by Bret Amundson/Bret@mnsportingjournal.com
Each October for 12 years the grassy fields and sloughs around Montevideo has been host to a variety of dignitaries and politicians from across the state during a pheasant hunt called the VIP Hunt. Former Mayor Jim Curtiss started the tradition and this year current Mayor Debra Lee Fader continued it.
Only this year everyone was invited.
The public was able to take part and hunt prime public land in search of wary roosters. In addition to breakfast and lunch at the Watson Hunting Camp, dinner would be served in at the Hollywood on Main downtown Montevideo.
US Rep Colin Peterson would be back once again along with various other business leaders from the area.
This is a good opportunity “…to let people understand what tremendous hunting opportunities you have out here,” Peterson said. “Jim Curtiss deserves a lot of credit as he and I dreamt this up way back when.”
“Our region is very famous for our pheasants,” said Mayor Debra Lee Fader. “We have been voted 15th (Pheasants Forever’s 25 best cities rankings) in the past by Pheasants Forever and we’re very proud of that attribute.” Listen to the Mayor’s radio interview with MNSJ Radio here.
The date of this years event would fall within my family’s annual hunting trip so we’d take advantage of the opportunity to get on a piece of ground that has been managed for wildlife. While I’ve walked a lot of public land in the area and found birds, I’ll always welcome the chance to gain access to private land.
As luck would have it, we’d walk the same groud that we did the year before during the annual hunt. A large tract owned by a group of area residents including Dennis Larson and Judge Dwayne Knutsen. We found a good number of birds there the year before and were excited to get back on it.
The northeast corner of the property was a mix of grass, small trees and pines, situated along a bean field and a small stand of hardwoods. The previous year that particular area exploded with two-dozen pheasants that escaped unharmed. This year we’d be prepared and soon birds were popping up out of the cover in front of us. Just a few minutes into the walk Judge Knutsen’s young black lab Jaz, had her tail wagging furiously and her nose to the ground. The rooster doubled back towards us and flushed 10 yards in front of me. We’d put one in the game bag right away and hopes were high for the rest of the day.
That would be the only rooster we’d shoot.
We saw a fair amount of birds, mostly hens or roosters that flushed wild. There were two exceptions however.
The first involved a very lucky redhead. Our group of the Judge and myself also included members of my family, Ron, Denny, Wade and Danny Amundson, along with friends Steve, Tyler and Travis Hauge. Halfway through the property, we regrouped and formulated a plan for the next half. As we stood there, my lab Mika got birdy and began spinning in circles around us. Despite our pleas of “heads up!”, the group never quite got ready enough. Just like so many times before, a rooster got up while we were standing around talking with guns over our shoulders. I won’t mention any names (Wade), but one hunter (Wade), had the only clear shot and couldn’t shoulder his 12 gauge quick enough and the fortunate bird flew off to buy a Powerball ticket. (I can throw Wade under the bus-he’s my brother. It’s allowed.)
A second rooster would narrowly avoid coming home in the cooler by matrix-ing his way through the shooting later in the day. Again some story telling was taking place and not enough attention was being paid to the four-legged pheasant finder in front of them. Something we’re all guilty of. A shrug of the shoulders and a few mentions of the popular phrase “Shoot and Release” were made and we continued the walk.
We’d bust cattails, work the grass and circle every small cluster of birdy-looking cover. After the tough winters we’ve endured I knew it wouldn’t be hundreds of birds piling out one after another but the number of hens that we saw encouraged me. With most of the area corn still standing, birds would be hard to come by.
Luckily for us, this was a multispecies trip to the Montevideo area.
While most of the group went duck hunting each morning, Ron and Denny Amundson went fishing. Shore or bridge fishing this time of year can produce a variety of fish including those tasty walleyes and crappies that everyone is always after. A couple of nice filets made their way into the freezer to be enjoyed another day.
The duck hunting turned out to be the best part of it all. While the migration had stalled a bit there were pockets of ducks that could be found if you put enough miles on your truck.
We’d gotten a tip that some ducks were using a State Wildlife Management Area near Ortonville. We scouted it out and a good number of ringbills were rafting up in the middle. We used a pair of Maven B1 8 x 42 binoculars in conjunction with Google maps and planned out our set up the next day. With 6 guys we decided two spreads would be more efficient and if we set up on both ends of the slough, we could keep the ducks from landing away from us.
There was an interesting moment the morning we arrived at the slough. There is a funny thing about hunters: When you see them at the bar or in the café having breakfast, you greet them with a smile and “How did you do?”. But when you see them pull up to your spot in the morning, usually it’s a scowl and “We were here first” type situation. But this day would be different.
I’d be leading the pack and as I marched through waist-high weeds I looked back to notice a pickup/boat combo stopping next to the slough. We’d already be hunting two spots on this pond so adding another group could get congested. One member of our hunting party was nearby as they stopped and had a conversation that I imagined going this way:
“You guys hunting here?”
“Well, so are we.”
Sometimes those situations get tense and sometimes they work out just fine. But anytime you have another group hunting in the same spot you never know how it will go. Fortunately for us, this is how it went:
“You guys hunting here?”
“Well, that’s great. This is a good spot. We’ve had luck here all week. There is another spot we can go to so we’ll head there instead.”
“Thanks, good luck!”
We’d go on to shoot 23 ducks there that morning and watched our dogs have multiple retrieves that required swimming almost across the slough entirely chasing diver ducks that would, well, dive every time the dog would get close.
Shooting was so good in fact the other group we were with made the walk over to us to restock on ammo. I’d heard a noise in the cattails behind me and turned to see one of the hunters. Surprised, I asked how it was going.
“Well, it’s kind of embarrassing. We’re out of ammo.”
“That’s not so bad, I’ve heard a lot of shooting down there. How many ducks do you have?”
“Well, it’s kind of embarrassing. We’ve only got 5.”
Hey, 75 shots and 5 ducks isn’t so bad. You could only have 1 duck after 75 shots.
“Well, 4 of the ducks dove on our dog and never came up.”
We’d hunt ducks again the next day and once again hit the jackpot with 23 ducks. That’s 46 ducks across two days. Not a bad total when most of the ducks had either left the area or hadn’t arrived yet.
The final day of the weekend saw 3 of us head back out for one more duck hunt. We’d go back to the well and hunt the same slough as two days before. Not expecting much but getting lucky and knocking down 4 more ducks. Not the greatest day hunting, but it would bring our duck total to 50 in 3 days worth of hunting (across our 4 day trip).
There is a reason that I have been bringing my family out to this area, the opportunity to find various game birds and animals is vast. The people are great and you can find accommodations and plenty of local restaurants and bars that rely on the hunting and fishing traffic each year.
Here are more pictures from the trip: