I recently spent the week duck and upland hunting the prairie pothole region of North Dakota at the invitation of a local friend Art Boger. Art and his wife spend the summer and autumn seasons in their Ashley, North Dakota residence and winter and spring here in Asheville. He had told me of the incredible duck hunting in this, the breeding ground, for many of the ducks of the Mississippi flyway. So a plan that began to develop over six months ago took place this week when my friend Dale Pennell and I arrived for what I called my “bucket list” hunt.
As you may know I’m a grouse hunter and my only foray into duck hunting was nearly thirty years ago with an Army friend in western Tennessee. At that time duck populations were really low and our success was also. That’s when I decided to focus on upland birds, quail then and grouse now. But Art’s description of the beauty of the region and particularly the number of ducks captivated me. I’m always up for a new adventure and this year I passed up my usual grouse safari for the open plains of North Dakota.
The first thing you notice when entering the region is the vastness and beauty of the land. Thousands and thousands of open acres painted in a patchwork of corn, soybean, and hayfields interspersed with lakes and potholes that provide the excellent breeding ground for ducks and geese. This is what welcomed us as we arrived on a sunny Sunday afternoon for our four day hunt starting Monday.
One of the first things you learn about is the ever present wind whipping across the plains. It greeted us along with moderate temperatures as we departed for the hunt at 5:30 in the morning. Our first morning we hunted from layout blinds along the leeward side of a small peninsula on a large lake. Art’s friend and our guide Mike Bassett arranged a decoy spread to try to pull in the ducks. I got the first and second ducks of the day with a Merganser and Redhead. This was also the inaugural trip for my Beretta A400 Xtreme shotgun and it performed as expected. After the morning hunt we moved to a small farm pond belonging to one of Mike’s friends. This really got us into the action as the ducks sought small water out of the wind. I harvested two Mallard Drakes here. We did not do any upland hunting as the wind was just too strong to give any optimism for success.
The second day brought us not only the ever present wind but also cold temperatures below freezing. Art took us to what he called his “honey hole”. And it truly was that. When we arrived at the pond the water was covered with ducks! As we got out of the truck to move into position it started to spit sleet. Perfect duck weather: cold, windy, and sleet or snow. Today was a banner day for me as I shot a limit of ducks which included two Mallard Drakes and three green-wing teal! After our morning duck hunt we decided to give upland hunting for sharptail grouse a try. Our plans did not work out. As we scouted for a location to hunt Dale go a tire puncture and we had to change the flat and return to town to get it repaired before the shop closed for the day. An unexpected event you just have to deal with.
Our third day we decided to hunt sharptail grouse at a local Wildlife Management Area. For once the wind had died down and the temperature was moderate. Perfect day for upland hunting. We flew several pheasant (season not open) and finally got into some sharpies in a cut corn patch. Art killed one. They are beautiful birds and exciting to flush and hunt. A little late afternoon duck hunting with little success and we were done for the day.
Last day of the hunt broke with cloudy skies, 35 degrees and wind out of the Northwest. We moved around to several different spots for ducks and I picked up four at two different ponds. We did have a close encounter with several flocks of Canada Geese at the first location but they were just out of range. That ended our hunt. What was the highlight? Seeing Art handle his young Lab pup on its first retrieve of a dead duck. Some things are bigger than the hunt.