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Prairie Potholes-Grow North Dakota Ducks

November 15, 2011

A Chesapeake Bay Retriever retrieving a Mallard.

Image via Wikipedia

Short Night, Shorter Hunt

In our last North Dakota duck hunting story telling session, we had arrived and unpacked, and had scouted and found a field full of geese and ducks, and figgered out how to find our way back under cover of darkness.

It was a tortured night, trying to sleep; the anticipation of getting back into the field, with our duck guns, and setting up field decoys, right where the birds want to be, well that does not let a salty old duck hunter sleep much.

Finally, F-I-N-A-L-L-Y! the alarm went off about 4.  We got to the all night gas station, grabbed a biggie coffee and were off.  As we pulled over the railroad tracks, ready to enter the field, we see truck lights out in the field.  OUR FIELD.  Or, what we thought would be our field.  Some other hunters had gotten there before us.  THEY would be laying in the goose shit, and hunting OUR birds.

We moved on.

We set up in a wheat stubble field a few miles away.  “Setting up”, for dear readers that are unfamiliar with field waterfowl hunting, means arranging, assembling and installing a mass of ground blinds, silhouette decoys, shell decoys, and full body decoys.  There is much disagreement on what is proper, and many gimmicks.  When what you have done works, it is right.  If the birds do not come, or they come close, but not close enough it is not right and you must try,try again.

Ground Blind Field Hunting-N.D. Style

So we did what we could to get set up right.  And as the sun began to appear in the east, I found myself looking over my toes, on a hillside, in a harvested wheat field.  Our group, we were hidden in ground blinds with two dogs laying down next to their boss’s blind.  Well, kind of.

Retrieving hunting dogs DO get anxious, just like their human hunting buddies.  And the big Black Labrador and the massive brown Chesapeake Bay Retriever that accompanied us, well, they were anxious.  Recall, dear reader that these dogs had been cooped up for two days, getting a short walk at a gas station or a rest area, but not MUCH of a walk.

Now they were out in the field, and they were both excited.  Well, hell, I WAS excited.  And so when that first flock of Canada Geese came winging their way in our direction, well both of these dogs figgered, hell I can catch these.  So they rose and attempted to chase the flying geese.

And that did not sit well with each of the dog’s owners, who were anxious to shoot their guns.

Eventually, we all settled down

After the dogs let a little steam off, and everyone settled down, we were able to *work* some birds.  Work is a term used by waterfowlers to describe the process, much like an air traffic controller at an airport, where hunters blow their goose or duck call, and *direct* the flying birds from the air down, into the decoys.  With five callers, it can be a mass of confusion.  Especially because each of the callers wants all of the birds to land right in front of him.  In the longer run, we got some of those geese to come close enough, and some of those close enough-ers to get into dog range.  And we harvested some birds.  Both geese and duck.

Did I mention that we were set up on a hill?  Well, we were and down near the bottom of the hill was a little wet spot.  A drainage.  A lowland where water accumulated.

That lowland was separated by a railroad track, with a little bit of water on this side of the track and a lot of water on the other side.  And when you are just laying in a field of wheat stubble, watching for waterfowl in the sky, well, you tend to notice when dozens of ducks go piping into a wet spot.  Dozens and dozens.

Which brings us back to the idea that we were in North Dakota, in the heart of prairie pothole country, the region where MOST of America’s waterfowl are born and raised; a land that naturally wants to grow prairie, that gently rises and falls over vast miles; grassland without end which holds water in the lowlands, potholes every which way that the observer looks.  And most of these potholes hold ducks.  Most of these prairie potholes have been home to nesting waterfowl, and they grow ducks.  And that is why (especially if you are a duck hunter) you should make it a point to get on out there and see it.

Which reminds me of another book

Undaunted Courage, by Stephen Ambrose, is the story of Lewis and Clarke’s adventure to find a water route to the Pacific.  I heartily recommend this book to you, and to your children if they are readers.  And if they are NOT readers, then what in the heck are you doing here, dear reader???  Go get this book and start reading it to your kids, for goodness sake. For a summary you can click HERE or HERE

Now to tie this all together, Lewis and Clarke did some exploring in the prairie pothole country, and Old Uncle Milton was laying in a wheat stubble field, on a hill, watching flock after flock of duck pile into a lowland, and we had managed to shoot a few geese and duck, but the dogs were still not settled down into the groove of things, and they were happy and anxious and excited and perhaps a little competitive, what with wanting to be the first one to the fallen birds.  So they were not steady.  And dogs not being steady, leads to movement in the decoy spread that the hunted do not want to see.  So there were quite a few instances where flight control advised the birds to put down their landing gear, one or the other dog moved, and landing gear went back up.  And the birds gained altitude and left us without ever being shot at.

In short, unsteady dogs ended our hunt early.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 16, 2011 1:43 pm

    Ah those darn Chessies….they can get competitive. 😆 Maybe the owners should have tried tying them out so at least you didn’t have to worry about shooting a dog. 🙂

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