Earlier this week Erik and I stood in the pre-dawn North Dakota darkness backed against a yet night-blackened corn field edge that kept us hidden from the waterfowl still quite silent on the waters to our right. Looking skyward at an endless array of stars thoughts wandered. How many times have I stared into the same night sky feeling very small and insignificant in the grand scheme but with similar excited anticipation for the dawn? About that time a lonesome hen mallard let out with a “quack, quack, quack” in a cadence I’d associate with a call in hand, almost like a duet followed immediately by some Honkers raucous chorus then quiet punctuated by another hen mallard single “quack” to my right. Still surrounded in blackness a large number of coots that had been purring ‘n clucking must have been startled or simply decided it was time to move with a loud unison run to another part of the still dark waters. As the eastern sky took on a rosy glow groups of birds began taking off. Mallards could be seen overhead as whistling silhouettes making the unmistakable sound a hunter no matter the age never forgets. The woosh of divers roared by too. I commented to Erik that it must be a real rush to be them. I wondered what it would feel like to reach such speeds seemingly on the razors edge of out of control. Then the geese took their turn too. With wings flapping and the large webbed feet running across the water taking flight they each announced their departure with excited loud honking. Off to a distant cut wheat field for the morning feed no doubt. Legal shooting time was still 15 minutes away so together we watched and enjoyed this sight offered by the Dakota prairies and repeated on a daily basis.
I share this because we were not escorted to this place by a professional guide from Woodland Resort although many groups did take advantage of that option. We had made a conscious effort to make this to a “self-guided” hunt. Arriving 2 days before the 2013 non-resident waterfowl opener we used the time to scout, learn more about the area and the current bird activities. Armed with the PLOTS guide, a ND Outdoor Atlas, some past experience and perhaps most importantly Google Maps on Erik’s smart phone. This technology proved invaluable for navigating gravel roads, unless flooded which is now a common problem, identifying wetland shapes, field shapes and actual small waters not even seen from the roads. The technology is incredible and although I’ve introduced Erik to many aspects of hunting in the past this one was all him and as mentioned above a major part of our success. Four hundred plus tar and gravel miles were covered in the 2 days leading up to our hunt but in time we identified at least a dozen spots with lots of birds that we could hunt. Hunters arriving in Devils Lake the night before the opener had no such advantage and for the guys we talked to it showed in their bag. Most had a few or even no birds. Erik and Kyle Blanchfield of Woodland Resort commented that “scouting was 90% of the hunt” and now I too concur.
Our opening morning began bringing you Fan Outdoors live until 8:00 am so our actual hunt didn’t start until about 10. Rain and wind greeted those out early. The motel hall came alive with hunters about 4:00 am. The excited anticipation for the hunt is a major part of it but if completely honest I was thankful we’d start a bit later. Not sure if it’s age or wisdom but in any case it was reality and Erik was ok with it. Have I mentioned both my boys are waterfowl addicts? Wonder how that happened? Lol The third member of our group, and actually the most important was Acea, Erik’s Golden Retriever. I’ve owned Goldens for 35 years but she is without a doubt the very best I’ve seen. For the next 3 days she would make every retrieve finding birds that I thought we’d have no shot at. So back to our opener. On the way out we passed Jason Mitchell. He was already done. With decoy bags, shells, a couple water bottles and 2 spinners we headed for a rush-surrounded pothole. After some humbling misses and some good shots, mostly because of Erik’s shooting we managed 6 birds before packing up about noon. Next stop a pass between 2 water bodies which afforded us 6 more by 3:00 that afternoon. Done for the day we again hit the gravel till sundown in scout mode. Unlike Minnesota North Dakota allows hunting till sundown only on Saturdays and Wednesdays to afford the birds places to rest. I wish Minnesota would look at that! Back in the motel room new plans were made for the Sunday morning hunt.
Sunday morning found us on a 45 minute walk through the darkness to another pass between 2 water bodies about 200 yards apart. Divers and Puddlers alike used it but due to scouting we already knew that. By 8:00 we had picked out and dropped our 12 birds. Another limit along with 4 bonus geese! A Federal Warden met us on the road to check birds and licenses. We also had an interesting conversation about his past and some of his hunting in the area. With breakfast in front of us we headed back to eat and clean birds.
Monday morning and the pre-dawn is described above. Again the birds were there and what an experience. Another hunt I’ll never forget thanks to the Devils Lake Area www.devilslakend.com , Woodland Resort www.woodlandresort.com and the outdoorsmens meca that is this part of the world!
So if you thought the only way you could hunt ducks in Devils Lake, North Dakota was to hire a professional guide you’re sadly mistaken. With scouting, a couple dozen decoys and a willingness to get off the tar roads along with maybe knocking on a few doors to ask permission I guarantee you can have the same success we’ve had. But first you’ve got to get to Devils Lake! Be sure to take plenty of shells too!