Matthew Piehl, Dirty Bird Outfitters, was born and raised in North Dakota. He tells Ramsey about growing up hunting in the region and why waterfowl hunting affected him differently than hunting upland gamebirds. They recount Mexico duck hunting together, talk about Matt’s lucky horseshoe, and dive into hunting ducks, geese and swans in North Dakota. What are habitat conditions like in North Dakota this year and how might if effect hunting? How’d Matt get into the outfitting business? And why does DBO’s staff believe Ramsey’s yellow lab, Coop, possess magical powers? These answers and more in today’s episode of Duck Season Somewhere.
Sharing Time in a Blind with Matt Piehl of Dirty Bird Outfitters
The minute she turned around, and faced us, we all saw that band on his leg.
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host, Ramsey Russell. Join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere. Folks, I’m glad to have today’s guest Matthew Piehl, Dirty Bird Outfitters, up in North Dakota and also down in Arkansas Springs. I’ll give you’ll a little backdrop before I let Matt start talking. You all will appreciate this. Before I even knew Matt was an outfitter, or let alone before the all-time outfitter that he is, on both sides of the continent, Matt was a client. We shared some time in the blind, a couple of years in a row down in Mexico. And I’ve always said and firmly believed you really get to know people sitting in a duck blind. And one of the most memorable hunts I’ve ever had with Matt, we were down in Mexico and we were hunting one of the blinds down and Obregon designated as a Ramsey blind. Just one of those spots that we had driven by. And I’d always seen birds going to another blind. I just asked an outfitter there, hey, what about setting up on that point? And as those have evolved over the last decade, they named every one of them Ramsey blinds. And so, we had gone to the front of this bay and we’re brant hunting, Matt and I, and one of his buddies just beat the brakes off the brant that morning. It was just fabulous but the tide stopped and the birds quit flying. And I didn’t know if it was because we were shooting or the fact that they were not in fact shooting, that I had not heard a lot of gunshots around the bay. We all got on the radio and we’re talking later in the morning and we have done well and they had not. They brought lunch, we were eating lunch. And the tide started following very, very slightly, and Matt said, Ramsey those brant over the sandbar, out on the sandbar we saw like a flock of brant about a half mile away coasting down there. The outfitter come on the radio, said hey, we’re going to pull everybody up, we’ll just go do something else. And I said no, I don’t think we should. We just saw brant moving and where we’re sitting the tide is falling. Why don’t we wait it out one more hour? Matt and I never pulled another trick. We didn’t pull the trigger again on brant that afternoon. But about 30 minutes later, World War III broke loose. All the blinds started shooting, catching ducks. We were just sitting there getting suntanned, that the brant weren’t using our part of the bait and we haven’t shot in a while, a good long while. About that time, from my side, here comes the duck, lower over the water, redhead, come on my side, passed me. Being polite, not knowing Matt had a fan mag up his ass to start with, I said Matt, shoot that bird. He shot it, folded on the first shot. Cooper went out to pick it up. The minute she turned around, and faced us, we all saw that band on his leg. Matt, that was a pretty good way to end the hunt, wasn’t it?
Matthew Piehl: Oh that was a very good way to end the hunt.
Ramsey Russell: I ain’t going to let you do that to me again. I’ll tell you right now, I learned my lesson that time. How have you been Matt? Good?
Matthew Piehl: Good, good. Thank you, Ramsey. Thanks for having me on.
Ramsey Russell: Oh man, we’ve been trying to do it. I know you work this time of year a little bit only in the old industry. I know you’ve been very busy. Huh?
Matthew Piehl: Yeah. We’ve been keeping busy. Busy as it can be. Between that and finishing up our spring season, and then just off-season work and decoy fixing, and then family and it’s crazy. It’s busy, that’s for sure.
Ramsey Russell: Good. Busy is good. I think busy is good. I’ve had enough of the not being busy. I can’t stand for the last four months.
Matthew Piehl: Yeah, I think so.
North Dakota Hunting Post-Covid Closure
I just looked down and I said, sir, if you can find me a dry field in North Dakota right now, we’ll go on and hunt it.
Ramsey Russell: I think so too. We had John Deveney on here a few weeks ago and he was saying that North Dakota is in fantastic shape right now. How’s it looking? What can you see?
Matthew Piehl: It’s in really good shape, really, really good shape. We’re looking at great wetlands conditions this year, more so than any of the other years. I think, I want to believe – I was reading an article not too long ago and our breeding duck numbers are up another 18% this year. Which I believe we’re at the 13th highest. And our spring wetlands index was also in the top 10 for what we’ve had. So it’s been a lot of ducks.
Ramsey Russell: Is that like, top 10 of all time you’re saying? It’s just like, or it’s good as it’s ever been ever in North Dakota?
Matthew Piehl: Yep. They’re both high. I know they’re both high since the early 2010 timeframe. But yeah, it’s within the top 10 ever, as far as the wetlands index is. When the wetlands first made a rebound back in the early 2010, you see all kinds of roads underwater. Not quite at that point, but there’s a lot of water everywhere. If we didn’t have track vehicles, we definitely would not be getting in northern fields last fall and the spring.
Ramsey Russell: Speaking of the last fall, we’ve not yet enjoyed your company in the blind up there at Dirty Bird Outfitters in North Dakota but Nick and I can make along just fine without you. I’ve been going on for the last couple of years and last year was unbelievable in terms of water. I mean, it was so wet in North Dakota last year, it was like Noah building the ark wet. And on the one hand, Nick and I would go out to scout, and everywhere we looked left, right, front, back everywhere you looked there were ducks. Everywhere in the landscape there were ducks. The problem was, they were just so spread out, because there were so many places they could go. And I guess, this spring condition is carrying over that. How’s it affecting the crops?
