It's the Coteau Des Prairies, or more simply, duck paradise

  • Article by: BILL KLEIN , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 24, 2010 - 12:37 AM

The ridge in North Dakota is where most of the ducks in North America are hatched.

hide

Central North Dakota is dotted with acres and acres of wetlands.

If you closed your eyes and slid your fingers across a 3-D map of North Dakota, you might be surprised to feel a big bump as your hand reached the central part of the state. It's imperceptible as you drive the interstate, but when you reach Bismarck you are 800 feet higher than when you left Fargo. This ridge, which runs the length of the state, north to south, is known as the Coteau Des Prairies, French for "hill of the prairie." All this would be of little significance to you unless you are a duck hunter.

This Coteau country is where most of the ducks in North America are hatched. In fact, the biologists at Delta Waterfowl in Bismarck say this area now outranks the southern plains of Canada, gripped in a multiyear drought, as the top duck-producing area on the continent.

Walk around a typical square mile on the Coteau and you will find yourself detouring around 42 small wetlands. The 18 counties that make up the Coteau contain over 1 million temporary, seasonal and semi-permanent wetlands that cover over 1.3 million acres. These numerous wetlands and the promise of an early fall buffet of waste barley, wheat and soybeans attract millions of nesting waterfowl each year.

Not surprisingly then, North Dakota is a top destination for hunters. As the number of ducks dwindles in Minnesota and many other states, duck hunters dwindle, too. But hardcore hunters, 30,000 nonresidents of North Dakota in a typical year, are willing to do whatever it takes to find ducks, even if the price is going up. And it is. More travel time, more $3-a-gallon gas, and maybe even a charge for the privilege of hunting that certain wetland. I just returned from a hunting trip to the Coteau and this is what I saw:

More hunters, fewer ducks

Drive by the motels in Harvey and McClusky after dark and you will find them full. Trucks parked outside sport a colorful array of license plates: Texas, West Virginia, Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa among them. In addition, many small houses in these towns are available for rent by day or by week.

The cafe in McClusky keeps the kitchen open until 9 p.m. to accommodate hunters who have stayed out until sunset. I counted 40 waterfowlers one evening, all wearing brand-new attire from Cabela's or Gander Mountain. Oddly, the average age was over 60. They were not jubilant about their success. But where were the young hunters with their rolled-down hip waders, faded hand-me-down camo jackets and "Quack Addict" stickers in the windows of their trucks?

Coteau

My own experience afield matched that of the diners. Sloughs that in past years had produced limits held only a few coots. My rancher friend who farms 1,000 acres pointed my partner and me to a 20-acre wetland approachable by prairie lane. There we found about 200 skittish dipper ducks. Even the gadwalls, normally convivial decoyers, were skirting our setup. Puzzled, I called a pal in Turtle Lake. Tim Larson drives hundreds of miles across the Coteau each week as a conservation officer. He confirmed what my rancher friend had told me: The spring hatch was good, but a few days before my arrival the ducks departed.

Gun pressure

"I don't know where they went, and I don't know why they left," Larson said. I had my suspicions. With plenty of water to rest on, bountiful small grain left after the harvest and bluebird weather, there would be no reason for the ducks to leave. Except for gun pressure.

With fewer ducks in Minnesota and many other states, the market force of supply and demand comes into the equation. Ducks are normally plentiful in North Dakota. So the demand increases there, at least among the swamp rat addicts like me, and the price goes up.

For the first time in my decades of hunting North Dakota I saw a sprinkling of "Paid Hunting" signs. While these are common on the pheasant fields of South Dakota, I was not aware of North Dakota ranchers asking for per-day, per-gun cash in past years.

Gun pressure is also measured by hours per day in the duck blind. You don't drive 500 miles or more to take naps and play cribbage. You hunt. In most cases you hunt from a half-hour before sunrise to sunset. This limits the places ducks can loaf midday and rest at night. They will move about until they find safer zones.

Still the visual and aural pleasures of the prairie abound on the Coteau. Look any direction and there are Picasso images painted with 40-foot-wide brushes, the grain heads of the combines, across hundred-acre canvasses. Thousands of sandhill cranes provide daylong choruses of exotic song. Sharptail grouse time cluck-cluck calls to infrequent wing beats as they sail across the stubble fields.

The people of central North Dakota are also a draw. They are, for the most part, so welcoming it's almost embarrassing. My 80-year-old rancher friend, who still scampers up and down the ladder of his massive Steiger tractor like a young man, apologized for the lack of ducks. As if it were his fault.

So on the final morning of my hunt, with my joyful Labrador romping ahead of me into a rose-colored slough, I couldn't think of another place I'd rather be in the fall than on the Coteau Des Prairies. Duck limits or not.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Buffalo 12:00 PM
New England
Cleveland 12:00 PM
Baltimore
Dallas 12:00 PM
Washington
Indianapolis 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Jacksonville 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 12:00 PM
Kansas City
NY Jets 12:00 PM
Miami
Chicago 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Philadelphia 12:00 PM
NY Giants
New Orleans 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Carolina 3:25 PM
Atlanta
Detroit 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Oakland 3:25 PM
Denver
Arizona 3:25 PM
San Francisco
St. Louis 3:25 PM
Seattle
Cincinnati 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
TBA
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
TBA
Toronto 110 FINAL
LA Clippers 98
Boston 88 FINAL
Washington 101
Orlando 102 FINAL
Charlotte 94
Memphis 103 FINAL
Miami 95
Indiana 110 FINAL
Brooklyn 85
New Orleans 100 FINAL
Chicago 107
Atlanta 90 FINAL
Milwaukee 85
Philadelphia 71 FINAL
Utah 88
New York 129 FINAL
Sacramento 135
Minnesota 97 FINAL
Golden State 110
NY Islanders 3 FINAL(SO)
Buffalo 4
Detroit 3 FINAL(OT)
Ottawa 2
Carolina 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay 2
New Jersey 1 FINAL
NY Rangers 3
Boston 2 FINAL
Columbus 6
Winnipeg 4 FINAL(OT)
Minnesota 3
Washington 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh 0
Dallas 4 FINAL
St. Louis 3
Philadelphia 1 FINAL
Nashville 4
Anaheim 1 FINAL(SO)
Arizona 2
Chicago 5 FINAL
Colorado 2
Edmonton 1 FINAL
Calgary 4
San Jose 1 FINAL
Los Angeles 3
Indiana 87 FINAL
Georgetown 91
Maine 43 FINAL
Seton Hall 72
UNC-Wilmington 82 FINAL
Minnesota 108
Georgia State 61 FINAL
Green Bay 78
Jacksonville St 61 FINAL
Jacksonville 75
Kentucky 58 FINAL
Louisville 50
Northern Ky 55 FINAL
Northwestern 76
UAB 58 FINAL
North Carolina 89
IUPUI 55 FINAL
Pepperdine 53
Santa Clara 60 FINAL
St Marys-CA 73
Oakland 56 FINAL
Maryland 72
Gonzaga 87 FINAL
BYU 80
Mercer 77 FINAL
Georgia 86
San Francisco 77 FINAL
Pacific 71
Wright State 55 FINAL
Ohio State 100
Presbyterian 65 FINAL
Virginia Tech 87
Brescia 42 FINAL
Western Ky 89
Tennessee St 46 FINAL
Tennessee 67
Kennesaw St 45 FINAL
Illinois 93
Colorado State 58 FINAL
New Mexico St 57
Portland 61 FINAL
San Diego 58
Wayland Baptist 63 FINAL
Utah State 75
Bristol University 59 FINAL
Weber State 109
Sacramento St 74 FINAL
Utah Valley U 49
Southern Utah 45 FINAL
UNLV 79
SD Christian 50 FINAL
San Diego St 72
Illinois 18 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 35
Rutgers 40 FINAL
North Carolina 21
NC State 34 FINAL
UCF 27
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Virginia Tech 33
(15) Arizona State 36 FINAL
Duke 31
Miami-Florida 21 FINAL
So Carolina 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Penn State 31
(25) Nebraska 42 FINAL
(24) USC 45
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
Texas
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
Stanford
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
Minnesota
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
Tennessee
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
East Carolina 1/3/15 11:00 AM
Florida
SMU 45 FINAL
(2) Connecticut 96
UCF 64 FINAL
Houston 50
BYU 62 FINAL
Gonzaga 78
Pacific 92 FINAL
San Francisco 54
St Marys-CA 62 FINAL
Santa Clara 61
San Diego 87 FINAL
Portland 65
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close