Lake of the Woods Bluebills and Walleyes
Several years ago, I joined former DU chief biologist Dr. Bruce Batt for a waterfowling and fishing adventure on Lake of the Woods, a sprawling freshwater lake straddling the border between Minnesota and Ontario. Like many of the lakes in this region, Lake of the Woods is a favorite fall stopover for diving ducks such as scaup (commonly known as bluebills) and buffleheads. The lake is also full of walleyes.
We did our hunting from shore, setting decoy spreads on the ends of rocky points. Though we were after divers, we shot several mallards as well. Bluebill hunting can be tough work, but it's a labor of love and a tradition in this area. Timed with the peak migration, a good bluebill shoot can be fast and furious. Ours was fun, but difficult.
The fishing, however, was easy. Walleyes feed heavily at this time of year, before the winter freeze-up. We caught our fish on jigs and spinner rigs, but a variety of live-bait and trolling presentations work just as well. Few fish taste better than battered-and-fried walleye.
Prairie Ducks and Pheasants
Fall is a great time to be in South Dakota if you're a wingshooter. This is pheasant country, and the season traditionally opens around mid-October. The northeastern part of the state is also prairie pothole country, with outstanding duck hunting early in the fall. You can spend the morning setting up on potholes for a mixed bag of puddle ducks and save the afternoon for chasing ringnecks.
Pheasant hunting doesn't require much extra equipment. A good pair of brush pants and comfortable hunting boots are really all you need. Your duck gun can pull double duty on pheasants. And so can your retriever, once it catches on to the ringneck's wily ways. Wild pheasants like to run, so it's best to team up with a partner or two to work irrigation ditches with a couple of shooters stationed at the end of the cover. In a good area—and South Dakota is full of good areas—simply walking ditch rows and jump-shooting without a dog will often produce a few pheasants as well.
Please note that nonresident hunters must apply early for a waterfowl license before hunting South Dakota. The application period is typically mid-May through early July.