Matthew Piehl: Well, up until just recently, there’s still farmers growing corn. So it’s, I don’t know, since last year’s corn they couldn’t get to, we got a snowstorm in the middle of October. I think it was October 10th actually. Happened the last two years. The last year dumped 18″ on us. Most of that melted. It’s not all melted early, desecrated. I don’t know, wet conditions, the soybeans and corn was flooded. So there was birds everywhere. But they were spread out and you watch a group of five and a half is dumping into a bean field, half mile off the road knowing that, you can’t really touch them. We do have some farmers that would let us hunt them. But there’s also the farmers and rightfully so that they’re still harvesting those. So it’s hard for us to reach those birds last year. We did rather well, hunting a little flooded wheat fields, bean fields that were off. It’s funny, I had a client last year and he wasn’t really complaining, but he showed up and I had told him to bring new boots. Typically, when I tell people, bring new boots it should be good, if you need to wear them and pass them in dry field hunting. Particular first thing went out of his mouth to me in the morning is, I thought this was a dry field hunting. I just looked down and I said, sir, if you can find me a dry field in North Dakota right now, we’ll go on and hunt it.
Ramsey Russell: It’s a dry field hunt with a foot and a half water everywhere. I saw it, man. I knew it was going to result in a lot of birds. I knew, ducks is just one of the resources to add water. It’s like the little G.S.A, it’s just add water and growth is good. But boy, it can complicate the actual convenience of getting out there and hunting them, when you got too much water on the landscape.
Matthew Piehl: Yeah. And like I said, the last two years have been, the weather is really – once they have thrown us a curve ball, it’s been a curve ball. But I personally think we’ve hit that curve ball out of the park full times here. But it’s different. And I guess that’s our best. What we can do is, to adapt to what we have, what we’re given. But as we’re talking, it has led to very high breeding number of the ducks. And right now is the time frame where you’re not really seeing the ducks that are still tucked in the lead. There’s a few little groups swimming around, but we’re really noticing it with the geese. There’s Canada geese everywhere.
Canada Goose Season in North Dakota
It’s the only state that anybody in the U.S can hunt geese in August.
Ramsey Russell: Wow, that’s good to hear. That’s your first season, and North Dakota, if I’m not mistaken has a very early Canada goose season, and a very liberal Canada goose season. What’s all that about?
Matthew Piehl: Yeah, it’s resident early use, starts August 15th. This year will run from August 15th to September 22nd I believe. In our part of the state that we guide differently because they save some dates over there for later in the year.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve hunted up there at that time of year and it’s hot. It can be hot. I mean, I’m talking weather hot, but at the same time, it’s a bunch of local birds hitting a relatively small amount of harvested grain. And then, it kind of slows off a little bit while you’re waiting on more migrators to come back down.
Matthew Piehl: Yep, that first week is usually really good. First two weeks, and then you might have a week there where it’s really hard to kill birds. Just because it’s exactly right, it’s our local birds we have. And then, once we start seeing more migrators come back down, it kind of fires back up again. So you said, liberal limit is 15 birds per person. Personally, I think that limit is a little high as far as an achievable limit. But it’s done. I mean, there’s guys that shoot 15 birds here and there. And I’ve done it with a group of guys. But like you said, it’s hot. Ain’t anybody that wants to go to clean 15 Canada goose in 83 degree weather.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah that’s a chore.
Matthew Piehl: Yeah that’s a chore. We do some hunting and guiding. It’s the only state that anybody in the U.S can hunt geese in August.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, no doubt. And what else you going to do in August? That’s just it. What else you going to do? This is a great hunt. Matt, I just had this thought, where are those geese? Where do you all’s resident birds go as the season progresses?
Matthew Piehl: We’ll hold on to quite a few, until the weather is, I guess, our first bad storm per say. But they group up on our bigger reservoirs and just like anywhere in the Midwest, they group up and then start feeding in big groups. They’ll go from small ponds with a couple of groups on it, to bigger lakes with hundreds, thousands of birds on it as the season goes on. But I think, a lot of our residents will stick around through that, probably the 1st section of bad weather and then they’ll dip. So as far as knowing, where a lot of geese come from, we shoot a few bands in that early season. And a lot of what we see in the early season is, more migrators from the South. The last year I think, we shot three bands in the early season. Two of them are from Oklahoma and one of them was from Minnesota somewhere, I believe.
Ramsey Russell: Wow, that’s crazy, isn’t it?
Matthew Piehl: Yeah, it is. It’s really crazy.
Ramsey Russell: That is absolutely crazy. And I guess, later during the season, you all aren’t shooting just resident birds, you’ll also get an influx of migrator Canada geese, and some of the middle’s and the little’s – that’s what I call them – that come in.
Matthew Piehl: Yeah, we get great, middle October. We get a lot of those. And depending upon what they’re feeding in or what they’re feeding with, I should say, we’ll target them. But they don’t seem to take the long stop over here, like they do in some of the other states. At least some of the little subspecies don’t. We will get a crack shot in here and there. But when we get our pushes of giants down out of the North, those will stick around for as long as they can.
Ramsey Russell: One of the most memorable hunts I had last year that opening weekend with Nick. And I know y’all scratch out. Y’all reserve opening week, non-resident, North Dakota typically for the opener. It’s just really, for family and friends. And you’ve all got the whole season ahead of you. And it’s not like you’re missing anything about opening weekend. Opening weekend is a little bit of a wild card, the times I’ve been there. And because things aren’t getting settled in, and we went to a field, big old field, and I guess, it was soy beans and there was some water. A lot of birds, a lot of geese using it and we showed up. I mean, expectations were sky high. I mean, this is going to be a slam dunk, wham bam, thank you ma’am trigger pulling event. And I don’t think we pulled the trigger in an hour. I think an hour went by and we didn’t pull the trigger. And we saw a few birds flying around. But what are you going to do? We’re here, we’re set up, let’s stay. And we stayed and it started raining and we stayed. And it’s just at some point about 9:00 or 9:30 AM, a couple of hours after shooting time, something changed, something happened, and here they come, ducks and geese. And we shot limits of ducks and geese. And we left a little bit later. We left like, late at 11:30-12:00 o’clock and started picking up, but we were done. You know, we were done. It reminds me of this, does you all Canada goose have a time limit on it in the fall? Yeah, closes at noon. That’s right.
Matthew Piehl: Closes at noon, except for Wednesdays and Sundays. And then, as it moves later in the season, it’s Wednesday, Saturdays and Sundays, it’s open all day and then, it closes within 1:00. I remember talking to Nick. I mean, Nick has worked for me and another friend of mine forever. Every time I talk to him, there’s a hunt, that’s not going quite his way in the morning, it’s just pure panic in his voice. And then, I remember getting a text from him with, they’re doing it, they’re doing it.
Ramsey Russell: Oh boy, did they do it? They did it. I mean, it’s just, they sat or did whatever they’re going to do until the weather just changed and that was it. It’s like the floodgates opened. And it can be that way anywhere in the world you go. You just don’t know you’re playing? Good. You’re playing the game that you’re playing at the duck and geeses as defined by their rules. They decide when the game time starts. But it was a well-executed plan. It was just that little curveball. We just really truly expected them. Everybody was talking about 30 minutes drinking coffee before the hunt started. It’s just the weather moving in, pulling, this is going to be daylight, and they just kind of, they slept in that morning, that’s what they did. But when they came out, they decided to come out and play big time and the spirits were high. Spirits were high leaving the field that evening. It really, that afternoon, whatever it really was. I want to back up. And who is Matthew? Who are you? Where are you from? What is your upbringing? Your origins? How did you get into duck hunting?
Starting the Hunt at a Young Age in North Dakota
I fell in love with waterfowling from the get go.
Matthew Piehl: Well, I’m from North Dakota born and raised. I grew up my younger years actually chasing pheasants. I grew up in the western part of the state, about 50 miles west of Bismarck. And that’s a lot of what we have. We have upland birds, pheasants, grouse partridge and we would go out and chase limited pheasants before football practice. But once a year we always took a trip. My dad, myself, my uncle and my cousin would always take a trip. One week would be waterfowl up towards where my grandma still lived. And the other week, a couple of days to be pheasants where we lived. I fell in love with waterfowling from the get go. And it just turned into instead of going out chasing pheasants, I would go out and walk trips for mallards. We did have some ducks around, but that’s about the extent of it was I’ll use the little local farm trips and you have to walk up on them. So that’s where I started my waterfowl hunting really. That weekly trip every year was probably the highlight of my hunting for the year. Just to be able to go up with anybody who’s been around the area. There’s great waterfowl hunting. I mean there really is. That’s where that kind of started. And then I went to college. I would have to say, I did more hunting than I did college.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I can relate.
Matthew Piehl: That’s where I guess, that I took from. I spent a few years up there and I was up there for a long time. But that’s just where I continued my passion, I guess. And then I started working in the old fields after a couple of years. But I would have to say, the biggest part of waterfowl was just the trips with my dad, my uncles. We did it every year. They still come out every now and then. There’s more people added to it now, a couple of cousins have some kids and stuff like that. So we still do it every now and then. It’s kind of the basis of my love for waterfowl hunting.
Ramsey Russell: What are some of your finest memories hunting with your dad and uncles back then, when you all first started going?
Making Waterfowl Hunting Memories
Matthew Piehl: I’d have to say, with the one that sticks in my head to this day, it always will, is the first time I shot a Sandhill crane and watching that thing helicopter down. And it was just me and my dad, sitting there on the side of the slough, that we’re waiting for the flyover, and we both shot cranes. Just watching that and just giggling with him. Because, I mean, it was huge for that. We’re just coming out and that was the first time I had ever shot a crane. Other than that, me and my cousin, I think, maybe we’re in the part of the season that the two of us in the back of the vehicle always wanted to – there’s mallards in that pond, can we go bust them? Can we go to bust them? I mean, that was always what we wanted to do. That was me. I did a lot of firsts, I guess, with them. And it really went from my dad, my uncle, taking the two of us to business, whether it be jumping the sloughs that day or whatever to me going out and finding the field and taking them on their first field duck hunt, taking them on their first really good Canada goose hunt, or stuff like that.
Ramsey Russell: And then, the world is a pretty big place and eventually ended up down over in Obregon, Mexico.
Matthew Piehl: I did. Those two trips, are still my favorite trips to this day. I mean, that place in itself is something everybody should see. Just the driving down in Obregon and seeing the countryside was one thing. And then the hunting and the hospitality we had there. And Hammer. I mean, if anybody goes for any other reason, just go see Hammer.
Ramsey Russell: Man, Hammer Time is the most popular! Mr. Popular that lies, always he is the guy. Everybody talks about Hammer Time. Well, it must have been a real big change of scenery and of weather, to come from North Dakota in February down to Mexico.
Matthew Piehl: Very much. It was very, very changing. I mean, you go from February in North Dakota, it’s not ice. We might have weeks where it doesn’t get above zero. It’s just, it’s not a nice time for him to be here. Well yeah, we’ll go from there to the 60 and 70 degrees. And you know, the redhead story you were telling. Obviously, that was the best takeaway from that day. But I don’t know if you remember me falling in the water, soaking myself head to toe, and then frying my phone on the log on the beach while trying to dry it off.
Ramsey Russell: No, I don’t remember that, but I’m glad to know that because you came back with a lot of bands on that trip.
Matthew Piehl: Yes. I did.
Ramsey Russell: And I later learned many years later with Nick, that you have this, you’re just a band magnet. And that you’ve taken a lot of his bands too – according to him, not me.
Matthew Piehl: I took one band from him one time and he’ll never.
