The cold October air brushed my face with an electric velocity, awaking me from my slight slumber to a picturesque red-hued sunset. My friend Jeff sat in the driver’s seat with a sheepish smile, elated to display our current surroundings. I begrudgingly lifted the lever to raise my seat and say a few choice words to my friend, but stopped short when I glanced out my window. We were driving directly through the Hobart Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and the scene was exhilarating. Thousands of ducks fed lackadaisically in the shallow water, as hundreds of their kin buzzed above looking for a seat at the table. I felt like a kid in a candy store, as beautiful pintails and widgeon, teal and gadwalls were a mere 25 yards away. With a sly smile Jeff said, “Welcome to North Dakota”. I had heard the tales, the myths, the legends, but this was my first time trekking to the Bison state in pursuit of waterfowl, and my first taste was invigorating to say the least.
We pulled into our hotel parking lot in rash fashion, eager to connect with our contact for the next morning’s excursion. Kevin, a good-humored, laidback farmer whose passion for hunting waterfowl was easy to discern over the phone, greeted us with a promising proposal. “I watched a thousand greenheads feeding on my wheat field tonight”. We both grinned ear to ear, but having driven through dismal rain in the last hour of our drive, we placed some concern on similar weather for the morning. “Oh man, I hope this continues” was his reply. Apprehensive about his confidence, we agreed on the place and time to meet and put in for the night.
We awoke to the same steady rain that had soaked our bags the night before, and trudged tiredly north to the field. The windshield wipers screeched over the damp glass, as we were blindingly greeted by the 10,000 lumen display of Kevin’s trailer, a bright beacon in the dark landscape. After quick introductions, we began the ominous task of placing several hundred snow geese and mallard decoys in the short wheat stubble. Luckily, Kevin had invited another four hunters to join our party, and we set the field to his liking in seemingly a matter of minutes.
I sunk into my layout blind, relishing the relief it partially provided from the dismal droplets of icy water. We sat in the gray-hued darkness for nearly thirty minutes, when I heard whispers off to my left, “two greenies just dropped in”. My eyes quickly prodded for the shape of duck heads intermixed in the decoys, when a yell and a barrage of gun fire snatched my attention. Four dark shapes plummeted to the ground, and twenty more silhouettes darted away from our location in desperate fashion. “We’re on them today boys”, came a quick statement from Kevin as he raced out to grab the fallen ducks. As he picked up the last bird, another wave of thirty mallards were careening from the north horizon.
As the first ten mallards set their wings, I waited for the call to fire. “Take em!” Kevin shouted from my left. Bam! Bam! A hen mallard fell with my second shot, and a drake pintail sailed over my head. I quickly spun around my position and surprisingly fell the pintail with my last shot. I ran to the downed drake like a kid running downstairs on Christmas morning looking for the haul of presents (being from North-Central Minnesota, I had never seen a pintail in the wild or much less a drake). I carefully carried my prize back to my blind and tried to tell Jeff about the pintail. I didn’t get more than two words in, when his eyes were immediately drawn upward to the front the decoys. More ducks were streaming down in groups of twenty to thirty, eager for a seat at the wheat scrap table. The action came so fast, that I had to remind myself to continue to load my gun. On numerous occasions, I heard the unmistakable “click” of a dry fire from not only myself, but of my companions to the left and right of me as well.
After an hour, the action had not slowed down, and I was patiently waiting the next wave of twenty to thirty ducks to dip into shooting range. “Pack it up boys”, Kevin shouted from the left. Jeff and I both started laughing, but then we realized he was serious. As he turned off the motorized decoys in the middle, drake mallards were still landing in our spread, avoiding Kevin as they touched down. It was then that I understood why he wanted us to end our hunt early. At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes, as I wiped the rain off of my hat and took a second look. Directly above me, there were 500 mallards that had formed a cyclone and were circling down to our location to feed. “Don’t want to educate those guys”, Kevin said as he pointed up. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I would be stopping a hunt because there were too many ducks coming into the decoys. I must have spent twenty minutes watching those magnificent creatures curve ad sail above us.
After we packed up the decoys, we traded pats on the backs and kudos for certain shots during the course of the morning. We profusely thanked Kevin for taking us out that morning, and all he said was “don’t worry about it, I was hoping they’d do that this morning”. As Jeff and I left the field with our share of the morning’s success, we couldn’t contain our excitement as our first day in North Dakota was a smashing success. I realize that these days don’t happen every day, or even every year for that matter, but it makes the next trip so much more exciting, knowing that anything can happen in North Dakota. The state, the myth, the legend…