2002 Duck Hunting & Goose Hunting Season Recap

March 24, 2009 by  

By Perry Thorvig

The 2002 hunting season was a big disappointment. I guess it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and the goose gods saying, “Gotcha!”

The first disappointment was that I never got out this spring to chase the snows because of the need to move my elderly parents from Arizona back to Minnesota. The year before, I got out twice on trips to Missouri and South Dakota.

Summer was spent in eager anticipation of receiving my new Last Look decoys. I bought 13 dozen to go with the dozen that I already had. I got them in August and sold four dozen of my old G & H and Carrylite shells to help defray some of the expense.

In September, I repaired a major portion of my 235 Northwinds by attaching them to their stakes with plastic cable ties. It works really great. I don’t think there was one windsock where the body wore out and fell off the stake this fall.
We read reports from our North Dakota brothers in September as they stacked the birds high on the early September 21 opener. Our turn came in Minnesota the following weekend. Despite some cold weather on that Sept. 21 weekend, there were still plenty of mosquitoes around on the 28th. The pesky blood-suckers rose out of the grass like clouds of smoke as we set up camp on Friday afternoon in northwestern Minnesota. The attacking bugs sent me racing to town to buy bug spray and a fogger for the weekend. However, by the time I got back to camp, the bugs were gone. Strangely, they were not a problem for the rest of the weekend.

Corey and Grant arrived at duck camp late on Friday afternoon. They provided venison stew for our sumptuous evening meal.

They, Ken Ziegler and I headed to our respective hunting ponds about 11:00 a.m. on Saturday to prepare for the noon opener. Ken and I only had to walk ten yards from our camper trailer to launch the canoe. Corey and Grant pulled their new john boat and equipment for about a quarter mile with their ATV to the other pond near our camp.

Ken and I threw out our two-dozen decoys and a dozen Canadas in no specific pattern on the north end of the pond. A couple of divers sat on the west side of the pond and watched us. Then we pushed into the cattails and waited patiently for the noon opener. Kenny got the first hit of the season. We got a few ducks that afternoon and I dumped a huge Canada that sailed into the decoys without making a single “ha-honk”. We kept in touch with Corey and Grant by using one of those personal walkie-talkies. It was the first time that we had been able to communicate and follow our friends’ hunting fortunes on their pond a half-mile away.

Sunday morning dawned with a thick fog. We waited to nearly light so that we could see. We set up our decoys deep into an inlet on the south end of the pond. On our way in to the hole, we chased a wounded honker out of the cattails. Very soon, he wasn’t wounded any more. The action was much faster than on Saturday. The teal and woodies came barreling into the little wet cul-de-sac and wound up in the hunters bag.

Since there was no Vikings game that Sunday to watch on our generator powered TV, we broke camp early and headed back to the Twin Cities. Kenny’s truck had no windshield wipers to clear the light mist. Good thing it did not rain heavily until after we got to his place and I transferred my gear to my car for the last ten miles home.

The first North Dakota trip occurred on the fourth weekend of the season, October 11, 12, and 13. It appeared as though the pressure applied to the ducks on the three previous weekends caused them to be extremely wary of field decoy spreads. This pattern was reported by many other hunters on nodakoutdoors.com. There were thousands of ducks trading back and forth across the section in which we had our snow goose and duck decoys set up. But, they would not even give our decoys a 75-yard look after 8:30 in the morning. And, there were only a few hundred snow geese in the area. So, our success was limited.

There were about six hunting parties vying for the best fields to hunt the limited number of snow geese in the area. Six parties are not a lot of hunters. But, when they are all chasing the same small flock, competition for the “right” field can get pretty heated. We were embarrassed in one instance where we drove into a farmer’s yard trying to get permission to hunt only to find another party already there talking to the farmers wife. It was like we were lined up at the grocery store. Saturday morning we arrived very early at our field and were only there for ten minutes when two cars stopped out on the road to make Plan B when they found us in the field they wanted to hunt. The next morning, the tables were turned. We wanted to go back to the same field we hunted the day before, but found someone had gotten into it already. Then, WE had to make Plan B. We knew exactly where that would be and moved a half-mile down the road to another field.

It was very cold that Sunday morning, October 13. It had been 70 degrees on Thursday afternoon when we got to Cando. But, on our way back to town late Sunday morning, there was skim ice on most of the ponds. It was a very bad omen!

That early cold snap never broke for the rest of the season. It stayed cold. More ice formed and there was an occasional snowfall in October. The reports started coming in of major movements of birds during the third and fourth weeks of October. I kept hoping that the weather would straighten up so that we could have a successful hunt after Halloween.

No such luck.

