If you're planning to join the 30,000 non-resident duck hunters in North Dakota this fall don't even think of going up there without a boat. Here's why: all the permanent wetlands are brim full to overflowing. Instead of sitting on a bucket in the mud at the edge of the cattails you'll be standing waist deep in water this year. Even if you don't mind that, your retriever will. If it ever quits raining across the prairies this summer the temporary water that currently dots the landscape will dry up by October. But even if they stay wet they'll be hard to hunt because of a lack of concealing cover. Plan on hunting from a boat.
There will be plenty of ducks to greet your arrival. I recently spoke with a waterfowl biologist at the Audubon National Wildlife Refuge near Bismarck. He reported the best duck production conditions in recent memory across the entire length of prairie pothole country, from South Dakota north into central Canada. The slightly above average number of breeding pairs are producing more broods and bigger broods in the vegetated temporary wetlands.
Surplus water also minimizes what biologists term dry land mortality. In a normal water year a hen will hatch her brood in temporary spring water and then, at it drys up, march them across dry land to a nearby permanent pothole. This move is a high-risk situation making the brood vulnerable to predation. This year, because of the endless thunderstorms, the hens and their broods can stay safely in their hatch wetlands.
The folks at the Audubon Refuge are seeing especially high numbers of shovelers and gadwall. Shovelers are often allowed free passes by duck hunters because of their questionable status as table fare. But gadwall are the staple of a North Dakota hunt because of they decoy and taste real good.
So plan on lots of ducks and lots of water in North Dakota this fall. Take a boat and take some extra gas money for your truck. You'll likely need to scout around through the sea of sloughs to find the concentration of ducks.