Sudden Ludden

March 24, 2009 by  

By Chris Hustad

Forecast: 40% chance of rain turning to snow with 25-35 mph winds out of the N with winds gusting over 40 mph at times. The day was the last day of goose season in 1990 and it was on that day that I learned the phrase “Sudden Ludden”. And it was the night before when the decision was made to drive down to the firing line on the south end of the refuge, just west of the town of Ludden, ND. That morning is still considered a legend by everyone I know who participated.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the town, it’s a small town located just south of Oakes, ND and just north of Sand Lake Refuge in NE South Dakota. While to most it’s just a quick slowdown cruising through goose country, I can’t help but think of that morning EVERYTIME I drive past it.

The firing line was a local favorite during the fall for decades.

The firing line was a local favorite during the fall for decades.

The refuge starts at the same location as the firing line, a tree line on the north side of HW-11 off the intersection of HW-11 and HW-1. The birds would roost right off the highway and all along the curve of the river going north of town. Most birds roosted within a half mile of the firing line.

On the drive down to Ludden my father spoke of past stories of this place. You wouldn’t know it now but just 15 years ago and before for decades, it was a major snow goose staging area all hunting season long. “When the wind gets heavy out of the north, suddenly Ludden turns on. The wind doesn’t allow the geese enough room to circle high enough so they end up going over tree high,” were the words of my father. Hence, Sudden Ludden. I wasn’t sure if these stories were true or just something to keep me awake on the way down from Fargo, but it worked. I was excited to say the least.

Dont be up to no good now in Ludden...

Don't be up to no good now in Ludden...

We got there just around shooting time and I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was already 10-15 vehicles parked off the trees, so we parked my dad’s ’89 Chevy Suburban along the tree row right about where my dad felt the wind would push them over. I stepped out of the vehicle and to my surprise, there wasn’t a breath of wind or a cloud in the sky. Some forecast I thought? We loaded up our guns anyway and sat in the Suburban and waited. It was a cold morning and being able to sit in the warm vehicle was comforting. We could hear the geese coming and it gave us ample amount of time to get out and get ready for them to come over. I know, it doesn’t sound very romantic but hey, when in Rome…

For the first couple hours we didn’t fire a shot. The birds came over so high that there wasn’t a chance that the old slow steel shot would bring one down. What was odd is more vehicles kept showing up and at one point there might have been 25 vehicles around us, maybe more. A look to the south and I could see a decoy spread just a ¼ mile into the field. I later found out that the people in the spread was a kid I knew from school, who I believe is still a goose guide to this day up in Maxbass, ND.

The morning continued on with bluebird skies and barely a breath of wind. Some guys on the east side of the line got anxious or just wanted to finish all their shells for the year, we never did find out. They were skybusting at geese easily around 100 yards for hours on end. I remember walking by at one point later that morning and the ground was red with hulls. I wouldn’t have doubted if they shot a case of shells or more. It was now about 10 am and we were beginning the doubt of shooting anything that morning. “One more hour” we said, since it was in fact the last day of the season. After all, the vast majority of the geese still hadn’t left the refuge so there was at least still geese and hope.

Here they come again!

Here they come again!

Remember the old saying, “If you don’t like North Dakota weather, just wait 5 minutes…” Well it happened. Sometime around 10:30 am a front came charging in from the North/Northwest sky like a freight train. It came fast and brought gusty winds coupled with some snow and rain. And the second this large front came through, the geese got anxious. Suddenly, it was like it was time to go and the geese started coming off the refuge in small to mid-size flocks. Just as my dad explained on the way down, the birds got up and started to circle….but the wind was too strong. As they did their first turn the wind sent them in motion pushing them towards the firing line without any chance of stopping or swinging. At that point they were flapping HARD just to get over the trees which were around 20 yards high. The moment they came over the trees it was war. The 25 or so vehicles full of hunters unleashed their fiery on the flocks causing the sky to rain with birds. Each volley easily 50 geese or so hit the ground with dogs of all breeds hightailing it out to the south of the highway to retrieve the dead or crippled birds. This phenomenon occurred for the next couple hours all the way up to closing time. The birds came over every 20-30 seconds and the barrage of shotguns continued. Remember the east end skybusters? They were walking around the last hour offering big bucks for a box of shells, too bad they didn’t conserve.

We ran out of shells right around 1 pm. We stayed around for awhile after and watched. I don’t remember how many geese we brought home. Whether it was a limit or close, I can’t say I recall. But I do know we ended the season for the first time without an extra steel shell left. I learned a lot that day about leading geese, with hours of practice. And I’ll never forget the sky full of geese at tree high level that never seemed to end.

I don’t know if we’ll ever see large concentrations on that refuge again, the way the fall snow goose migration is changing it’s anyone’s guess. But I do know if they are there, and the wind gets nasty from the north…there’s an opportunity awaiting in Sudden Ludden.


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