North Dakota Hunting Trip – Year 2000

March 24, 2009 by  

By Perry Thorvig

The 2000 trip to North Dakota was nothing less than spectacular. Though there were not many geese around on the second weekend of October, the ducks were everywhere and in big concentrations.

Jerry Vandelac and I experienced an uneventful trip until we got to the Munich area. It was there that we experienced white-out conditions on October 5. Acting on a tip from Chris Hustad, we were headed for the Sarles area. Unfortunately, there were no geese there, if there ever had been. We scouted a few areas and dropped off at a familiar pothole. We popped a couple of birds from the cattails, but there was not much going on.

We were found that Thursday night in Cando by our friend Chuck Gosen from Bismarck who had conveniently arranged business activities in that part of the state.

The next morning, the three of us headed back to the familiar pothole. A few more ducks were bagged. While there, a few snow geese flew overhead, but there were not huntable numbers. After lunch in Rock Lake, we split up for afternoon scouting. I went by myself and Chuck and Jerry, the two snow goose hunting rookies, headed for parts unknown to see what they could find.

It turned out that the rookies found the big concentration of mallards. “You should have seen this slough,” Jerry said. “It had so many ducks on it, I thought it was just dry dirt clumps … until the dirt clumps started flying away.” Chuck and Jerry were able to sneak right up to the edge and shoot a handful of greenheads.

That evening we were joined by Kenny Ziegler and Mike Ferber. They got into town late because the old 1984 Suburban finally died just north of Fargo. Bucking the wind was just too much for the old horse. They had to turn around and go all the way back to Detroit Lakes and transfer the gear to Ferb’s small Toyota.

On Saturday morning the five of us set up goose and duck decoys in a field near the pond that Jerry and Chuck had sneaked the night before. There were many fly-bys from birds on the adjacent pond. But, they were headed elsewhere for breakfast.

One of the guys went down to the pond and shot a few. But, we picked up rather disappointed in the morning’s efforts. On the way back toward Cando, we ran into the only other hunters that we saw all weekend. They were putting the sneak on a field full of mallards and pintails. Unfortunately, the ducks were just over a little hill. We did not see the birds until we drove over the hilltop. Yup, we scared them up and ruined the sneak. (Those guys would never have gotten close enough anyway.)

As it turned out, the field was adjacent to three sloughs. The birds began circling the three ponds. The five of us split up and covered the three ponds after getting permission from the farmer just down the road. We squeezed out a few more birds. Old Kirby, my golden retriever made his first ice retrieve. He broke ice, one foot at a time until he made the twenty-yard retrieve. I was really proud of how that timid dog handled the breaking ice.

That Saturday afternoon, we went back to the tri-pond complex. KZ and Ferb shot close to a limit of ducks on their pond. Jerry and I scratched out four more. As we sat next to our little pond, we could see string after string of ducks headed a mile or two to the east to a field to feed. About, an hour or so later, some hunters must have spooked the birds because they got up en masse. As I looked to the east, the whole darkening eastern sky under the bill of my cap was peppered with ducks. It took about five minutes for the parade of flocks to pass virtually over our heads while going back to their roost to the west of us. What a sight!

Sunday, we set up our field decoys in the field adjacent to the ponds where all the ducks had been the morning before. Bust. Only a couple of birds even gave us a look. We went back over to Jerry and Chuck’s pond about five miles away. It was empty too.

That night we split up again. KZ and Ferb returned to the tri-pond complex and took a half dozen ducks. Jerry and I deployed our robo-duck on a large wetland near Snyder Lake. The robo attracted birds from way over on the north end of the wetland. They came one or two at a time and provided shooting every few minutes. We left with several ducks. But, Jerry, a regular trap and skeet shooter, was really upset about his shooting. He missed a lot of very close shots. Must have been the new gun!

After taking count on Sunday night, we had about 12 birds to go for a possession limit. We decided to go back to Jerry and Chuck’s pond and give it one more try to see if it could produce as it did for them on Friday night. We had let it “rest“ for two days. There was a thin red strip of pink in the eastern sky as we turned from the gravel road onto the field road and edged toward the top of the hill where we could see the pond. We could just barely see that strings of ducks were already lifting off the pond headed out to feed. We looked at our watches and figured we’ed be at the pond at just about shooting time if we waited just a while longer.

We spread out and started the sneak. It was getting lighter now and more ducks could be seen getting off the pond. 200 yards, 150 yards, 100 yards. Now, we could see the surface of the water. It was still covered with ducks despite those that had already left. 75 yards. That’s about how far we got before a significant number of birds figured out that the sneak was on. They knew something was up, but they still could not really see us crouching in the plowed field. Pretty soon, the first birds started departing the pond. Some flew right over our heads. The flames shot from the gun barrels ejecting steel shot hoping to connect with birds seeking escape in the pale dawn. Birds began to drop in the fields. We did the best we could to mark those birds as we sprinted for the edge of the cattails where we could hide. More birds swung over us. Many shots were passed up so as to not drop the birds in the cattails where they might not be found and to make sure we were only shooting greenheads.

Still more birds peeled off the slough. And, more birds fell to the four of us who were spread out over about 60 yards along the edge of the cattails. In about 10 minutes, it was all over. It was one of the most memorable, fast and furious opening few minutes that I had ever experienced.

Though not sure, we knew we were close to our limit. It was not even close to sunrise yet. We dropped our guns and started looking for downed birds that were lying in the adjacent fields. After a considerable effort on one bird, we had them all in the bag.

It was about this time that the landowner who had given us permission to hunt a few days before paid us a little visit. He was mad as hell. He had seen my trailer and thought his field was being invaded by an outfitter. He had seen the back of my trailer that read, “Goose Hunting” and a phone number. Those were the last letters remaining from the advertising that had originally been on the trailer. It had been previously owned by a construction contractor and goose hunter. I had not quite finished peeling off all the stick on letters on the trailer.

After a lot of explaining, the redness finally started to leave our host’s face when we gave him our reference in Cando who would vouch that we were just city employees out on a free-lance hunt over the Columbus Day weekend.

We started our long journey back to Detroit Lakes and the Twin Cities early that Columbus Day. Thursday’s snowy white-out had turned into a rain of greenheads over the weekend.


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