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Going Public

Many of the author's favorite waterfowling memories were made on public lands, open to one and all 
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Discovering Hidden Treasure

PLOTS is an acronym for Private Lands Open To Sportsmen, a program in which the North Dakota Game and Fish Department contracts with farmers to open their lands to public hunting. The department publishes an atlas showing the location of these tracts for hunters who wish to access them.

Bob Meek and I were on a muddy section road west of Devils Lake studying a PLOTS book. A freak early fall storm was raging, and the water was too rough to boat hunt on the lake, as we'd planned. So instead we were driving back roads looking for a sheltered marsh that we could hike into, toss out some decoys, and hide in adjacent cover. The book offered several possibilities.

The first couple of spots we checked showed little duck activity, but the third place looked promising. Steady flights of mallards were working into a harvested cornfield posted with "No Trespassing" signs. 

But the ducks were coming from a tall grass pasture behind us that was marked with a welcoming yellow triangular PLOTS sign. 

"Must be a pothole out in the middle of that field," Bob said, before climbing onto his truck's toolbox for a better look. As Bob raised his binoculars, a hawk flew over the middle of the field and a veritable curtain of ducks lifted into view. "There they are," he said, as the birds settled back down. "Looks like a good-sized marsh, and ducks are all over it." 

We pulled on waders, shouldered bags of decoys, and started hiking toward the mother lode, which is exactly what it turned out to be. Puddle ducks of several species were flying low over the shallow water and cattails. We waded a few yards into the marsh and set our spread in an opening where several mallards had flushed. Then we hunkered down in a thick stand of cover to await the next flight.

We didn't have to wait long. The action was steady, and soon we had taken a mixed bag of mallards, gadwalls, pintails, and green-winged teal. The shooting was deceptive in the strong, steady wind. Most ducks were flying straight into the blow, which greatly slowed their progress. For once, we had to concentrate on not leading the ducks too much.

Several states have programs similar to PLOTS. South Dakota's Walk-In Areas and Kansas's Walk-In Hunting Access programs are two examples. These efforts provide public access to high-quality private lands, offering ample opportunities to hunters who have the gumption to seek them out.

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