The waterfowl surveys that took place during the summer left everyone with high hopes for the 2013-2014 waterfowl migration. We were no different, as we made the 1000 mile trek to the Prairie Pothole Region last week. Mother nature quickly reminded us she is in control, but with hard work, a ton of miles, and a some luck, we were able to pull off a great week of waterfowl hunting.
It quickly became apparent, upon first arriving in North Dakota, the number of waterfowl in the area was down and the number of hunters was up compared to our trip last year. The first afternoon of scouting led us to a lake with a good concentration of ducks and geese, but the activity of birds dropping into the lake led numerous other hunters to the area as well. Some had the courtesy of not watching the same field as us, while another simply pulled up beside us and said they were headed in to setup right beside our truck. After driving in circles for three hours inside the same 10 square miles, we knew the week was going to be an uphill climb.
The lack of waterfowl in the area was only one of many limiting factors. The weather in our location was great with lows below freezing and highs around 40, but the temperatures further north into Saskatchewan were warmer than what we were experiencing. Waterfowl hunters know to be more concerned about the forecast north of them more so than at their location. Another detrimental element was the lack of cut corn. When we first arrived, there was virtually 0 acres of cut corn in an hour any direction of where we were hunting. This left cut soybean and wheat fields as hunting locations. The short stubble in these fields made concealment a huge issue. As the week progressed and a few corn fields began to get cut, the hunting improved.
We learned last year that Mallards in North Dakota love a fresh cut corn field. This led us to search for combines and corn while scouting rather than ducks. If we found a combine running in a corn field, chances were ducks would be in it within 24 hours. Scouting ducks in North Dakota is tough because of the mass number of potholes that are secluded. Sure you can drive the roads and look at water that is within site, but chances are the number of ducks on those bodies of water is not a true representation of the number of ducks in the area. Scouting for ducks during the day was virtually a waste of time. The best time was the last two hours of the day. The morning flight during the week seemed to be limited, but if there were ducks in the area, you could be they would be in the air just before and at sunset. This left us with a short window of time to plan for the next day’s hunt. To put all these pieces to the puzzle together took a ton of effort from all of us.
We arrived at one of the first cut corn fields we found one afternoon and just so happened to see a small flock of ducks emerge from standing corn a couple hours before dark. The half of the field near the road was harvested, but the interior half was still standing. We pulled in the lane nearby and crossed our fingers. As the afternoon progressed, bigger and bigger flocks emerged from the corn, would fly around, and drop back into where they came from. Through the use of aerial maps, we were able to see there was a small pothole a half mile back from the road. As the sun fell lower into the sky, the flocks, which were now 30-50 birds large, started to pile into the cut portion of the field. Instantly we began brainstorming on where to hide and how to access it. As darkness fell over 1000 mallards has given us the “X” for the next day. The corn stubble offered easy concealment, we deployed our 7 dozen full body Hard Core Mallards, and had an awesome hunt that afternoon!
The rest of the week was spent searching for harvested corn and we were lucky enough to find it. We were led away from the large concentration of waterfowl which cut down on hunting competition. Sure, we didn’t see as many waterfowl as we would of had we stayed in the area we started in, but we’ll take smaller numbers of unpressured ducks versus larger numbers that see decoy spreads in every field. The ducks we were lucky enough to locate seemed to be locals that had not moved out yet. They knew where to hide and where they were safe, but they couldn’t resist leaving that safety for a belly full of corn. The whole freelance hunting experience is something that every waterfowl hunter should try. It takes a ton of planning, hard work, and little sleep, but the reward you get when the stars align provides a feeling unmatched in any other hunt. We can’t wait to share our story from North Dakota this coming spring when we unveil Fowled Reality Season 3.