North Dakota with Hunter and Frieda
By Paul Chiba, Kalamazoo, MI
It was another cold North Dakota morning with a 20-knot northwest wind, as I crouched down in a dry drainage ditch dividing a wheat stubble field. The wind had the ducks on the move that morning and I knew they would return to the scattered grain breakfast. The decoys were set 30 yards upwind and conditions were good, as an overcast day had been predicted on the morning weather forecast. Hunter sat impatiently by my side, as he also knew that this was going to be 'the day', yes, a very special day.
My other companions on this very special day, were Paul Morrison and Bernie Morrison, both Great Lakes AWSC members, and they had their little brown dogs with them.
Since this was our "first time" at this pothole we decided to spread out and setup in three different locations. Paul and Bernie opted for the water at the shoreline adjacent to the wheat stubble. I set up further into the field where I had seen several dozen ducks earlier, while we were unloading our gear in the parking area after arrival that morning.
As Hunter and I attempted to stay motionless and concealed in our makeshift blind we watched as distant ducks would travel from parts unknown to our little pothole and either land further out in the lake or fly just out of range of Paul and Bernie. Ten here, twenty there, singles, doubles, pairs, sometimes as many as a hundred could be seen somewhere in the sky. Mallards, widgeon, teal, redheads, canvasbacks and even honkers all could be seen below the dark gray clouds that moved swiftly overhead.
This is what Hunter and I had hoped for as we had been training together since May 11, five months earlier, when I first picked him up at Little Brownies Kennel. A trained three year old American Water Spaniel that needed a home joined the home of a ten year old veteran AWS, Frieda, and two persons that never had two dogs at one time. That is another story.
I was getting a little upset with myself for going to the wrong location as the ducks all seemed to be flying over to Paul and Bernie, at the water, and not to me, in the field. Paul and Bernie were over a little knoll so I could not see them directly, but could only see the ducks flying over where I thought that they were, and hear the shots fired over in that direction.
Well, what to do, I could; pickup the decoys etc. and move to the water, rearrange my decoys and wait a little longer, or just wait a little longer and hope for the best. I felt I had better do something fast because by the sound of all the shooting down at the water, Paul and Bernie were sure to reach their six duck limit soon and they would want to leave this spot and go pheasant hunting for the rest of the day.
Well, I settled on moving the dekes around and waiting, knowing that the ducks would return for some of the wasted grain scattered throughout the wheat stubble. Grain left behind by the harvest is a very good source of nutrition for southbound fowl. Hunter and I did not have to wait very long, as several pair of mallards came our way. A nice thirty yard shot hit its mark and I sent Hunter; he made a nice retrieve. Two minutes later I connected on another mallard, sent Hunter and he proudly returned it to me. Several minutes more and right over the dekes, I made another clean shot and Hunter brought me another mallard. We weren't worried about Paul and Bernie any longer. The incoming ducks had me twisting and turning in my 'blind' as I looked for greenheads and a nice clean shot as the ducks would sometimes hover momentarily above the dekes. A dozen or so mallards landed well beyond my setup and they eyed the fakes with little concern. Number four was an overhead shot that connected on the second round. The bird was down but not out. Hunter brought the greenhead in after a little running chase and it was quickly dispatched at the blind.
I could not believe the change in fortune that had just occurred in less than a half an hour. The 'daily bag limit' is six ducks with no more than five mallards and of the five, no more than two hens. Well, I now had two drakes and two hens. My next mallard had to be a drake, so I had to wait for a greenhead. The ducks were all over the place now as they were swarming in to feed. It was difficult to pick the right one. I chose the largest and darkest greenhead and fired but missed as the bird caught some wind and rolled away from me. I fired again and got a hit; the bird was sailing and trying to escape as I fired the last round in my Bennelli. Another hit, but the bird had caught a really good gust and away it went. The duck had made it, for now, to the water some two to three hundred yards away and over a little hill.
Hunter had headed in the direction of the first shots and was searching all over for the duck as I reloaded. I called him in and had him heel with me over to where I thought the duck would be. We did a slow approach on the five- foot high bank as we searched for the cripple. We did not see it until it started to escape. The drake had flown thirty five yards out over the water when I pulled the trigger and dropped him cleanly, this time. I sent Hunter; he made a nice retrieve. Then I held this beautiful bird high in the air as I yelled over to Paul and Bernie, "I LOVE THIS DOG!!".
Hunter and I went back to our little blind. As I picked up my decoys, and ducks, I could hear Paul and Bernie still calling ducks. They had still not limited out? Hunter and I went up to the parking area and I was putting Hunter into his kennel when I heard geese down at the water. The water was some four hundred yards away from the vehicles. I grabbed Frieda this time and more shells, including some goose loads.
The geese sounded like they were circling over the water as I scurried up and over the hill to where the sounds were coming from. As I got closer to the water, it became evident that the geese were gone. Maybe Frieda and I could get my bird number six if I could get a teal, widgeon or gadwall. We sat and waited in a nice little hiding place with Paul Morrison forty yards to my left and Bernie Morrison forty yards to my right. It was a nice setup and birds were still in the air but they were not decoying anymore. The cold wind was getting colder as we decided to call it a day.
After we carried all of the decoys, ducks and stuff back to the vehicles we took some pictures and cleaned the birds. I had five mallards, Paul M. had four mallards, and Bernie had two mallards, one redhead, and two widgeon. All three of us were chilled to the bone as we headed back to town. We got back around four in the afternoon. After getting cleaned up a little, we enjoyed some really nice California wine and several types of tasty Wisconsin cheese back at the room.
It truly was a day that I will long remember and hopefully I will never forget my really good friends and our little curly brown companions. Hunter and I are looking forward to our next trip. Frieda is eleven years old now and probably will not make another trip to North Dakota. Well, maybe one more time.