Top 5 Nonresident Waterfowling Mistakes

Don't make these mistakes in 2020

The Top Five Mistakes of North Dakota Non-resident Waterfowlers

Welcome! In this installment we’re not going to address the usual waterfowling mistakes such as forgetting your waders, losing your shotgun plug or leaving the lifejackets in the other boat, rather we’re going to look at some “big picture” mistakes. Read on.

Over the last 20 years we have welcomed hundreds of hunters from all across the country to our ranch on the Coteau in pursuit of waterfowl and upland birds. The group composition typically includes some older gents, younger guys, kids, and a lady or two of varying age. It is not difficult to predict the hunting success a group might experience based on how they gear up and approach their hunt. Likewise, many hunters – especially in our new groups – make the same types of mistakes over and over. Following are our Top 5.

Mistake #1) Arrive out of shape.

North Dakota is wide-open country with plenty of hills and vast acreage in which game hides. While sometimes the critters come to you, often they’ll insist you come to them. A short walk in say, Missouri, might mean 200 yards. Here a short walk might be a half-mile. A long walk? Well, we generally consider the horizon the limit.

Let’s face it – doing the splits over a barbed-wire fence or swinging a hefty bag of decoys over your shoulder are not natural motions. You’ve paid a lot of money for licenses, gear and lodging but unless you’re in shape to get after the critters, you’ll have a lot of down time. If you spend your time holding down a desk, do yourself a favor and start your training no later than mid-summer; long walks, fitness training, hiking, biking, sports. It’s all good.

Mistake #2) Bring a dog that’s out of shape

Few dogs get the type of training needed to arrive on the prairie in peak condition. Our dogs probably run an average of five to six miles each day during the summer and fall. Double that on long days when we are fixing fence or something on a distant pasture cell. Despite this they too are played out after a hard day of hunting or retrieving in the fall. Many dogs visiting us will last a day or so and then come up lame or too sore to hunt.

You are responsible for your dog’s fitness, or lack thereof. Once on the open prairie, most will hunt their hearts out regardless of their condition, so do them and yourself a favor by keeping their weight down and endurance up. Remember too that almost half your retrieves will be in the grass for waterfowl and nearly all in the grass for upland birds – give them plenty of work on dry ground and put that nose to work.

Mistake #3) Fail to have a Plan B

We know that nothing spoils a hunt quicker than finding a honey hole or putting a big flock of birds to bed in a field only to find another party has beaten you to the spot the next morning. On any given year North Dakota will have 35,000-40,000 waterfowl hunters looking for that same spot, so getting beat to it is not uncommon. We once arrived in the dark at a promising location on private land frequented by thousands of snows and mallards only to find six other groups on the same field – all with “permission” of one sort or another. So what’s Plan B? Do you have another backup spot in mind?

Try to scope out several promising spots. Most should be grouped based on wind direction. In North Dakota there’s always someplace else to hunt – be flexible. Make the PLOTS guide your friend.

Mistake #4) Fuel Management

Most hunters coming to the prairie are wise enough to travel in solid 4WD vehicles with good rubber. But while a quick run to town where you live might mean a 10 minute ride, in central North Dakota it could be an hour or more away. In our world we call a trip to town just to get fuel “poor planning”. Spending time on the road when you should be hunting does little to put birds in the game bag. You came to hunt didn’t you? If you just wanted to drive your rig around and look at the scenery you could do that back home, for a lot less money.

In military and medical circles there is an adage “eat when you can, sleep when you can”. The same holds true when fueling up your vehicle on the northern plains – fuel up whenever you can, even if you don’t need to.

A full tank gives you options (see Plan B above) and you’ll always be ready for bad weather. Don’t forget the gas cans for ATVs, boats and generators. Keep ‘em full; don’t let fuel be a factor in your hunts.

Mistake #5) Forget to have fun

This one seems obvious, but it isn’t. Over half of you reading this right now are between the ages of 25-44, with most toward the younger end of the scale; nearly all of you are men. Nobody travels to North Dakota, using their vacation days, overtime and bonus pay unless they can pile up a bunch of birds. How are you going to face your spouse, family and co-workers unless you’re successful?

We had one group of hard chargers who felt any day without limits was a dismal failure. They hunted hard, wide and far. And they got their birds...which they ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner in order to continue to hunt. Day after day. Sound like fun? Younger hunters tend to equate success with bird numbers; more experienced hunters look to solid shooting, good dog work and time with friends for their satisfaction.

Invariably, the most experienced hunters, “twilight hunters” let’s call them, get the most satisfaction in seeing others, especially their children and grandchildren, find wing-shooting success.

Too often hunts are framed as “us against them” – “them” being other hunters or the birds themselves. Waterfowling should not be a competition, which implies winners and losers. What it should be is an appreciation for an incredible natural resource and storied pastime which may well cease to exist within our lifetimes. One only need to examine the habitat destruction in Iowa, Minnesota and points east in the last 50 years to know the clock is running. And woe to those cretins who would demonize the birds or imply they deserve anything but our respect and admiration. While these are not the BEST of times, they are the best of the REMAINING times on the prairie; we are still free to pursue birds in their natural habitat, hunter vs bird. That, in itself, is something special which should be cherished.

Don’t forget to have fun.


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