Free-Lancing for Ducks and Geese in North Dakota

The Open Prairies Offer Tremendous Opportunity Each Fall

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Find Find Find Find Find

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1 | Find 'Em

As with any waterfowl hunting, thorough and efficient scouting can make or break a North Dakota free-lance duck hunt. Spend as much time as it takes to find an abundance of birds, and then find more. You probably aren’t the only ones hunting those ducks, so it’s a good idea to have back-up spots.

Photo © Bill Konway

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Set the TrapSet the TrapSet the TrapSet the TrapSet the Trap

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2 | Set the Trap

Big flocks of ducks demand big decoy spreads. Hunt with friends who have a trailer full of decoys, too, and combine your blocks when you hunt a dry cornfield. More isn’t always better, but it usually is when the birds are traveling in flocks of hundreds or even thousands.

Photo © Tom Rassuchine/Banded

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Prepare for ConditionsPrepare for ConditionsPrepare for ConditionsPrepare for ConditionsPrepare for Conditions

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3 | Prepare for Conditions

North Dakota is cold in the late fall and winter. Add some wind and it can be brutal. Be prepared for various conditions, but always be extra prepared for severe cold weather. Nothing can ruin a hunt faster than being ill-equipped for what North Dakota throws at you.

Photo © David Hart

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Make Noise, TooMake Noise, TooMake Noise, TooMake Noise, TooMake Noise, Too

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4 | Make Noise, Too

There might be a lot of ducks and geese that haven’t seen a lot of pressure, but calling can make or break a hunt. Brush up on your calling skills before you head to the Dakotas, and don’t be afraid to put the call away if your notes aren’t working.

Photo © Craig Watson

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Work ItWork ItWork ItWork ItWork It

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5 | Work It

Ducks, geese and more ducks and geese. When all the pieces fall into place, you can experience some of the most epic waterfowl hunting North America has to offer. And you can do it without a guide. It takes lots of gear and lots of work, but that only adds to the experience, right?

Photo © David Hart

 

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Mix Things UpMix Things UpMix Things UpMix Things UpMix Things Up

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6 | Mix Things Up

Ducks are the main attraction in North Dakota, for good reason. However, don’t overlook the phenomenal honker hunting. Time it right, and use the right decoys. You can have a fantastic mixed-bag hunt.

Photo © Tom Rassuchine/Banded

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EnjoyEnjoyEnjoyEnjoyEnjoy

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7 | Enjoy

There’s nothing more satisfying that a successful free-lance duck hunt where you do everything from finding the birds to cleaning them at the end of the hunt. Limits don’t come easy, and plenty of hunters get skunked. Work hard, though, and you can have a great hunt.

Photo © David Hart

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It’s been called the last best place for a free-lancing duck hunter. Spend a week in North Dakota during the peak migration and you’ll see why. It’s not just the astounding numbers of birds that descend upon cut cornfields or that roost on the thousands of pothole ponds and big reservoirs. It’s the wide-open spaces, the endless amount of land and abundant opportunities.

It’s true that the spectacular waterfowl hunting in North Dakota are no longer a secret. Thousands of non-residents descend on the state each fall. Don’t let that scare you away. It’s a big state with lots of birds. Even better, much of the private property is not posted. Per North Dakota law, you can hunt unposted land without permission. Even if land is posted, knocking on a door and asking can often get you the keys to the gate, as most landowners want to protect deer and pheasant hunting, or they just want to know who is on their land.

One way to beat the crowds is to go as late in the season as possible. The opening-week rush will be gone, and birds will be piling into cornfields to build up reserves for the next leg of their migration. How late depends on weather. A severe cold snap is possible in mid-November, locking up pothole ponds and even rivers. When that happens, birds will swarm what open water remains, usually the largest reservoirs. The other risk is snow. Ducks and geese will feed in corn as long as they can get to spilled grain.

There’s nothing wrong with an early-season trip. Ducks will be scattered across the landscape, feeding, loafing and roosting on ponds across eastern and central North Dakota. The only problem is that ducks might not have their full plumage yet. Determining the sex of the bird in flight might be a challenge. And brown ducks don’t make for great photos. That’s OK. The number of birds that pile into your decoys will make that seem irrelevant.

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