Ramsey Russell: Maybe I’ve just heard that story 100 times, seems like a bunch.
Matthew Piehl: There’s my place north of Bismarck. And I grew up hunting around it. And every now and then there’s quite a few bands around. And I told him, he ran some clients a couple days, and he was staying out at my place in Bismarck there. And I said, hey, let’s go hunt tomorrow. I got a good one. So I put the bands on them, as far as 200 geese I would say almost, it’s crazy. And so, we went out there and we were trying to do our little way in the land, brush rolling, and let them land and pick up bands. And it just wasn’t working out, none of us really had the patience to do it.
Ramsey Russell: I can relate. Yeah.
Matthew Piehl: But sometime in the morning, we had a group of birds go up about 10-15 yards. I pulled up and shot and I said, my bird’s banded. And Nick and his brother were also with me and they’re both like, oh no, we talked, you know, we shot this one. It was banded. We tried really hard. I walked, I literally walked up to the goose but I didn’t pull the trigger, I grabbed it, pulled it up. I said, it’s banded. Well, they both, to this day, they both claimed that there was another one, and I don’t ever remember seeing it. I had my lab with me. That’s one of the instances he talks about is that I steal bands from them. And then I think, it was the day before, a couple days prior, we had a draw on a big honker, and I won that too. So over the course of a weekend, I took two and he will never let me live it down. But the one whole side of my life is birds from that area. So that’s pretty cool.
Ramsey Russell: Well, he made up for it. I love Nick to death. But I know that the only reason I’m invited to come to North Dakota is because of that yellow dog who is now retired. Nick, if you listen to this, you don’t know, hope you ain’t, but that dog just had a nose for bands. I mean, I know the first time I hunted with Nick, we got to talking. And I was surprised to learn how relatively few duck bands are mallards, because y’all are hunting all those mallards up there. A few bands y’all recovered sometimes in North Dakota and Nick is like, oh I never killed one. I said, well I got a feeling that’s going to change. He said, yeah. I said no, I’m serious, I just think, it’s just typical man. I got this. I just can’t imagine you not shooting bands, and he got one that morning. Last year, the first morning we hunted together, she picked up another and he made a big deal, like, Ramsey, I don’t care whether you come or not just bring that yellow dog up here.
Matthew Piehl: They’ll probably make you bring Coop with and just sit around.
The Start of Dirty Birds Guided Waterfowl Hunting in the North Dakota Prairie Pothole Region & Arkansas Spring
Ramsey Russell: We can come sleep in the blind. Just wheel those fans in. Well let me ask you this, growing up in the North Dakota prairie pothole region, with all those ducks and geese produced, do most kids grow up in North Dakota as duck hunters? I mean, is that just kind of like rabbit hunting down the south? I mean, you kind of grow up into that? It is or no?
Matthew Piehl: I think so, to a point. But I think it probably also depends on where you grow up at. But that being said, I know a lot of waterfowl hunters obviously, and I know a lot of local northern duck hunters and it doesn’t seem like it. I guess, it was never really seen growing up. You knew a few, but you didn’t know. It wasn’t like you went to my high school and you asked who’s a pheasant hunter? Who’s going to go shoot pheasants after school? I mean, it was everybody. Yeah, it just seemed like waterfowl hunting was there may be a couple of certain kids or whatever growing up. Even in college, there was me and another kid that was out here from Michigan, and a few local kids that would come with us every now and then. But yeah, there’s always people hunting, but it didn’t seem like there was a lot of local kids. And I mean, now where we hunt at and where we got it, there’s a lot of local kids, which is good to see. And every year we do a youth hunt. We put on and we have a lot of local kids with that. But even with that, it’s almost like, you have lost interest from every now and then, and I guess, I don’t understand that part of it.
Ramsey Russell: If I had gone to college in North Dakota, I may never have graduated. It was hard enough scheduling prerequisite courses around deer stand times. I can’t imagine having that much waterfowl resource out in the front door and having passed school.
Matthew Piehl: Yeah, I know guys came to North Dakota college just for the waterfowl.
Ramsey Russell: I can say that. I definitely can. Well, how did you go from college, to working in the energy to duck and goose guide? And not just a little duck and goose guide? You’re not like a little part time duck and goose guide, you’re a full time, all the time. I mean, what led you down that path? How did you get into it?
Matthew Piehl: Obviously, I was at the point in my life where all I did on my days off, I worked a two week on with two days off. On my days off, I was duck and goose hunting when I could. I was traveling wherever, whenever. It was brought up to me by my buddy, that, hey, you know, we should look into snow goose hunting. And I said, oh you want to go on a trip? No, we should go do it. We do it here. And I said, well maybe, if I’m not ever going to do it though. I said, I want it done right. I don’t want a fly by night, I said, it’s not going to be that type of operation. So as time went on, it was just talked about here and there. And finally, I couldn’t really tell you what sparked in my brain that I was like, I’m going to do it, but that was what happened. I said, I’m going to do it and I took a bunch of money that I have, and equipment, and said, this is the route we’re running. I asked the one kid that had talked to me about it. I said, you want to work for me? And we just went from there and built. Our first spring was Arkansas. We didn’t even go down there right away in the beginning of the season, because we were planning on going to Arkansas. We were finally going to go to Arkansas. We’re just going to be a Central special Flyway. And thank God, we went to Arkansas, because that has become a huge part of us.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, yeah. For those of y’all listening, if you didn’t know, Matt and Dirty Bird Outfitters Arkansas spring snow goose hunt is a part of our US Hunt List. And you all are really doing a good job down there again. You know what it’s like. I knew this about you already, the fact that there are no half measures. If you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it right, and you’ll do it right. And Matt, man, do you know how many people are listening? How many young people? Maybe not everybody is listening, but a lot of young people. I get a lot of inboxes, text messages, telephone calls from people introducing themselves that want to be a duck guide. That is not all it’s cracked up to be sometimes, is it?
Matthew Piehl: No.
The Joys and Hardships of Guiding Duck and Goose Hunts
It makes it worth it. It does. But there’s a lot of work behind the doors that people don’t realize.
Ramsey Russell: That’s a hard road to hoe sometimes.
Matthew Piehl: It is. And I was probably one of those that thought the same thing. Oh, I will be a duck and goose guide. Life would be great if you enjoy a large amount of caffeine, little sleep, and always working on equipment that’s broken. It is great. It’s the first time you see a smile on a client’s face when he shot, that he came to shoot, or had a great hunt that they tried to get many times before. It makes it worth it. It does. But there’s a lot of work behind the doors that people don’t realize.
Ramsey Russell: Short nights, long days, plus in addition to it, trying to put birds in front of the guns. It’s the scouting, the hospitality, the curve balls, when the ducks aren’t flying for another couple of hours. So you wait it out. I mean, a lot of juggling irons in the fire at the same time and this is as much hospitality as it is duck killing.
Matthew Piehl: Oh, it’s 100% of the hospitality business. That’s what it is. We’re out there to kill ducks, geese but it’s 100% of the hospitality business. And in my eyes, that’s what makes a person successful. I guess, I always think about it, if I were to book a hunt and go on a hunt, how would I want it presented to me or given to me? That’s how I always look at and that’s kind what we base everything off of, how we’re going to treat certain situations or how we’re going to – you take this spring, for instance. It’s a different spring for everybody. We tried to run as long as we could. We’re running out of – it wasn’t like we were in the midst of large-town America – but we had clients that just couldn’t travel anymore. Whether it be from there, from the West coast, and they had travel restrictions on, or their family didn’t feel comfortable, all those funds will be coming back next year. Yep, we don’t have the option to completely cancel if you said no. We want to run our dates over the next year and that’s just how I’ve always based everything. It is 100% the hospitality business. Go ahead and take care of stuff how you would want to be treated.
How Covid has Affected Outfitters
Some of our long running clients are in that uncertainty phase and it’s understandable.
Ramsey Russell: How has the pandemic and the quarantine, I’m going to call it, and all this mess that has been going on, how’s it affected up there in North Dakota this year?
Matthew Piehl: It’s been different. As of lately, probably the last couple of weeks, I got a lot more phone calls, a lot more emails and from a different demographic too. I know there’s a lot of guys that – we had a few guys that have either canceled our Canada trips or are thinking of canceling the Canada trips that are contacting us. Guys that, they would just rather have something set in place if they decide to come hunting. There’s a lot of uncertainty out there still, I think. Some of our long running clients are in that uncertainty phase and it’s understandable. The whole country was kind of put back on the field, right?
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. And the million-dollar question is whether or not the Canadian border is going to be open. They’ve already extended into July. Extended the closure from June 22nd to July 22nd. Well, now we’re within six weeks or so of the opener. And what do you do? I mean, we don’t know. And I’ve got reason to believe they’re going to open. I mean, common conservative sense says, they’re going to open. But there’s a great argument to be made that they’re not going to open this year. We don’t know. I hate the uncertainty of it all. We don’t know that, but we do know that their Prime Minister is bat shit crazy. So it’s anybody’s guess on whether or not they’re going to be open for us non-residents to come up there and hunt.
Matthew Piehl: Yeah, I’ve talked to a lot of people. I mean, a lot of friends in the industry obviously, whether they have operations up there or just even can we take a trip? I typically go up to Canada the spring after I’m done guiding. It’s more of a clear my mind, it’s kind of my vacation trip obviously that was canceled. I asked quite a few guys there, they either don’t believe it’s going to open or they think if it opens up, there are going to be quarantine restrictions put into place. So I don’t know. I mean, like you said, it’s anybody’s guess what will happen. The Prime Minister’s bat shit crazy and hopefully, we can hope for the best on it. That’s for sure.
Ramsey Russell: And then, that begs the question, if we knew in late July, Canada is going to be closed for sure, then a good plan B would be North Dakota.
Matthew Piehl: It would be.
Ramsey Russell: A little bit different rules up there. We can talk about it a minute, but then, the hotels. I mean, it’s not like you’ve got this great big metropolitan area. It is a lot of little small communities, 1 or 2 hotels maybe. I mean, it could fill up real quick, couldn’t it?
Matthew Piehl: It could. That’s a problem. Yeah, we run out of small-town run hotels. That’s just where we’re from, I guess where we’re still at.
Ramsey Russell: Man, I love it too. I ain’t going to lie to you, I love small town North Dakota. I really do.
Matthew Piehl: Yeah, most people that have experienced that do love it. I mean, yeah, you can’t go after 8:00P.M in a lot of places. You can’t go down to the gas station, get something you need, something you want, and whatever. But there’s just that small town feeling. But you’re right, there’s only a couple of hotels around, there’s maybe one or two VRBOs that a few of our clients have used in the past. I do have a strong feeling that if Canada stays closed, not only will we be full, but there’s going to be probably more pressure. These guys are going to come up to North Dakota to hunt. They’re still going to want to make that trip.
Differences between North Dakota and Canada Waterfowl Hunting
I mean, we’re watching the birds set up, we’ve got to keep count of hens, and species, and you know, to me, it adds a lot more than it subtracts.
