I returned to the location near Pelican Lake that I mentioned earlier on Monday morning. I had about a 45 minute drive from my location at Grahams Island State Park, which by the way, is a pretty nice place to stay, despite the tiny cabins. It's 20 minutes from anywhere, but it's still a good, centrally located place. Anyway, I drove north, down the muddy county roads to the parking location. I was pretty certain I was going to be stuck in the mud when I returned because the mud out there is a little like snot. It's sticky and gross, and only a hot bath will get it out of your fingerprints. Anyway, I was fairly nervos about heading into the potholeI had discovered. I had 1/4 mile of shelterbelt to walk through on the dike. The rabbit I had seen earlier was certain to be back, and this time with his posse. And while mountain liions haven't been spotted in this area of North Dakota in a hundred years or more, I was certain that I would be the one to spot him. I get spooked easily, when I'm on foot.
Still, I got there 30 minutes early, so I sat in the confines of the Jeep, which by the way, did not have a working heater or air conditioner. I warmed myself with the coffee in my thermos, and when twenty minutes until legal light was to arrive, I departed. I took 5 mallard field shells, and 7 floating shoveler and pintail decoys, my gun, my coat, and my courage. Walking in and following my GPS coordinates, I stayed on the right path and turned up exactly where I had hoped. There was little cover to hide in and the mud leading to the waters edge was again, treacherous. I tossed out the decoys, and settled in with a few minutes to go. Birds were everywhere. And then the wind changed. A couple of hunting parties on the adjacent lake must have had their watches wound a little early. They shot early and often. Good for them. The wind actually turned to blow directly in my face. I shot at several ducks the first 5 minutes, but they couldn't and wouldn't decoy into the brisk wind. The first northern cold front of the year was coming through, and I got there just in time for the Grand Passage, only to have it blow into my face and not at my back.
Still, I collected my only teal, a bluewing, and my first ever. The thrill of shooting a bluewing teal swept over me enough for me to discard the disappointment I had held 5 minutes earlier. Still, I was observant enough to watch an nearby slough fill with ducks as Pelican Lake's nasty waves pushed them away. I figured I would try this jump shooting thing that I had heard was employed by locals to fill their limits. I had 5 birds to go, though. I collected my decoys and headed into the cattails. A cattail slough is an easy place to get lost forever. Ducks exploded from feet away. Some even terrified me when they flew at my face. I was covered in ducks, and was angry about it. Imagine that? Nevertheless, I located the opening, shot a hen shoveler as she flushed, collected her, and continued to wade about the maze of cattails and eventually found my way to Pelican Lake after a 1/4 mile of walking. I'll never forget that I saw that day on that gray, churlish lake. Where it wasn't gray, it was black with blackheads. I've seen the big rafts on the Albemarle and the Pamlico. But these blackheads were the ones that once they split up, make the big rafts elsewhere. I swear to God, if there was a blackhead anywhere else in the world, it was the one I shot the day prior. Andin true to form fashion, they were a full three iron away from shore. However, I noticed the puddle ducks entering the cattails along the shoreline at a regular pace. I had a good vantage point and could see the area that I had just walked through. I backtracked and shot 3 gadwalls as I marched through that maze of cattails. When I made it back to the clearing where I had taken the hen shoveler, I posted up and waited. In short order, a hen wigeon dropped in and I dropped her. I was done and in about 2 hours.
See, I thought my hunts would be simple and easy and lightning fast. I was to employ all of my skills and to reap the rewards of hours and hours of research, hunting trials and errors, and prayer. But it didn't work out that way on that cold and gusty morning. I had to persevere a little bit and I had to try new things. To grow as people, we do those things in our everyday life. As a duck hunter, one must also try new things and not be afraid to fail. After hauling out my take and decoys, I iced the birds, then scouted some WPA's north of the location I hunted. Scouting is an arduous ordeal. I used my PLOTS guide to meander about the country side, but the only motherlodes I found were on POSTED property. That's my luck though. Still, seeing a two acre pound, filled with canvasbacks and mallards exclusively, was worth the trip alone. The weather had seemed to remove stale birds for southern waters and bring in the larger flocks. I changed my tactics and began looking for larger potholes that would require a decent walk - hopefully they had not been hunted because of the effort that would have been required. Soon enough, I found a motherlode. Apparently some of the blackheads I saw tha morning had relocated. However, a Minnesota party had beat me to the punch. They didn't seem interested, but I think they had been having a tough go at it and were gonna give it a go. Heading north more, north of Cando, North Dakota, I found my heaven on earth. Tucked away from the road, behind a scope of woods that stretched a mile square, was the faint glow of an emerald pothole. I took out the binoculars and put on my hippers and headed towards the pothole. Sure enough, when I arrived, it was marked as Public Access. As I topped the knoll, I gave away my presence to the one thousand - no more, no less - wigeons that sat contented on the pond. I backed away into the woods only to see them return, all at once, within 15 minutes. Other ducks, too, joined the party. Lots of bluewing teal and ringnecks accepted the invitations of whistles and began feedin on the grasses in the pothole. I had found my next hunting location - 90 minutes from my cabin. That's a long way, it seems, but I was here, and I had struck gold. I ran, sprinted even, back to the car in hopes that the other traveling duck hunters would not see my location. I rode into the town of Devils Lake and ate an exceptional steak - not the sagey-grassy tasting stuff, but fatty. I enjoyed myself and made a few phone calls to express my successes and returned to the cabin. I cleaned my ducks in the dark that night. My fingers froze, and the foxes watched, but I finished. I hadn't bathed in two days. I found my sleeping bag in the cabin and buried myself there. I clawed at the cell phone and set the alarm clock for way too early. I fell asleep with the lights on that night...