Jeff Andersen and Jason Mitchell are fellow professional anglers on Ice Team. Working together on so many media events and promotions with the companies and products around ice fishing, the two formed a fast friendship. After all, they both suffered from obsessive-compulsive fishing disorder—so they had a lot in common, especially understanding wives.
It was the second week of Minnesota deer season and Jeff decided to skip deer hunting and take Jason up on his invitation for duck hunting in North Dakota. Jeff packed up and headed off to Devils Lake where his own brother Joe now lived, with Jeff and Joe’s brother Jason, and Jason’s nine-year-old daughter, Leah. “I’ll be back early Sunday night,” Jeff told his wife.
The duck hunting was great. But the big surprise was getting into Devils Lake and seeing not just tens of thousands but millions of snow geese. Resting snow geese blanketed the ground as they sought a short respite from their northerly migration. None of the Andersen brothers had hunted snow geese before. “Jason, any chance we can hunt snow geese tomorrow?” Jeff asked Jason Mitchell.
“I can’t,” Jason answered. “I have a television shoot tomorrow. I’ll see if I can get permission for you guys on a friend’s land, though.” A few calls were made with a positive outcome. Since Mitchell didn’t need his windsock decoys the next day for the filming, he offered them to the newbies. “You do realize how many decoys you need to set up, right?” Jason Mitchell asked with a smile.
The Andersen brothers and little Leah were going on a new adventure in the morning. For each of the last two days after duck hunting they had seen fields saturated with snow geese—truly a sight to behold. Everyone was thrilled with the new opportunity for the following day. They double-checked the regulations—no additional license needed.
“I had never seen anything like that before,” shared Jeff, remembering the day just a few years ago.
The work would start long before morning’s first light. The alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. and the Andersen clan stumbled out to the hunting field in the dark with the loaned trailer full of decoys. Each pitched in, including little Leah, setting up the decoys. Not just a few decoys either, and not just a few dozen decoys. “We’re talking well over 1,000 decoys to set up,” Jeff said. “Probably closer to 1,200.”
Soon the sun crested the eastern sky casting soft pink on the horizon, and the last decoy in place. They were ready. And what a day it was. Success would be too mild of a word. “It was an absolutely perfect hunting day,” Jeff said with exuberance. “It was the most fun I had ever had hunting—ever!”
At the end of the day, they walked the field, retrieving the windsock decoys. Flattening each down on the floor of the trailer, they closed the back doors and headed back to duck camp for dinner.
“I was just flying on high that night,” Jeff recalls of the emotions. “The weather was perfect, the hunting conditions were perfect, the birds were amazing. I mean, it was just the most perfect hunting day—I didn’t want it to end.”
He really didn’t.
So he called his wife and asked if he could hunt another day. She said yes, but there was a family event in the evening. He promised to hunt only in the morning and hurry home. Then they called the landowner and asked if they could hunt one more day. Affirmative. They were on.
After such an amazing day afield, it wasn’t easy to fall asleep that night. Everyone was so excited it was hard to let it end. Sleep eventually won out, yet rudely interrupted with the incessant beep of the 3:30 a.m. alarm. All too soon. Again.
More tired this second day, the crew headed back out to the field and set out the dekes again in the dark. As the sun came up, the Andersens were ready with the decoys—then the wind shifted. What was blowing gently from the south changed to blustery from the northwest. Suddenly, 40 mile-per-hour winds blew and heavy snow fell. “Visibility was maybe 20 feet, max,” shared Jeff. “And the snow just kept on coming and the wind just kept on howling.”
The hunting party wasn’t skunked that second day, they managed to shoot a few snow geese, but only a few. Everyone was miserable and cold. Snow pelted their faces and their skin was raw from wind and moisture. Now they needed to pull the decoys.
“We walked back out to the field and discovered the snow had completely filled the windsock decoys,” added Jeff. “And it was thick, heavy, wet snow. Every single one of them was packed.”
Jeff’s shoulders slumped. So did his those of his brothers and his niece. Decoys that packed up easily the day before in the beautiful sunshine and dry conditions were now a nightmare. They had to empty each and every one. “The first day all the decoys fit into one trailer,” Jeff retold. “The second day we filled two trailers and a pickup truck because of the snow, even though we tried our best to empty them in the field.”
But it was blizzard conditions out there. “We had to take them back to the cabin to get rid of the snow.” The tedious work crept on for more than twelve hours, until one o’clock in the morning! They had to return Jason’s borrowed decoys in the same condition they had received them.
“I missed getting home for the family event, as you can imagine.” Jeff chuckles thinking back on the hunting trip of a lifetime and his understanding wife. “Two days couldn’t have been more different. The first was probably my best hunting day—ever—and the second probably my worst.”
K.J. Houtman is the author of the award-winning Fish On Kids Books series, chapter books for eight- to 12-year-olds with adventures based around fishing, camping, and hunting. Her work is available at Amazon and local bookstores. Find out more at fishonkidsbooks.com.
Image courtesy Jeff Anderson