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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Devils Lake Ducks

This sprawling North Dakota lake offers endless public hunting opportunities for freelance waterfowlers
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Last Chance Ducks

One thing we didn't anticipate was a frozen boat motor. When we got to the launch site in the predawn, I turned the ignition key and nothing happened. The boat had sat in the motel parking lot for two days in blowing snow and sub-freezing temperatures, and the motor was locked up. We had no option but to drive back to town and thaw it out.

With his full beard and oily Carhartts, Cliff Brekken didn't look like an angel, but he certainly acted like one. "Back your boat into my shop, and we'll get it unfrozen in no time," he said. After a few minutes' heating by blowers and a welding torch, the motor was freed up and purring. Brekken didn't want any payment for helping us, but we forced him to take $20—the best bargain Bob and I found during our trip.

Then we drove back to our launch site and were motoring into the marsh by 9 a.m. The flight of waterfowl was heavy. When we got to open water, large rafts of mallards and Canada geese flushed. We realized the potholes back in the cattails were frozen, so we quickly set up on the edge of a broad open pond. 

The ducks were coming back before we could get our boat covered. They came one flight after another, mostly mallards. It was obvious that the storm had prompted a big push of birds from Canada. Indeed, a second bomb had gone off at Devils Lake this week—an explosion of new ducks.

We shot our limits and a bonus of two Canada geese in short order, and then we sat and watched the spectacle before us. We didn't say much. There was no need for conversation. We reveled in the moment and the great pleasure of simply being there. We'd driven a long way. We'd faced adversity. We'd tested our skills. We'd enjoyed the wildness of this place, and we'd shared in its bounty. Now it was time to go home.

Waterfowl hunters pursue matters of the heart instead of the mind. They seek answers to unspoken questions about themselves and the birds they pursue. Bob Meek and I didn't find all the answers, but we found some of them at Devils Lake. And as we turned back south on Interstate 29, we rode with the quiet contentment that comes from knowing ourselves and each other just a little better.

"You like gospel music?" Bob asked. I nodded, and he put in a CD to help pass the long miles ahead.

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