Jerry and I decided to take our late trip anyway. I was concerned that it was going to be a bust, but wasn’t sure. The Internet reports did not reveal where the snow geese had gone. However, I had my suspicions.

We entered North Dakota from Minnesota on Hwy. 11 east of Fairmont. We followed Hwy. 11 all the way to Ellendale. There was some large water open along that route, but the little ponds were frozen and it did not look good.

We got to Ellendale where we could go north on Hwy. 281 to Cando, or south to Nebraska. I seriously toyed with that notion. Licenses are only $65. There would be birds in South Dakota, but hunters can’t make a spur of the moment decision to hunt there because of the extremely low cap on non-resident hunters. Alas, Nebraska seemed like too far away and I was not sure the birds would be there. (Later I found that they were there by the thousands and that would have been the place to go.) Also, Mike was expecting us in Cando and I had not told him we would not be there.

We turned right and headed toward Jamestown and Cando.

We scouted the whole south side of Devils Lake. It was new territory for us. We had never been along the south side of the lake. It was very pretty that Thursday afternoon. The lake was open and there were sparkling white ice skirts on the trunks and branches of all the flooded timber along the lake’s edge. We found our only field in hundreds of miles of scouting that had any snow geese. They were all in a guide-controlled field on the east side of Devils Lake south of the Highway 2 rest area. We called the poster of the field and discovered it was a guide who controlled the field. We were denied permission to hunt there.

Scouting continued northwest of Devils Lake. A few snows were seen but not enough to set up a decoy spread the next day. Our scouting journeys lead us toward Leeds. There had been many geese in that area the previous weekend. A flock of honkers just above the stubble dragged us off the main highway. We had a hell of a time trying to find where they went down. Our game of hide and seek ended when we discovered about three dozen lessers.

We kept going now as it was getting near dark. We found ourselves on the north side of Alice. There was a lot of something in the air ahead of us. A closer look revealed a major concentration of mallards circling a field. Wouldn’t you know it? We hadn’t seen another hunter all day. But, now there was a vehicle about a half-mile ahead of us with a hunter looking at the same flock. We drove ahead and talked to the hunter in the vehicle. He was also a Minnesotan from Chaska who was on his cell phone. He told us that the field was controlled by another guide. It would cost $150 if we wanted to get in there on Friday morning. We weren’t interested.

It was really getting late now. We proceeded eastward where there were a few strings of birds moving back toward the lake. We found an unplowed wheat stubble field that looked like it might be a good candidate for decoys in the morning.

We were only a few miles from Cando. We got to Mike’s Place just in time to ring the door bell and yell, “Trick or Treat.” Mike just said, “Oh you guys, get off the sidewalk and make room for the little kids.” We spent the evening helping Mike hand out candy to the cute little kids in their costumes.

The next morning, we put on our hunting costumes and headed for that wheat stubble field. Fortunately, the hunting costume included polypropylene underwear, turtle-necks, polar fleece jackets, and then our insulated boots, jackets, facemasks, heavy hats and gloves. IT WAS COLDER THAN HELL – just 17 degrees to be exact. And, the wind was gusting to over 25 MPH.

The stubble field turned out to be hard as a rock. The Last Look metal stakes could not penetrate the ice cap on the stubble – even when pounded with a hammer. We just laid out the decoys flat on the ground and got into to our low profile blinds that cut most of the wind. Strings of honkers started coming our way about a half hour into our polar plunge. Unfortunately, they were attracted to something else about a half-mile away. Our flagging had no effect on them.

We were out of our blinds by 9:00. We packed up and headed for Leeds for breakfast.

More scouting that day revealed virtually nothing in the area. The ice had firm control on the rest of the hunting season. The fat lady was singing loudly in this part of North Dakota.

Jerry and I left early Saturday morning to return to Minnesota. We arrived at Devils Lake north of Minnewaukan just as the sun was peaking over the eastern horizon and reflecting off the partially frozen bay. The few pink clouds made for a stunning sunrise. We stopped to take some pictures.

Two snow geese walked slowly away from the truck on top of the ice on the west side of the road as we were taking pictures of the sunrise to the east. They were in no hurry. They knew that these hunters had their guns packed in the back of the truck and were heading home.

The drive back home took a detour through the Sand Lake area of South Dakota. We were going to find those darned geese if it killed us. We found them. They were only about ten miles south of the North Dakota border. Big swarms of birds filled the air near the refuge.

Our season was a big disappointment in that there was very little shooting this year. In a way, I was not surprised. I almost expected the goose gods to get even with us. They always do. After our great success in 2001, they were going to show us who was boss and kick out butts this year. Boy, did they ever.

So, the score is even once again. Wait ‘til next year!


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