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Small town's economy gets lift from hunting

Woodworth, N.D. Andy Collins and his two buddies from Tennessee drove for 24 straight hours Thursday to their vacation destination: Woodworth, N.D. "It's so relaxing here ... it's just a relief," Collins said Friday morning, sipping on a cup of c...

Andy Collins

Woodworth, N.D.

Andy Collins and his two buddies from Tennessee drove for 24 straight hours Thursday to their vacation destination: Woodworth, N.D.

"It's so relaxing here ... it's just a relief," Collins said Friday morning, sipping on a cup of coffee in the Woodworth Café. "I look forward to this trip every year."

For the last 20 years, the 40-year-old Collins has been coming to Woodworth to hunt ducks - a season that opened for non-residents on Saturday.

Woodworth, population 45, has been a destination for many out-of-state duck hunters for years. Residents will tell you that the town's population has doubled - sometimes tripled - during the waterfowl season when hunters come from as far away as Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan - even England one year.

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The town that sits on the highest elevation between the Red River and the Missouri River has only 40 houses. Eighteen of those are either owned or leased by out-of-state hunters.

"The town actually perks up a little bit," said 40-year-old Steve Scarbrough, Woodworth's mayor.

But it may not be as perky this fall.

Residents who rent housing for hunters have had cancellations. Collins' father-in-law and his friend decided not to come this year.

Why?

Dry conditions, which has meant less water for ducks, has scared some hunters away. So has the cost of gas.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department reported last week that the number of out-of-state waterfowl licenses is down nearly 50 percent from last year. Only 4,500 non-resident licenses were sold as of last week.

"There will still be quite a few that come," said Ron O'Neill, a Woodworth native who operates his own repair shop. "The ones that have the houses will be here."

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Scouting the potholes

Even though he has lived in Woodworth for only six years, Scarbrough was recently elected the town's mayor.

He was living in Illinois before visiting the Woodworth area one Fourth of July. He fell in love with the open space and the waterfowl.

"I am a waterfowl hunter," said Scarbrough, who works at the Woodworth Farmers Grain Co. "That's the only reason I moved up here."

Like Scarbrough, Collins also fell in love with the prairie pothole region of Woodworth. As a University of Tennessee student, he first came to the area in the summer of 1988 to help with some waterfowl research.

Now a game warden who lives near Knoxville, Tenn., Collins vows he will keep making his annual duck-hunting trip until he dies.

"This is the nation's duck factory," he said. "But what's neat about Woodworth is that it's just like it was 20 years ago."

About the only change is that hunters are finding it harder to find a place to hunt. More hunters have discovered the area and more farmers are leasing their land to specific hunters to help make ends meet.

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The other challenge hunters like Collins face this fall is the dry conditions. That's why he was scouting the landscape Friday afternoon.

"It's going to be tough," Collins said.

"If you want to shoot ducks, you will find them," Scarbrough said. "You just have to put the effort into it."

Good for business

Collins is one of the numerous out-of-state regulars most Woodworth residents have come to like. Collins is known as Andy in Woodworth.

"I have met tons of people who are very, very nice," said Rae Wald, who has owned Stub's Pub bar for the last 19 years. "Some are very nice and some aren't. Some support the community really well and some don't."

For Wald, the waterfowl hunters for the next three weeks and the deer hunters in November give her business a big boost. The same holds true for Lynette Schulz, who manages the community-owned Woodworth Café right next door.

"My traffic through October is about doubled than what it usually is," said Schulz, who has lived in Woodworth for 15 years. "It helps float a small-town café through the winter."

Some grouse hunters from Cincinnati ate some of Schulz' homemade caramel rolls. They left Woodworth on Thursday with a successful hunt.

"They were tickled pink," Scarbrough said. "It's guys like that who I will help with advice. We want them to come back."

Just like Collins - who will hunt ducks in the morning, hunt grouse in the afternoon before scouting for the next day's duck hunt until he heads back to Tennessee on Thursday.

At night, it's time to relax at the house he purchased from resident Jim Buskness. That's where his buddy Clint Smith will break out his Dutch oven and cook up the game they shot.

"He can take duck, goose, grouse and make it taste wonderful," Collins said. "Like I said, it's just so relaxing up here."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

Andy Collins

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