Ramsey Russell: Yep. Matt, let’s talk about this. So people understand about North Dakota, if you’ve never been able to go to this great, great destination in the United States, love it. But boy, the difference is, once you cross that Canadian border, you go from 8 ducks to 6 ducks, 4 pintails to 1 pintail. There’s no sex differentiation on mallards in Canada but here there is. The same rule is two mallards two hen mallards. And now we’re hunting the time of the year, I’m up there, we’re hunting a lot of “brown birds”. And you’ve got to really pay attention that, on the one hand, I forgot, I just want to show up and just shoot everything flying. No, no, no. I know that hunting up there, we’re huddled up in our blinds and whispering. I mean, we’re watching the birds set up, we’ve got to keep count of hens, and species, and you know, to me, it adds a lot more than it subtracts. It adds a lot to the experience because we’re looking at times, 50 to 150 mallards are coming into these fields, coming into these sloughs. And we’re having to really pay attention and we’re down the line, third from the left, from the top, whatever. We’re just having to communicate on what we’re seeing. Really, what we’ve got to look at, in terms of hens versus drake is number one, they got to be close enough that old eyes like me can see it. Then number two, you got to look for that bill and it’s not bright yellow, it’s just a solid bill dull yellow because we know it’s a drake and to me, it adds a lot to it. Do you ever deal with guys that are coming from the Deep South for the first time and not accustomed to that?
Matthew Piehl: Yeah, we do. We have a little talk ahead of time. Don’t shoot unless you’re pretty much instructed to. But if you’re right, it throws in a whole other aspect of everything. Most people once they’ve been through a hunt and realize that, they’re like, wow. I couldn’t even tell what some of those birds were and you can’t. But if you can’t tell what they are, well don’t shoot.
Ramsey Russell: Don’t shoot. That’s what I just say. Last year we were waiting on – I think everybody in the blind sitting on four or five birds. I’m sitting here talking about Canada, thinking there in North Dakota and we had our pintails. I mean, what a take, we had our pintails and we’re waiting on mallards. And about that time, flocking mallards swung over the slough and was working around us and I mean, just corkscrewing and coming and getting closer and closer with every pass. Out of nowhere. I mean, right by the time they’re setting up, we’re fixing to shoot our respective bird, if you still had a bird to go. Right at the critical moment, another flock slid in that we hadn’t even seen. Slid in out of nowhere. They were all pintails and we had to stand down because it totally just geo flooded the whole place. You know, we had all these mallards just coming just getting right, just coming right in fixing to get eyeball level over the decoys. And here come pintails, just mixed in with them and we had to stand down because it just kind of distracted us a little bit, but that’s okay. We just were laughing, you know, waiting for something else to come in and it’s all you can do, and I love that.
Matthew Piehl: And the pintails are one thing that it’s really crazy how fast we’re down to one pintail for our daily limit. But if you were to hunt anywhere up here and you’ve been there, obviously, you wouldn’t think that that should be the case. And then, that early part of October, there’s more times that we have to sit and say, okay, well, these pintails, just let them go. Because we already have our pintails. If nothing else we get a good show. They’re not as pretty as they are in the spring at that time frame, but they still give a pintails supply and give a good show.
Ramsey Russell: You’re right. They’re not as covered up. But to me, whether you’re sitting in North Dakota or Canada and a flock of pintails start working, or you’re sitting down in Mexico, whether absolutely covered, I struggled to think of a flock of birds that look as elegant as pintails when they work.
Matthew Piehl: I don’t think there is. I mean, I’ve watched a lot of birds, you watched a lot of birds. There’s just something about them when they’re working.
Ramsey Russell: Down here in the Deep South anymore, during duck season at least, where I hunt, it’s a play for keeps situation. Barely anymore do we pass on flocks of ringnecks. That’s a lot of birds or something, or gadwalls or shovelers, or we’re just duck hunting anymore, where I hunt. And there’s a lot to be said for me to hunt somewhere that I can’t just watch the birds. I don’t have any choice. I’m done on pintails for here to come. It’s fun to watch them. And to me, it’s not discouraging ourselves, defeating, to watch a flock of mallards working out there and just having to really pick over the birds until you find that drake. To me, it just really enhances the experience and it takes it to a level that it’s kind of incredible, to be honest with you. And it helped me become a better hunter. Like you know, we were down in Mexico again shooting those Mexican mallards, I’ll pick the drake. I’ll pick the drakes, and the only thing that there are two brown looking models, duck looking birds. And the only thing you can do to pick a drake is look for that bright bill. That’s the only distinction. And I do, I work over the drakes, Matt.
Matthew Piehl: Just because that will be.
Swan Hunting in North Dakota
So everybody that’s applied, actually went on and applied, has been drawn.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me this too, because I’ve got some clients that hunted with me several times now in North Dakota swans. Walk me through a swan situation, the time of year to go, because North Dakota is one of the very few states that you all can hunt swans. And seems to me, from talking to the clients and some of your staff, that it’s pretty slammed done. Do you have to get drawn to hunt swans in North Dakota?
Matthew Piehl: You do have to get drawn. So typically, the application process. The tags will come out somewhere between the end of July to August. It probably should be last year, right at the end of July they came on. Everything kind of seems to be a step or two behind this year. I know, the Game and Fish offices were closed for a little bit there, working from their houses anyways. But over the last, I mean, I don’t know how many years, ever since I’ve known, there’s been excess licenses left over every year. So everybody that’s applied, actually went on and applied, has been drawn. And then there’s always a typical 200-300 tags left over that you can buy over the counter. They don’t last very long, but we’ve never had an instance where a person doesn’t get drawn if they apply. Our best time frame form is middle of October to first two weeks in November really. Relatively, when it starts freezing up is when we’ll see our last swans leave. Right before a big freeze, they should say. But that you know really, there’s three weeks that are probably prime. It’s the last two weeks of October, the first week in November. And those hunts are, I mean, they’re definitely different hunts. Nick runs a very good show. I always called Nick for the swan hunt because he calls them, you know. We typically set out a couple dozen duck decoys and I think we got maybe a dozen swan decoys because it will run out. And the one that you want is one that might be waiting. You might wait all day. Typically, doesn’t take all day, but you might wait all day for those swans to get up. It’s just they kind of feed on their own accord whenever they want. And we’ll go hunt areas where there’s shallow water and where they’ve been feeding and it might take them till afternoon, till evening. But we’ve had very, very good success with them. Last year was a little different. We did have a long line on them, some birds, and I wish I had been there. But the last day they were hunting, they’re two long lines out and actually pulled, some migrated down, shot migrating swans. So it was definitely a pretty awesome hunt because like I said, Nick was really excited about it.
