HAGEN: A great atmosphere makes for a special duck huntI knew I loved waterfowl hunting the first time my dad took me. I think I was about 10 or 11 years old.
By: Luke Hagen, The Daily Republic
I knew I loved waterfowl hunting the first time my dad took me. I think I was about 10 or 11 years old.
But I never really grew obsessed with it until going to North Dakota annually with dad and my brother-in-law a few years later.
The trips were cold, and we filled our bellies with twinkees and twizzlers for afternoon snacks, and most often ate duck for dinner. By no means was the food the reason my obsession for the sport grew. Trust me, eating duck and goose three or four times a week got old.
Instead, it was always the atmosphere that really made those hunts extremely enjoyable and kept me wanting more.
A Minnesota resident, I started joining my dad and brother-in-law when I was about 13 years old on a trip they were already making together annually. North Dakota is an open-license purchasing state, where you can buy a license as a nonresident any time. South Dakota forces nonresident waterfowl hunters to apply for a license, and about 80 percent get drawn each year.
The first time we trekked to North Dakota as a trio, we shot ducks on big water, small duck puddles and in the field.
There’s one hunt that sticks out in my mind that I can connect with when it’s below-zero, the wind is whipping 20 mph and I question what got me into a sport that delivers sometimes unbearable conditions.
On our second-to-last day during the North Dakota trip, we found a flooded cornfield where the mallards were thick. We got permission into the combined field in the early afternoon and hunted it in the evening. It didn’t take long for thousands of birds to start swarming us like bees on honey. It was the first time I’d ever witnessed anything like it, but this wasn’t the hunt that still has me drooling over the duck opener each year. It was the next morning’s hunt that did it.
After shooting our limit of greenheads that evening, we packed up and knew we’d hunt the same field in the morning. We stayed in some small-town motel that night, and saw the weather forecast said a cold front was going to push a blast of snow in the area we were hunting.
After I woke up, I layered on the long-underwear, a couple pairs of wool socks and shook the sleep from my eyes in anticipation for the year’s last North Dakota hunt. We strolled out onto the cornfield and set out our Canada goose decoys with the spinning-wing roboduck during a light wind and a steady snowfall.
By shooting time, a perfect scene was making a great atmosphere to hunt.
Big snowflakes were blanketing the field, making a snow globe-like feeling. A light breeze was helping wiggle our decoys, and it made the air smell fresh as cleanly washed bed sheets.
We were kneeling in standing corn stalks, and the flocks of mallards circling our decoys were unfathomable. We bagged a few ducks, and soon, we were so overcome with the hunt that we let the hundreds of birds land within one or two corn rows from where we were at. My dad still tells a story from this hunt, that he watched a drake mallard walk down a row to shovel loose pieces of corn into its beak.
With a near daily limit bagged, my two hunting partners decided that I would get the last shot of the hunt.
One last flock came in, and a single emerged from the group.
I pulled my shotgun to my shoulder, lined up the shot and took everything in one last time — the falling snow, the great hunt and the time spent with great hunting partners. It was the perfect atmosphere. I made my last shot count, and we packed our gear and headed home.
Saturday, 30 minutes before sunrise, is this year’s duck opener in South Dakota. The daily limit this year is six ducks and the possession limit is twice the daily limit. For specific species of ducks, the limit is five mallards — no more than two hens — two redheads, three woodducks, two bluebills (scaup), two pintails and one canvasback.
Each year, as I set my decoys on opener, I always think of my favorite hunts, and a great atmosphere consistently goes hand-in-hand with the best memories. A perfect sunrise or sunset, a light snowfall or a great view will keep my love and obsession for waterfowl hunting strong.