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Dokken: New book chronicles a lifetime of waterfowl hunting experiences

"My Lifetime Among Waterfowl" is a collection of stories by the late Harold F. Duebbert, a renowned North Dakota waterfowl hunter and biologist.

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"My Lifetime Among Waterfowl," by Harold F. Duebbert, is a coffee table-style book and retails for $49.95; haroldfduebbert.com.
Contributed/Julie Nelson Wanzek
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Brad Dokken
Brad Dokken

“Wind was blowing 40 mph from the northwest. Snowing hard. Flakes horizontal. Late October. Possibly freeze-up was coming to the North Dakota prairies. Just the kind of weather I liked to hunt in while sitting in my hand-made duck boat over a spread of decoys I made with my own hands. A faithful black Lab for a companion.”

– Harold F. Duebbert, writing about a North Dakota duck hunt in the preface to “My Lifetime Among Waterfowl,” a memoir of his hunting experiences.

In the realm of Prairie Pothole Region waterfowl management, Harold F. Duebbert, it could be said, was a pioneer. As a hunter, he was an old-school practitioner of waterfowl hunting in its purest form, without the high-tech trappings available to hunters today.

A Missouri native, Duebbert moved to North Dakota in the late 1950s and worked as a field biologist in Devils Lake, at J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge near Bottineau and during the final 21 years of his career at the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center in Jamestown.

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North Dakota was a paradise for Duebbert, and he logged hundreds of hours in prairie marshes and duck sloughs, sometimes in the company of friends, sometimes not.

“I do admit, I do enjoy hunting alone,” he once wrote.

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Duebbert faithfully kept a journal of his hunting experiences – some 650 trips in all from 1954 to 2002 – highlighting waterfowl excursions in North Dakota, Oregon and Saskatchewan. He was compiling excerpts from many of those stories into a book and had just finished the manuscript when he died in January 2022 at the age of 92.

Through the efforts of friends and family, “My Lifetime Among Waterfowl” was published in November.

Gary Pearson, the book’s executive editor, did “an incredible amount of work” gathering photos and journal entries to include in the book after Duebbert’s death, said his daughter, Julie Nelson Wanzek of Jamestown, who sent me a copy of the book.

“He lived with me in Jamestown for about six weeks prior to passing, and Gary Pearson and he were able to consult several times,” Nelson Wanzek said in an email.

The coffee table-style book, more than 240 pages in all, is a collection of stories and photos from 56 years of waterfowl hunting adventures as Duebbert experienced them. The glossy book is a must-have for anyone with an appreciation for North Dakota's rich waterfowl hunting tradition.

“My Lifetime Among Waterfowl” is a follow-up, of sorts, to Duebbert’s 2003 book, “Wildfowling in Dakota: 1873-1903,” which highlights the glory days of waterfowl hunting near the end of the 19th century, “when autumn skies were filled with waterfowl and hunters had access to remote areas such as the northern prairies via rail cars.”

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Harold Duebbert with a pair of white-fronted geese, also known as "speckle bellies," shot in September 2004 during a hunting trip to Saskatchewan.
Contributed/Ross Hier

Duebbert’s love of waterfowl hunting dates to his boyhood days growing up in Missouri and hunting ducks along the river bottoms of the Missouri River. With his trusty 1913-vintage L.C. Smith side-by-side 12 gauge shotgun and old-school brown khaki hunting clothes – he once gave away a Gore-Tex camo hunting jacket he bought at Cabela’s because it didn’t match the colors of the marsh – Duebbert was a traditionalist, friends say.

“Harold did not adapt well to changes in newfangled hunting gear, including ultralight, life-like decoys and especially battery-powered ‘robo’ ducks,” Jerry Serie, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist and Duebbert contemporary, writes in his foreword to the book. “Harold didn’t care that his gear was outdated; he had perfected his style and he was living his nostalgia.”

Included in the pages of “My Lifetime Among Waterfowl” are chapters titled “Missouri 1940-1957,” “North Dakota 1955-1964,” “Oregon 1964-1966,” “North Dakota 1967-2009,” “The Bowerman House 1991-2005,” “Saskatchewan 2001-2008,” “Hunting the Sandhill Crane 1968-2008,” “Waterfowl Decoys” and “Summaries of Selected Professional Publications.”

“Since 1954, I have recorded in a diary each hunt for ducks, geese and sandhill cranes,” Duebbert writes in the book’s introduction. “These diaries have provided the basis for much of what is contained in this book. To me, each hunt was a special experience and I thought too important to trust to memory. …

“I hope to write in a way to provide interesting reading for other hunters who may enjoy knowing about my hunts.”

Harold Duebbert, a renowned North Dakota waterfowl biologist, hunter, writer and carver of decoys, died Tuesday, Jan. 18, at the age of 92.

I’ve only had a chance to skim through the book to this point, but the stories contained in the pages of “My Lifetime Among Waterfowl” are written in the first person, as you’d expect, and make you feel as if you’re right there in the blind with Duebbert. The stories, it could be said, are as refreshing as the prairie wind that was the backdrop for so many of them.

The book also features more than 150 photos from Duebbert’s hunts, along with images of his handmade decoys and duck boat.

“My Lifetime Among Waterfowl” is the story of a life well-lived, both as a professional waterfowl biologist and as a waterfowl hunter and conservationist. What a treasure, and what a privilege, for those who immerse themselves in its pages, that Duebbert’s memoir allows them to tag along and share in those memorable prairie moments.

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“My Lifetime Among Waterfowl” is published by Windfeather Press in Bismarck and retails for $49.95. More information on ordering the book, either online or by check , is available at haroldfduebbert.com.

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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