NEAR DEVILS LAKE, N.D. – “When are the geese gonna come?” young Oliver Burdick asked his dad, Blaine, last Saturday morning, Sept. 4, while hunkered in a blind along a grassy fenceline, watching the sky and waiting for something to happen.
A crescent moon greeted the sunrise, and swarms of ducks occasionally buzzed the crew of six adults and three kids watching and waiting on this glorious September morning.
Duck season was still a few weeks off, though, and waiting for geese can be tough when you’re 7 years old.
Or 77 years old, for that matter.
“It might not go well … or it might go really well,” Tyler Knutson had predicted as the crew began setting decoys in the predawn darkness in the stubble of a harvested wheat field. The geese would come – that was a safe bet – but whether they’d land where the hunters would have a shot at them was a different matter altogether.
Trying to conceal nine people in a stubble field is a tricky business, even with a grassy fenceline working in their favor.
“With this many people, we’re not going to be able to hide very easily,” said Knutson, an avid waterfowl hunter and owner of Devils Lake Marine and Sports Center. “We’re kind of gambling here.”
He may have been gambling on the geese, but last Saturday’s hunt wasn’t as much about putting birds in the bag as it was about raising money for a good cause and putting the fun into fundraising.
The Lake Region Sportsmen’s Club, in conjunction with the 4-H shooting sports programs in Ramsey and Towner counties, was hosting its Ninth Annual Canada Goose Hunt and Raffle fundraiser.
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It’s not a competition, this fundraising event, but Knutson and his hunting buddies regularly earn bragging rights for their goose hunting prowess. Hunters buy a $20 raffle ticket to participate, and each Canada goose that’s shot is worth a point.
The tally doubles if there are kids in the crew, said Larry Weigel of Devils Lake, one of the organizers of the fundraising hunt.
“Every year, they shoot 25 to 40 or 50 geese, so then if you have a kid on your team, each point is worth double,” Weigel said of Knutson and his hunting crew. “They win it every year.”
The Sportsmen’s Club, with help from local 4-H clubs, sells upwards of 600 raffle tickets for the event, Weigel said, and proceeds go toward 4-H shooting sports programs and other youth ventures throughout the Lake Region.
This year’s grand prize was a 12-foot enclosed trailer provided at a discount by Devils Lake Marine and Sports Center. Other raffle prizes included a Winchester SX4 semiautomatic shotgun, a $750 gift certificate from Devils Lake Marine and Sports Center, a guided Snobear ice fishing excursion and a $300 gift card from K&E Meats in Cando, N.D.
In addition, every young participant wins a prize, which this year included four shotguns. Youths participate for free but they must be under 16; those who are too young or don't want to hunt can just tag along for the experience.
“There’s no competition here,” Weigel said. “The trailer and the prizes we give away – that’s all part of a raffle. We’re not making it a competition at all.”
Waiting and hoping
Brooks Boyeff, 9, of Devils Lake, and his dad, Tim, were in the field with Knutson last Saturday morning, along with young Oliver Burdick, 7; his sister Zoe, 10; and their dad, Dr. Blaine Burdick, a Devils Lake optometrist. Neither of the Burdick kids carried a shotgun; they left the hunting part to their dad, although Oliver got a workout retrieving the geese that fell.
Even if they didn’t hunt, they still got a feel for the experience of being outdoors and seeing everything the natural world has to offer during a morning on the prairie.
This year’s hunt and raffle drew 23 young participants.
“It seems like this event gets a ton of kids out,” Knutson said. “It gets parents to bring them out, so it works for that.”
As the only youth in the crew to carry a shotgun, Brooks was hoping to shoot his first Canada geese. It’s “nerve-wracking” watching geese set their wings and glide into the decoys, said Brooks, a fourth-grader at Prairie View Elementary School in Devils Lake.
The boy didn’t let the nerves get the best of him, though; he shot his first Canada goose and two others with his 20 gauge shotgun.
“Good – really good,” is how Brooks described the experience. Goose hunting is fun, he said – even the “getting up at 4:30 a.m.” part.
“He really does just love it,” said Brooks’ dad, Tim Boyeff. “That alarm goes off in the morning, and he’s up and dressed. I’m just getting out of bed, and he’s ready to go.”
For tomorrow’s hunters
The Sportsmen’s Club launched the Goose Hunt and Raffle fundraiser after the organizer of the local 4-H Shooting Sports program approached the group about helping to offset costs for traveling to the 4-H Shooting Sports Nationals competition, which that year was in Texas, Weigel recalls.
“We’re a small club – we’ve only got like eight or 10 active members – and we really didn’t have a lot of money,” he said. “We gave them what we could give, which wasn’t a lot. So then, the next year, they had kids qualify (for nationals) again, so we came up with this goose hunt.”
Area 4-H clubs in the Lake Region help sell raffle tickets.
“We pay them back for however many tickets they sell,” Weigel said.
Separate from the Goose Hunt and Raffle, the Sportsmen’s Club also received donations from area businesses and others to purchase an enclosed trailer filled with decoys and blinds. One of the largest benefactors was Anderson Farm of Warwick.
A mural on the back of the trailer is dedicated to the family’s donation and reads: “In memory of Lee Anderson … he believed in the future of youth hunting and conservation.”
“Anybody that has a youth hunter can use it for free,” Weigel said.
For whatever reason, the geese last Saturday weren’t quite as cooperative as they have been in previous years for Knutson and his hunting crew, but they still tied for bragging rights with 14 Canada geese.
There could have been more if the crew had connected on every opportunity, including the first two Canada geese that had their wings set to land in the decoys, only to be greeted by a volley of shots.
They flew away unharmed.
“Hopefully, the reporter can edit that,” quipped one of the hunters as the birds disappeared in the distance.
And so it went on a glorious September morning, a morning of good times for good causes.
For more information on the youth waterfowl hunting trailer, contact Weigel at (701) 351-4090; Tyler Knutson at (701) 351-5119; or Tom Rost at (701) 351-1424.