The Memories Through a Duck Band
By PJ Maguire
I met Dave Easton in the fall of 2000 at the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house on the University of North Dakota campus in Grand Forks. Dave had a burning passion to pursue game in the outdoors and a Jeep. I had three-dozen mallard floaters and knowledge of waterfowl passed down from my father and relatives. Together we were poised to make a great team.
Dave grew up in Colorado were there was few opportunities for him to hunt ducks. His own father was more of an upland hunter who brought Dave to western Nebraska and local game farms to harvest pheasants. To this day, I have yet to encounter an individual who was more excited to experience new ways to hunt and fish.
I was just a freshman and Dave was a sophomore. Before the duck season began, we had agreed that we would hunt together as much as possible. Dave had hunted ducks the season before with a couple older guys in the Frat, who at the time rented a house off-campus. These older Phi’s were kind enough to allow the two of us to store our firearms and the decoys at their home.
It was a time in my life that I will always remember. I was 19 years old, and living on my own for the first time while making new friends. Best of all, I was just forty-five minutes East of some of the best duck hunting in the Central flyway. If I could re-live one duck season, it would be my first fall in North Dakota.
On weekdays, Dave and I would leave the UND campus in the early afternoon after our classes were completed. Once the guns were picked up, yours truly would be riding shotgun in the Jeep, while we coasted west down highway 2 towards the prairie potholes.
Whether or not you that have traveled down highway 2 in North Dakota, I will give you my re-cap. You pass the Grand Forks airport, then the Grand Forks Air Force Base, Turtle River state park, and the ‘big fan’ bridge just before Petersburg. Once you cross the bridge have left the Red River valley and are now in the prairie pothole central.
Those afternoons, Dave and I would just drive around and jump shoot ducks. Gas was cheap, and I had never seen any place like it. It seemed as though every slough contained birds. Coming from Minnesota where my childhood hunts were mostly filled with ‘empty skies’, I thought that I was in paradise.
Dave, the Colorado kid, none the wiser, was thoroughly enjoying the ability to hunt plentiful game with a new friend. Every turn on those dusty gravel roads contained new experiences for the both of us. Species of ducks, first doubles, triples, leg bands and the bag limits that had eluded me through my early years of waterfowl hunting.
Dave and I would occasionally wake up before daybreak and set out decoys on several small potholes that we had become fond of. We rarely shot our limits over these sets, but we enjoyed seeing the sunrises that many of our fellow college students missed.
Back on campus, Dave and I would clean plump mallards, gadwalls, teal and the occasional diver in the girl’s bathroom of the Frat house. This is also where we cleaned the perch and northern we pulled through the ice in the wintertime. In the kitchen, we would mix duck breasts with any spices we could find and share them with our Frat brothers.
Our good friend Phil Bettenburg occasionally joined us on our duck hunts and the three of us go on a fishing trip every summer to this day. In the latter years of college, Dave and I discovered field hunting for ducks and geese along with many new hunting partners. Some experienced, some not. By the time we both graduated and parted ways we had learned a ton about waterfowl hunting through those experiences.
Towards the end we did not hunt as much together as I would have liked. Goals and opinions changed, and educations needed to be completed in the classroom, not just the outdoors. I would not trade those memories of the carefree early years for anything.
On one crisp October afternoon, Dave shot a nice drake mallard just west of Petersburg, North Dakota. I, being a good friend and the one with waders on, retrieved the bird for him. To my surprise it was banded! At that time I had only seen two other banded birds harvested. That mallard was banded in North Dakota at the J. Clark Wildlife Refuge. It was 12 years old when it met its fate at the hand of Dave’s steel 2s. Traveling up and down the flyway on that old North Dakota bird, the Avise bird band is a great memento and a true jewel. Dave’s band now hangs on my lanyard, and I think about those days every time I glance down at it. Dave gave it to me because he says that he never cared as much about the band as I did. He was more into mental aspects of the hunt, memories and experiences. That is something that any waterfowl can respect and a tribute to the importance of our early waterfowl memories.