Ramsey Russell: I like swan hunts, don’t ask me why. I like swan hunts and have not yet shot one in North Dakota. I hope you’ll remind me. I’ll try to apply to get drawn in North Dakota this year.
Matthew Piehl: Oh yeah. I’ll remind you.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Because there’s clients I know, and it’s more than just a couple that have been up there to hunt with you. I mean, they got their swan. Now they’re just coming because I think they like to hunt. It’s a cool hunt. I’m no stranger to having to wait some of these species out, hunting brant like we’ve done back in the day. There were a lot of brants that came out to that part of Mexico. It was a waiting game. You have to wait on the tide to move. And that’s okay. Do you all shoot ducks and geese while you’re the hunting swans too?
Matthew Piehl: Yeah. We’ll actually shoot quite a few divers. We will shoot some mallards and stuff. But we tend to shoot more divers while we’re on the swan hunt. In fact, the swan hunt, the one that Nick had, those I think it was 2 or 3 birds had to finish up on those long lines that were migrators, they shot a banded blue bill that day that Nick’s old roommates had actually banded. So it’s pretty interesting, pretty cool. But yeah, like I said, we shoot whatever is using the water, you have a chance at every now and then, we’ll shoot, and we’ll get some geese with them too. But typically, a lot of ducks.
Ramsey Russell: Do you all ever shoot in the fall or before you migrate south for the winter sets in? Do you all ever shoot snow geese in North Dakota?
Matthew Piehl: Every now and then we do. I always tell them, I tell this to everybody, if there’s not a good group of young birds, I won’t even go look at them in North Dakota. When I was younger, we used to chase them all over the countryside and we did okay. And I’ve done really well. And I was holding the fall on a good Judy hatch. But those adults, you can pretty much walk and cross the border and I think they get smarter. That’s how it is. And they come down, they stage in a big group.
Ramsey Russell: Because that part of the States you’re in, I’m just guessing, geographically you all probably have a pretty decent corridor of migratory birds coming through.
Matthew Piehl: We do. Yep.
Arkansas Spring Snow Goose Hunting with Dirty Bird Outfitters
It’s looking for the next best feed and looking for the best birds.
Ramsey Russell: The question I was asking and I was wondering about snow geese is, I’ve wondered, I want to talk a little bit about your Dirty Bird Outfitter spring snow goose hunt down in Arkansas and I was just wondering, I love to shoot snow geese. I’ll go on record to say everybody knows, I love shovelers, I love red birds, I love decoys, but really truly the older I get, I have got a love and admiration and respect for snow geese that very few I guess have. I really like that goose. I like everything about them. And what I’ve noticed is, hunting them in the fall versus hunting down the wintering grounds, versus hunting them in the corridors, or heading back north, something back in the fall as they start the stage, it’s real different. They go through life cycle things and you’ve got to have those juvenile birds, you need to have some Ross geese around that will decoy, to drag some of them big plots, you’ve got to have great weather conditions. And I know, when we talked to people about spring snow goose hunting of yours, it comes the explanation that, you know, especially if these guys haven’t hunted a lot of snow geese, there’s really good days snow geese hunting because of the conservation order limits. But there’s a lot of days that just aren’t because the weather, and the birds, and the migration, and mostly, the weather just didn’t conspire for it to be right. They engaged very, very differently than ducks. And I was just wondering if you could speak a little bit about your operation down in Arkansas. How do you play that game? Because you all got bookings and we don’t know, that it was a good hatch until after starting. And we don’t know that, if it was a good hatch like the past few years that a late storm didn’t come in. And while you had a bunch of little fuzz balls walk around and then get snowed in and killed. I mean, you’re playing the game and you all do a very, very good game. I love the fact that, hunting with you all. That you all party program is just show up and hunt, you all do the work and that’s a big deal. I know it keeps you all busy, speak to your snow geese hunt a little bit, Matt. Explain to everybody where you all are? What you do? And what you do in spring.
Matthew Piehl: Anybody that I guess, has gone that far in the snow goose hunting, you have to question, whether you’re completely on, I’m saying it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of, like you said earlier, sleepless nights. Arkansas is one of the places that those birds are in the winter. So for us, it’s a great opportunity to be able to chase feeds down there. And that’s what we do. We do a lot of our land. We chase feeds every day. So every night, or every morning, or afternoon, we’re picking spreads, and moving spreads, and there’s anywhere from 9 to 12 vehicles on the road. It’s looking for the next best feed and looking for the best birds. What has a large group of Ross geese, swan group? What has more juvenile birds, is it this farm or that farm? There is more – there’s a lot that goes into it. There really is. But Arkansas, one of the reasons we’re so successful down there is because we’re chasing geese and we adapt to what we have going on. A couple of years ago, there was a horrible juvenile hatch and we just changed our game plan, adapted to what we had going on, and we still killed birds. We still killed quite a few and it was mainly adults. I don’t even know how many juvie’s were killed that spring, but it was a very, very small number.
Ramsey Russell: When do you all start snow goose hunting? When do you wrap up snow goose camp?
Matthew Piehl: So we’ll start Arkansas, February 1st. We get down there prior to that. We have some clients to come down, especially every year in January. But we get down there, we start our spring conservation season, starts February 1st. We run all the way through the first weekend of March down in Arkansas. And then from there, we’ll move up to South Dakota, North Dakota, just depends upon where the birds are. We’ll get ahead of them and we play the game a little bit different up in the Dakotas. We run a big folder spread, big migration spread.
Ramsey Russell: Running traffic now.
