side of the border and thousands just 20 miles north of the border around the 10th of October. Even with a lot of birds, we were not very successful. Oh, there were guys that came down the highway and saw our camp and stopped to admire what we had. But, it really wasn’t much.

The weather did not really cooperate on that trip. First it rained on us for two mornings. Then, when it looked like we had hit the mother lode in a harvested pea field, the third morning dawned sunny and calm. Our windsocks drooped in a sad sort of way. The huge flocks came off the roost and sniffed our decoys but would not finish. Even the incredible number of ducks didn’t swing quite right over our decoys. We decided to pull up stakes at the local motel and head back to the States a day early. We observed lots of local ducks in North Dakota’s potholes and roadside ditches on our way home.

I  passed the Ludden, North Dakota area to see what might be sitting on the James River. There was nothing there yet. I headed further west and did find an isolated flock of birds. I scouted the flock and watched them fly a very short distance to an adjacent field to feed. I got permission to hunt that field and set up on Friday morning. This flock must have been part of the same bunch that gave Ken and me so much trouble the week before up near Alice. They paid no attention to my decoy spread.

Frustrated again, I headed for Perkins in Jamestown for a late breakfast. Hmm. Those pancakes were good. Then, it was on toward Harvey and maybe Rugby to see what was going on in that area.

Many flocks of snows began to appear as I approached the Rugby area from the south. I decided that this would be the place for the weekend hunt. I dropped my hunting trailer and checked into the hotel before starting my serious scouting because I knew that I would not be back in town until pretty late.

Just a short distance out of town, the chase was on. The area around Rugby can be hard to scout because of the rolling terrain. Roads rarely follow the mile grid. Birds can actually get “lost” because the scouting hunter has to drive so far out of his way to get around the ranges of hills and wetlands. This is especially true when you are hunting alone and cannot keep your eye on the flocks as you are driving. However, I was finally able to isolate a flock and select a field in which to hunt the next morning. I recognized the truck of one of the Devils Lake guides who was scouting for geese in this area even though he had all kinds of leased land much closer to Devils Lake. So, I figured that I must be in the right place.

Saturday morning appeared to be a good one for hunting. The pre-dawn sky was clear, but the wind was supposed to build to around 20 mph.

I never like getting out of the car to start putting out decoys when I am by myself. It is awfully lonely out there in the middle of nowhere. I did have my golden retriever, Kirby, to follow me around as I put out the dekes. I could only put out a limited number in the hour or so that I had allotted for this task. There were about 200 Northwinds and shells deployed in a 100 yard long crescent shape. I would sit in the middle and hope for some good shots.

By the time I finished with the first round of setting up the decoys, the wind had really come up and was blowing so hard some of my flimsy shells were turning over along with some of the windsocks. I had to make another pass through the decoys to get them ready for action.

Tony Dean came on over the local radio station at about 5 minutes before seven as I drove the truck and trailer out of the field to hide them behind the grove of trees near the road. His voice was comforting and it felt like I had an old friend out in the field with me. I wasn’t quite so alone now.

Tony wasn’t the only company I had by then. There was a pretty good-sized flock of snows making a racket on the roost pond out to the west, behind me. If I got any shooting, it would probably be from those birds.

It was not long before I got my first visitor. A single came off the roost, flew past my spread and then turned into the wind to give the decoys a good look. The bird was not high at all – very takeable if he kept coming. He did and tumbled to the ground with just one shot from my 870. Kirby made the retrieve and we had our first bird of the morning.

Shortly, another single appeared off to my right. The wind had shifted a little to the northwest since I set out the decoys. This bird decided to fly up the length of the crescent rather than straight into it. He too flew over the blind and fell with just one shot. Two for two.The sun now rose and I looked into the dreaded sunrise to the southeast. The sunrise was followed by a flock of seven snows that decided to give my decoys a closer look. They came in to my right and were out there about thirty yards. They were lined up virtually single file fighting a very strong northwesterly wind. I decided to go after them because they were certainly low enough.I put the 870 to my shoulder and swung way out ahead of the first bird. I fired and watched the first bird I was pointing at escape untouched. However, the second bird in line fluttered and then the third bird fell to the ground. That third bird must have been a good twenty feet behind where my barrel was pointed when I pulled the trigger. The wind was really raising hell with the light steel shot string. I kept my eye on the fourth bird and pulled the trigger on him. He fell immediately. In the meantime, the second bird in line that was winged on my first shot had banked right toward me as it glided toward a landing. I used my third shot to dust him off. I got a rare triple and was now five birds for five shots for the morning. Believe me, that does not happen very often for any goose hunter.

I knew that I was in trouble with the goose gods then. They were going to make me pay for being five for five. Sure enough, they did. I missed the next three or four birds that came over. They weren’t that hard. Even though I was alone, I decided to stay out there all day, taking only a break for lunch. A lone goose jumped out of my decoy spread as I walked back from the lunch break. It was not until after four o’clock that I got my sixth and seventh birds thanks to the goose gods. They made me sit alone out there all day long.

My lonely day in the field turned out to be a wonderful experience. It was a lot of hassle continually fixing the decoys by myself in the strong wind. But, I had ALL the shooting and did not have to worry about anybody else. Hunting alone has its advantages except you can’t share the joy of getting a rare triple with anyone but your dog.


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