WHY IS IT THAT when a person is counting down the days to a much anticipated trip it seems to take about a week for 24 hours to pass by? But when the trip is finally in progress, it takes only an hour for an entire day to pass? That’s the way it was for me on my 10-day annual trip to paradise, otherwise known as the prairie country of North Dakota.

For scenery, most of North Dakota offers nothing to compare with that of north Wisconsin. But what North Dakota does have is miles and miles of wheat, soybean, canola, sunflower and corn fields to feed millions of ducks and geese that live there from late March to sometime in November.

There were plenty of those birds waiting for me and my gang at the little white house on the prairie that has been home for us in late September and early October for the past 28 years. I had an added bonus this year of spending an extra three days before duck season opened getting in some great fishing.

Throwing and row trolling mostly brightly colored bucktails and spoons while fishing a small reservoir out of my 10-foot jon boat, I found out that the northern pike of the prairies fight just as hard as those from our north Wisconsin country and that they taste just dandy as well. I didn’t catch anything huge, but fish up to 5 pounds kept me more than happy.

Of course, the main event was duck season. Like a little child Christmas Eve, I slept fitfully and in short spurts the night before season opened. Well before shooting hours, the Illinois and Tennessee crew joining me were up and talking ducks. Four labs — one black, one chocolate and two yellow — were as eager and rambunctious as their owners. 

Tennessee John and his son, Dave, went one way. Dr. Greg, Curt and newbie Brian went another. As I like and prefer, I hunted on my own opening morning. Maybe it’s the introvert in me that my wife is always accusing me of being, but even though I treasure good hunting companions, especially opening morning, I savor being by myself.

I can pick and choose my hunting spot. I can wait and watch for ducks where and when I choose. I can watch the sun come up blazing over the eastern horizon or hunch deep down into an insulated jacket on a cold, cloudy day as the case might be.

I can daydream my way through an opening morning hunt simply reveling in being there, whether I fire a shot or not or I can feel a warming tingle surge through my fingers from a gun barrel heated up from oft-repeated volleys. I can sit in one spot watching decoys bob on a prairie pond, while waiting for ducks to come for me or I can wander from pond to pond, from slough to slough, searching for them.

I did a little of both opening morning this year. My first stop ended with no ducks to show for it. Setting up at a favorite place, I soon realized my opening morning choice of ponds was not a stellar one. My only company, other than Gordie — one of the aforementioned yellow labs — was a pair of northern shovelers, also known as spoonbills, which landed 5 yards away. A handsome duck the drake is when in full breeding plumage, but the only way you eat spoonies is to boil a pot of water, add a bucket of mud and the ducks, and eat the mud/water mix after throwing the duck away. They are that bad.

Other ponds were more productive later in the day and by the close of hunting hours, I had killed two gadwall, two redheads and one bluewing teal; prepped our first duck dinner of the trip in an hour or so of productive labor and enjoyed a peaceful afternoon nap.

While the duck and goose numbers were down in our part of North Dakota this year, we still got our share. They were on the menu quite often, with the heartiest belches, grunts and otherwise favorable comments of satisfaction given to a hearty wild rice and duck casserole. Like all our North Dakota hunting expeditions, this one was a great success. It had a little of everything. Ducks were killed and eaten. A truck — Dr. Greg’s, not mine — was left overnight where it was stuck on a muddy, rain-slicked prairie road, waiting for a friendly farmer’s tractor to pull it out the next morning. 

If I were to pick out the most memorable moments of my hunt, two would stand out. 

One was the sneak I put on a pond that put me within 5 yards of the most beautiful, mature drake bufflehead I’ve ever seen in my life. If ever I were to choose a duck to be mounted, it would have been it. Instead, I simply enjoyed the moment, drank in the exquisite beauty of such a tiny duck and wished it well as I turned away to try my luck at another pond.

The grandest moment of them all, though, came my last afternoon of hunting. With a rare bit of sunshine beaming down, I sneaked a pond where about 100 Canada geese and a handful of mallards were resting. You cannot shoot geese in North Dakota in the afternoon, except Wednesdays and Saturdays, and this was neither.

Still, I sneaked the pond to hopefully flush the mallards and get a crack at them. Instead, as I stealthily approached open water, the resident geese suddenly put out a loud cacophony of honks. Thinking I had spooked them, I froze where I stood. Aha. There was more honking coming from behind me.

About 50 more honkers whooshed over my immobile self no more than 10 feet over my head and splashed into landings amongst their brethren. Mallards were forgotten. I creeped closer. Two yards inside the protective cover of the cattails, I stood and watched scores of magnificent geese swim lazily in front of me, the closest no more than 5 yards away. It might have been the most exciting moment of my duck hunting career. 

The next morning, I awoke early, finished packing the truck and headed home. 

Overnight, the first snow of the year, about an inch of it, had fallen. 

The prairie had turned white.