Matthew Piehl: Running traffic and get in front of them and lay out that big spread, and it’s been very successful for us. It’s a lot of work. Next time you talk to Nick, ask him, probably, I like some quarters.
Ramsey Russell: I will.
Matthew Piehl: It’s a lot of work but it’s paid off for us really, really well.
Ramsey Russell: That’s just it. We think of feed, we think of grass and grain. And what I’ve noticed is, those moving birds really key in the water in spring. They’ve got to have that water. I know from spending a lot of time down in Arkansas back in the day, those geese are hopping around. It’s like they start popping around the landscape like popcorn, going from here to here to here to here to here. And when you see those birds starting to lay up on water, they’re fixing the buggy. And when they land wherever they’re going, they’re looking for water. They’ve got to hydrate.
Matthew Piehl: Yeah. You’re exactly right with that. It’s interesting to see the pattern that they do in Arkansas, where they’re getting ready to bail out or all the patterns they do before we are about to see a little bit of reverse migration. We see it all down there. We’re down there long enough and the weather’s so inconsistent to the north of us, that we see it all, every year. Every year we’re bound to see some of them reversing and we’re watching. We were down there when there’s a lot of birds and we’re down when there were barely any.
Ramsey Russell: You just got to stick with it. And it’s in a lot of ways, it’s like rolling the dice, nobody knows what’s going to happen on February 17. What the weather is going to be like or anything else. It’s just, when the numbers hit, it’s as good as it gets. And when it’s not perfect, just to look up, even though they’re out of range, and look at all those geese sitting there, holding above you. I’ll never ever not like that, I love it, I love it every time. Just wondering what those birds are looking at and seeing if they’re going to swing down wind and get closer next time. It’s just, I love it. I absolutely love snow geese.
Matthew Piehl: Yeah, there’s something about them as a bird that I guess, you got to have some admiration for them. I mean, look at the population. I think they say, the average age of the bird is up in the teams of the adults and that’s amazing.
Ramsey Russell: Yep, I’ve been playing touching cat mouth touch and go. If the Canadian border opens especially, I’m going to get up there to meet with an environmental Canada biologist. I’m anxious to get on the horn and see just who can elucidate some of that snow goose situation. Because I’m hearing not from him but from others. I’m hearing that a lot of these guys are starting to get older and get beyond even the breeding ability. You know what I’m saying? So you kind of got this bell shaped curve that’s starting to skew towards non-productive birds. And I don’t know, but I wonder and I’ve also heard, this blows my mind, that 90%-95% of all hatch birds are shot between the time they hatch on the Artic and return. That’s just mind-blowing numbers.
Matthew Piehl: That is mind blowing numbers. I’ve heard that as well. I guess, if you look at 2018, I think it was. Or it was the spring of 2018, when there were so many young birds, so many. And it was the following year that we had a really bad hatch. Yeah, so the first thing that comes to mind is, where are those carried over? A two-year-old is still a juvenile. I still have some coloration, but where did those birds go? And I’ve heard that 90%-95% of hatch year birds are shot. There’s a lot of these policies also included, some of them, those big piles are juvenile birds. Just because they decoy that much better. But the one thing I’ve not heard a lot of that stuff from the tundra, the birds are getting older and so on. And you know, I can’t exactly remember what colony it is, at the top of my head, but they keep saying that they’re losing numbers, they’re losing numbers. Well, this colony is one of the largest producers of Ross’ geese. Anybody that has hunted snows in the last five years, you can probably tell your work, and we’re not hunting for Ross’ geese. So if this is the main economy that has produced a majority of our Ross’ geese for year after year, after year and now they’re not showing up there, we still have Ross’ geese. When you talk to them, I’d really like to hear that because that’s – some of those questions are stuff I think about. Obviously the birds are going to move and adapt as well as they do in any other sense.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, you know what the end game is? That’s a question I’ve got somebody to know, is what is the end game, you know? How does it end? We’ve been shooting conservational snow geese now for two decades and we really haven’t put a dent into it. Not a meaningful dent, even the last couple of years of “bad hatches”. Really great hatches. I was talking about speckled belly goose hunts, just not too long ago, was talking about specks and therefore snows in the Arctic. Man, they land up there in the Arctic two or three weeks before the weather is conducive. I mean they’re literally standing around on ice, they’re consuming their fat reserves for calories. There’s not a lot of food to eat, they’re waiting it out. But that’s way up north, and on the flip side, the ice melts, they make their nests, they have these babies, and the last couple of real bad hatches were great hatches from what I heard. But then, a late snow came in and those little fur balls just can’t, I mean a four inch tall fur ball or six inch tall fur ball with a foot of snow on top of them don’t live. And that’s what happens. So I don’t know, I think it’d be a very interesting conversation. I’m very, very interested in that topic. But Matt, I appreciate your time today. It’s been great to catch up with you. I know you’re very busy, raising kids, and working, and booking hunts, and doing all this good stuff. Real quickly, how can anybody listening, connect with you all? How do they connect with you all?
Matthew Piehl: Well, they can catch us over on Facebook or Instagram both are Dirty Bird Outfitters. You can go to the website www.dirtybirdoutfitters.com or you can contact me directly. My phone number is 701-290-6582.
Ramsey Russell: Fantastic. And you all do have for the record, you all do have a few spots left for the upcoming fall?
Matthew Piehl: We do. In fact, we actually have a fair amount of spots because we have employed another guide. So we’re running a second spread.
Ramsey Russell: Good. Hope we keep Nick away.
Matthew Piehl: Oh yeah. I told Nick you got to get all this rest now. He’s going to be able to call.
Ramsey Russell: Poor Nick. That’ll be good. Hey, folks. Thank you all for listening to Duck Season Somewhere. You’ve been listening to Matthew Piehl, Dirty Bird Outfitters, North Dakota and Arkansas Spring Snows. See you next time.