For 33 years, self-proclaimed snow goose capital of the world Kenmare, North Dakota (population 900) has held a week-long, community-wide celebration of local goose hunting traditions. It’s called GooseFest. Ramsey Russell spent the week hunting with locals and enjoying festivities, meeting with organizers Arlen Gartner and Rick Harris to discuss how this event originated and why it remains important to Kenmare and surrounding communities.
Goosefest at the Snow Goose Capital of the World!
There’s a goose hunting culture up here that doesn’t exist down in the Deep South.
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host Ramsey Russell, join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere. Today, I am in Kenmare, North Dakota and self-proclaimed goose capital of North Dakota. Week long Goosefest and I’ve got a couple of folks today going to explain what Goosefest is because I know you all are wondering. Today’s guest are Rick Harris and Arlen Gartner. How you guys doing?
Arlen Gartner: Doing real well.
Rick Harris: Doing great Ramsey. Thanks for inviting us.
Ramsey Russell: Yes sir. What is Goosefest ?
Arlen Gartner: Goosefest is a week-long promotion of Kenmare and the surrounding areas. It’s something that we do for entire families whether they’re younger or older people, there’s something for everybody.
Ramsey Russell: Arlen, tell me a little bit about yourself, I assume you grew up here in Kenmare, here in North Dakota?
Arlen Gartner: I came to Kenmare in 1963 and I graduated here in Kenmare and I worked at the grocery store under my father, then under some other people then I bought the store in ‘76 and recently, last year and a half I retired after 40 some years.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. Are you a water fowler? Did you grow up waterfowl hunting?
Arlen Gartner: I started when I was probably 12.
Ramsey Russell: 12.
Arlen Gartner: I can name exactly where I shot my first duck and I was with my brother and he stood in back of me and a couple of ducks came out of the reeds and he said, we’ll get one of those. So I shot, that’s the first time I shot a shotgun, the gun flew back in his lap and I landed up in the ground hit one of the ducks, but it wasn’t one I was aiming at.
Ramsey Russell: You didn’t tell him, did you? I never tell anybody that wasn’t the one I was aiming at. What was it a mallard, I guess?
Arlen Gartner: It was mallard, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: 13 years old. And is ducks your thing or do you like to shoot geese?
Arlen Gartner: I like to shoot either one. I really like shooting honkers but a good duck hunting that just doesn’t get any better.
Ramsey Russell: There’s a goose hunting culture up here that doesn’t exist down in the Deep South. It just doesn’t. We’ve got resident birds, but we don’t have the honker culture that you all have up here and that’s really what brings me up to the Northern Tier is, I like to shoot ducks, but I love to come up here and shoot the geese. What about snow geese? Either one of you all, was snow goose a big thing back in the day growing up or was it just honkers?
What is the Goose Hunting Culture in North Dakota?
Oh yeah, so that’s kind of a new thing, the snow geese really are a new thing. They started in the 70s and 80’s.
Arlen Gartner: Well, snow geese, they didn’t start arriving until probably – in 76, there’s like 1,200-1,500 geese around here. And then in the 80s it really grew when we got up to 400,000 geese in the area at that time. And as the temperatures and the crops have changed, the geese don’t come down quite as early as they used to, it’s probably the 1st, 2nd week in October when we started seeing the snow geese.
Ramsey Russell: Someone was telling me one time that Goosefest used to be earlier.
Arlen Gartner: Yes, it did. Used to be 2nd or 3rd week in October.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. What about you Rick? What is your waterfowl background? Did you grow up in this area?
Rick Harris: Yes, I’ve lived here my whole life. I grew up on a farm out by Kensal in North Dakota, which is west of Kenmare here about 6 miles. And of course my dad was a farmer and anyway, he taught us all, I have two older brothers, he taught us the hunting heritage and yes, we grew up hunting ducks. You can ask anybody out west there that’s hunted – they’ve either been on La Green Slough, Christians Slough. I think Arlen and I was trying to remember some of the other ones as you drive them, see them – Lindbergh Slough, and there’s just all kinds of sloughs out there that we used to use floaters, and that’s the greatest thing in the world to me is hunting ducks under floaters. I think, Arlen, we did it our whole life, and then the snow geese came in the 78-80 year. We used to go over to west of North Dakota, which was what, that’s Clark Slough?
Arlen Gartner: Yes.
Rick Harris: And then the geese kind of moved over to Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge over here and then boy, it exploded. I graduated in 78, I can remember in 77-76 a good friend of mine is a farmer up north, we’re out hunting snow geese, but it was during the week. I kind of forgot about going to school.
Ramsey Russell: Oh yeah, so that’s kind of a new thing, the snow geese really are a new thing. They started in the 70s and 80’s. And you were saying, back in the day, you all hunted water over floating decoys, ducks and geese, I’m assuming. When did dry field hunting become a thing? Just since you all started hunting like in the 70s and 80s? Because now when I think of coming out to the west, up north to North Dakota and Canada, I think of dry field hunting.
Rick Harris: Well, we did do a lot of dry field hunting, but we really preferred the floaters in the morning, especially later in the fall, but we did the old silhouette honker decoys and hunted ducks most of our early days, it’s just the old silhouettes, no full body decoys or anything, and they were just made out of the plywood painted like a honker with a wood stake. I actually still have a couple dozen of them and they have been offered to people who want them, because they are part of our heritage up here, the honkers, and I guess that’s why it’s the Kenmare Honkers.
Ramsey Russell: You all’s whole culture here in Kenmare is around the geese, the honkers. Your sports teams, your water tower has got beautiful signage as you pulled into town. That’s pretty nice artwork for any town, let alone a small town, like Kenmare. It’s beautiful. Tell me this, how did Goosefest get started? When and how did Goosefest start?
The Beginnings of Kenmare’s Goosefest
I mean, there really is a lot of valuable stuff in the community going on and I would think that’d be very important to such a small community.
Arlen Gartner: It’s been going for 33 years now. It was Archie Krafts, he owned a motel in town and he came down and talked to me one day and he said, we should start a Goosefest , I thought he was crazy at that time. And I said, well if you’re going to do it, go for it and he did. He went after it and he started arranging things and got us all on board, it was probably a little bit rough first few years because people didn’t want a big deal with hunting up in this area at that time –
Ramsey Russell: Wanted to kind of keep the out of status at bay. Keeping a big secret, is that it?
Arlen Gartner: Big secret. And after a couple of years then everybody got on board, and this grew ever since, and people have a lot of fun with it. A lot of local people they enjoyed the whole week, but it’s a long week.
Ramsey Russell: Why did Archie want to start Goosefest ?
Arlen Gartner: Well for economic reasons because of the motel and that stuff and bring people, their friends, neighbors, bring them together, to have something going on around this area and that stuff. And with Goosefest, we do a lot of things outside, not just Goosefest. The money, we raise that stuff, we give away and that stuff for hunting opportunities like Green Wing Day and we donate to boat docks.
Green Wing Day & the Future of Hunting in North Dakota
I know they’ve had up to 100 kids and parents, so it’s been good to try to hold the kids to the hunting heritage and I know how we’re fighting to keep that going across the United States.
Ramsey Russell: What is Green Wing Day? Let’s talk about some of the – like, I know, my heart bought a couple of raffle tickets for a brand new pickup truck, I hoped to drive home. I’ve seen gun raffles, I’ve seen money raffles, what becomes of all that money? It’s more than just hey, come have fun. I mean, there really is a lot of valuable stuff in the community going on and I would think that’d be very important to such a small community.
Rick Harris: Yeah, it’s been amazing what we’ve raised over the years. And when we started this, one thing we didn’t want to do is go ask for donations from the businesses, we wanted to earn it and kind of expand the hunting heritage for the young adults. Green Wing Days does nothing but great for the young kids that we usually have it out at the boat docks and the refuge; I believe they had it somewhere else this year. But you know how many they had there this year? I know they’ve had up to 100 kids and parents, so it’s been good to try to hold the kids to the hunting heritage and I know how we’re fighting to keep that going across the United States.
Ramsey Russell: But what about in a small town like this, Rick? Is there a conflict in a small town like Kenmare? We’re trying to keep the youth involved in hunting.
Rick Harris: Well, it’s like anything else. It’s the sports and everything, and everybody’s so busy with other things and I always say it’s the cell phones and the video games and everything like that. But you know my son, he was raised hunting, of course, with me and still today, I thank my parents for that.
Ramsey Russell: Absolutely.
Rick Harris: And my brothers do too and I don’t know where it’s going to go in the future. What do you think, