Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Chunk’s Black Licorice
November 1, 2004
By Bob Zettler

My annual trek to North Dakota (ND) is over and its 80 degree’s here in central Illinois (IL) the day before our duck opener! What a difference a week makes!

This was my 15th anniversary of hunting in ND. While I haven’t hunted every year, I have made it there every year now for the last five and each year is a different experience, with the primary item that remains consistent are the great people I meet up there. Whether they are from ND, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Arkansas, Colorado, California, or whatever part of North America, I have been blessed with having hunted with some of the best people you can imagine. I sincerely mean that and especially with regard to ALL the ND hunters I met this year!!

This was one trip I had been preparing for since the summer - a first for me. That meant getting my gear together, sorting through it all, ensuring I had all that I needed, and making final preparations for when I would travel up north and whom I would share time with. In the past four years, that hadn’t been an issue, as I had been hunting for the most part with a good friend in the Granville area. However, this year due to health reasons, he had to drop out and I had to quickly explore alternative opportunities. In addition, while I usually travel to ND the last week of October, I had to amend my itinerary to start a week early as some friends of mine from Arkansas had already scheduled themselves there for the 15-17.

I thought my dark cloud had reappeared into my life and started a mad scramble searching for people to hunt with. For many years now, I had maintained a list of people I either knew, had talked with, or hunted with in ND; a list that had grown from three pages to the current 10 pages. As I sent out emails or called to see what they were up to, I had a reply from someone who it turned out had a house in Kenmare but lived in Indiana. Not only that but they planned on being there during the time I was now scheduling to be there. What was even more amazing was that they invited me to stay and hunt with them and we had never met!!!

Things started to look better.

Then I started to reply to posts on the two primary web sites and mentioned my plight (hint, hint) and lo and behold, I started to hear from several people I had never met before too all who live in ND!!! All of a sudden, my dance card began to fill up.

However, there was another issue that was impacting my trip and that was decoys and hunting gear. You see, I had severely downsized this past year and no longer had the full-size van that would allow me to carry a major portion of my decoys and I hadn’t had to worry about that since my friend in Granville had a trailer and “all the fixin’s.” Now I am driving a four-door Concord and had to fit my 105-pound Yellow Lab in with me to boot. But since my “dance card” was filled up with people who had trailers of gear, I wasn’t too worried. Ever the cautious one, I still wanted to bring along the goose shell decoys and some field duck decoys so I didn’t have to worry. I had the duck decoys all ready and the goose shells sitting outside, when one of our other Yellow Lab’s decided to drag the bag down and chew up the goose heads two days before leaving. God, I hate that dog!

So, I installed a portable luggage rack on the roof of the car, threw an enclosed cargo case on top of that loaded with Raffia grass, PowerHunter blind, some decoys, and the like, packed the inside of the car to the inside roof and filled the trunk, before setting out on my journey north. But as usual, life struck again and I had to have my car worked on just before I left to correct a “Check Engine” light. So, a few hundred dollars lighter, I set off for my 11-hour drive from central IL to Fargo on Friday afternoon, October 15.

Mother Nature must have known I was coming, as I fended off 20+mph head winds ALL the way there, along with rain and jerk drivers. Then, around Minneapolis, my Cell broke. My brand new VERIZON LG4400 cell quit working. Try to imagine driving down the interstate and you realize your lifeline for the next 10 days wouldn’t work and your trying to avoid other vehicles while you try to see if it was something I had done to make it quit. A 100-miles later, I discovered the cell had magically switched to only working with a headset! As I usually carry most everything (ask the people who saw my car). I found a Star Trek earpiece and voila’, it worked. Called Verizon and was told only two places could fix the cell a store in Fargo or Bismarck. I was not a happy camper.

However, I forged on, as I had already made arrangements to hunt with a crew from Fargo and would either meet them at 3 AM in Fargo, or at 4 AM some 50 miles west and we would decide at 3 AM when I called them! As I made it there before 2:30 AM, I decided to get myself ready and clean out the debris that had already started to accumulate in the car by stopping at the Flying J Truck Stop in Fargo. After parking in front out of the wind and getting gas, I let the dog out to stretch his legs and I proceeded to get my gear ready. Around 2:45 AM, I saw a couple of hunters getting gas (in camo and were hauling a trailer), and I asked them if they were going out (3 AM was the earliest I had ever left to go setup in ND ever!) hunting. Well, the guys walked over as if to size me up, and as they drew close, the one guy asked if I was Bob Zettler!

Now, I know my fame sometimes gets the better of me, and that I can appear disorganized, but never in my wildest imagination did I ever anticipate people in ND would start to associate an Illinois car with my name! Yes, my license plate says, “IL HNTR 1”, but how in the world did these guys know my name?

It turns out they were part of the crew I was going to hunt with that day some 70 miles away! I was relieved and we made more complete introductions before departing to catch up with Dan Levin who called to let me know he was on an exit ramp and to meet him there. No one could believe the odds of us running into each other.

Well, the convoy began and some 90 minutes later we started to enter the field we were going to hunt when my “Check Engine” light came on. God, I hate the local Chrysler garage here in Springfield!!! I never slowed down’

Well, we all met there in the dark and what a crew I had lucked into - “my original host djleye and his crew of Gandergrinder, Goosebuster3, Decoyer, and Field Hunter. We ran the gamut from young to middle age. And these guys know their stuff!!! They scout. They have decoys. They have trailers. They have layout blinds. They camo their blinds with natural vegetation found in the field. They are excellent callers. They are excellent hunters. I began to worry they were all Mormons.

This was probably the best hunt of the entire trip and was hard to beat. We took 31 ducks and were pulling out of the field shortly after 10 AM. And my untrained Lab, Chunk, made most of the retrieves. Papa was proud and everyone got a kick out of how he would pounce on the ducks at the end of his retrieve. We didn’t lose any and I lived up to my reputation of not being able to either ID correctly or hit properly waterfowl and they dubbed me the Hen Killer. Hey, I hadn’t been afield since last December and while I wanted Greenheads too, they looked green to me that is until my dog picked them up and brought them back to me.

Anyway, we went to have lunch where I learned firsthand that they ARE NOT MORMONS! Not even close. In addition, in another ironic turn of events, I discovered that I had PM’d a couple of the guys in the last month when one had harvested a banded duck from an organization I had been a Board Member. Starting to get weird’

I was beat, as I had not slept in 36 hours, but called my friends from Arkansas who were staying in Minot and supposed to have been hunting in the Kenmare area as I left my new hunting buddies from Fargo to see how they were doing. They were miserable. It seems the contact they had in Kenmare who said they had set everything up in advance hadn’t exactly gotten it right. After the boys from Arkansas driving 17 hours, with one of them with the Flu, they had joined up with their contact Friday AM to hunt upland and waterfowl. They then proceeded to drive ALL over the area looking for a place to hunt, never once getting out of their vehicles! It appears he hadn’t established a place to hunt and wouldn’t knock on any doors to ask permission!

They weren’t too happy and left him to jump shoot some potholes ND style for the late afternoon. That at least salvaged the day by virtue of them limiting on ducks hunting in a fashion that isn’t possible in Arkansas. When their contact failed to show for supper or get back with them on their hunt for Saturday, they truly weren’t happy, but this wasn’t the worst as they all came down with the 24-hour flu and spent the next 18-hours in the hotel in the bathroom.

I took pity on them and somehow found the energy and drove across the state to meet them in Granville at 2:30 PM. We immediately went to one of my prime pheasant fields and never saw a bird. Went to another, and lo and behold there was a rooster in the road! We jumped out, and unfortunately, I was the only one who scored. That was the extent of the upland hunting for all of us this trip but we did manage to take limits of ducks in several potholes that evening and the next afternoon before they left for Arkansas. Two of them even scored a couple geese Saturday afternoon as a bonus. I felt I had done my job and took care of my friends from Arkansas and another local man who was about to be sent off to South Korea (Army). We all had a great time and Chunk (my Yellow Lab) made some excellent retrieves on land and water.

They left at around 8 PM and I started on my way to Kenmare to meet, stay and hunt with new friends. It was snowing and I finally made it there around 10 PM. Met Bill Jansky and Bill Jansky, Sr., who are from Indiana and have been hunting in the Kenmare area for 15 years. They are the nicest couple of guys! They took me under their wings, provided a bed, decoys to hunt over, and fed me like I was at one of the finest restaurants in ND. I was never going to lose weight staying with these guys! Got to bed without my fan (that is another story) and we joined up with Scott Laullin and Jeff the next morning to hunt Mallards in the blowing snow and ice. While I saw flocks of ducks with the guys on Saturday, there were also tons of Mallards working this Pea field just outside Kenmare. However, they were decoy shy and we were only able to pull 7 or so out of a morning hunt. I also discovered the PowerHunter Blind was too small for me when I was dressed in my hunting attire. If I took a deep breathe, the Velcro would pop open which is not a great thing to discover in the field when there are hundreds of Mallards and the snow is blowing down your neck’

Got back to the house and took my first nap in ND! It felt so great that I did it again the next afternoon after an excellent hunt on a pothole where we limited (almost) on Mallards, Gadwalls, Pintails and BWT. Started to use a lead on my Chunk, as both Bill’s had well-trained Labs and I needed to get Chunk under control and get in line to retrieve. Never provide a long lead attached to a dog that has never been on one before and then attach it to your arm. NEVER! About lost my arm but he did learn quick, them went back for that great food and a nap.

As I had a Swan Permit and wanted to fill it as I had for the previous four years I needed to get after them and decided to hook up for a hunt with PorkChop, who is in the USAF and one HELL OF GUY! Met up with him and Stroeger and we set up for waterfowl. Talk about waterfowl! God, it was great and they let me shoot the first goose that came in with one shot and no one knows or cares here if it was a hen!! We had birds all over us that day and should have limited out on geese and ducks, but due to a variety of reasons, we didn’t - but had a GREAT TIME! No Swans but they did provide some suggestions and I set up later that afternoon but was only successful on ducks. Went back and hunted with the Jansky’s for Thursday and the birds just did not cooperate, so I went on my way towards Stanley in the late morning to try and find that elusive Swan south of Kenmare and north of Stanley. As I was driving around, I found where I had taken my Swan in 1999 by the K-7 missile site and almost ended up in a ravine due to the Jell-O consistency roads before I said to Heck with it and returned to drier fields elsewhere to take several ducks.

Still wanting that Swan, and not being able to get into the geese like I was dying for, I ended up getting together with Porkchop the last Friday morning. As I am cursed with, I was a little late meeting him, and called him from the edge of the field to say I was there. I swear I thought he said he was almost done (God Bless him) with setting out the decoys, so I simply got my gear together and waited. A little later, some latecomers started to try and setup in our field, so I hit them with a Spotlight until they moved over. After 30-minutes of waiting, I began to get concerned and called Porkchop again to see why he was waiting in the field. He said no, he wasn’t done and needed my help! Talk about feeling like a ‘heal’

Well, we got set up and had a good hunt but had to quit early due to prior commitments, and just before the birds started to move into the field. However, I was fortunate enough to watch several tornados of ducks descend into a small winter wheat field and wished I had brought my camera. It was still a great hunt and made so by the camaraderie of my new hunting friends. I ended up the day trying once again for that elusive Swan and other waterfowl. I stayed that night in Minot, as I wanted to be closer to my friends in Granville and the Swans that populated the area. Made it out early the next morning for some pass shooting and finally connected on a nice Snow Goose that folded but decided to regain itself as I swung on another bird, initially looked like he had a busted wing tip but he was able to rejoin the flock and make it to the WPA across the road. Gave it another couple of hours and made my way down to the water’s edge and it looked like the Snow was hanging next to the weeds across the water, so I hiked back and drove around to place myself near where I last saw him. Took Chunk down to the edge and he finally started to get birdy, when all of a sudden I hear this “honk” by where I parked the car and saw that this damn Snow had crawled through the weeds to the road and began flying away!!! Needless to say, I never touched a feather and the last I saw him, he was headed for Devils Lake!

I began to think my trip was over and decided to hit the local potholes until the Swans started to fly in the afternoon. Managed four ducks two were BWT and I was giving up around 6 PM when my friend showed up and asked me, “Did you get your Swan, to which I replied, “No” and he said, “Follow me.”

Without any further discussion, I got in my mudball, I mean car, and proceeded to follow him for about 20 minutes till we came upon a pothole that was covered in white! I couldn’t believe it. I had 15 minutes left and there were 300 Swans just 60 yards away from the road and the road was much lower than the pothole! I threw off my jacket and made sure I had a few shells before I headed on one of the easiest stalks I had ever made -much easier than the one I forgot to mention that I made around 1 PM that day only to get to the edge of the pothole and discover the Swans were still another 120 yards away. Here I have been driving, searching and hunting for Swans most of the week, and here they are just yards away and STAYING PUT! It took me all of 5-minutes to make it to the edge and peer through the reeds and saw that there were Swans within 20 yards of me and they were still holding.

Trying to be as sporting as one can be, I stood up and they began to fly off and away. I waited until this one was just into the air and busted him, breaking a wing. Reloaded (unfortunately, Steel BB’s) and proceeded to keep shooting at him on the water while all these birds (Tundra Swans, Snow geese, Canada geese and ducks of all types) were still taking off around me, with some even still trying to land near me. He proceeded to swim to the other side and I said let Chunk out. He made in seconds but took one look at the moving bird and said, “Say what?”

I was running out of time and decided to forge my way to the other side and ended up giving up walking through the reeds due to their density (Moses would never have been found if it had been like this back then) and grabbed a couple of #2’s before making it over to the other side. As I came close to where I had last saw him, he broke from the reeds and started to flap/swim back to the other side when I finally connected with the #2’s and put him down. Chunk saw this, and with the bird still flailing in the water, Chunk made a 60-yard retrieve and back to the reed’s edge where he left the damn bird. After fighting my way out to the Swan, I could see why it was thicker than snot! I grabbed the Swan and began my slow, laborious trek back to the field all with three-minutes to spare. It was some of the roughest walking I had even made, and it wasn’t any easier carrying a big Swan without waders on in water up to my nuts. I could only take five steps and rest before starting out for another five steps.

My good friend’s son, Randy Elliott was there waiting and took my gun and bird to help me out THANK GOD! His first words were congratulations on getting a banded bird. I said, sure before he showed me it was BANDED!!! I could have kissed him if he wasn’t bigger than me. What an end to a trip that started out with a lot of anxiety!!! I got to meet and hunt with A LOT of new friends, shoot a bunch of ducks, a couple of geese, eat like a pig, and took a BANDED Swan!! Life is good, regardless of the Cell and car issues.

We all made it back to Granville; I showered and prepped the car for the trip home, before leaving around 9 PM. It was difficult to say goodbye but I was on a high now and wanted to make Grand Forks before crashing for the night. However, I was thrown another curve when dense fog developed and when I made Grand Forks around 1 AM, I discovered the hockey game had taken ALL the hotel rooms. Here I was driving in pea soup fog and now had to drive another 90 miles to Fargo before I could sleep. I almost didn’t make it, as I was exhausted, scared of a deer ruining my trip, but made it to Fargo and was in my hotel bed at 4 AM after another long day! I was done and set out for home around 1 PM and arrived at 3 AM the next day.

It seems that every trip I make to ND is different. While I come up for the geese primarily, the last several years I have ended up getting into the ducks and upland game more often BUT I have ALWAYS BEEN BLESSED BY THE PEOPLE I HAVE MET AND SHARED TIME WITH. A big thank you goes out to Dan Levin, Bill (Jr. & Sr.) Jansky, Leo Porchello, Randy Elliott, Ron Elliott Jed Fluher, Tyler Ellenson, Zach Herman, Monte Herman and all the others I met and hunted with on this trip. Please forgive me if I have left anyone off but please know that you are ALWAYS welcome in my home and where I hunt here in Illinois. Thank you all and I look forward to hearing about your experiences in the coming months!!!

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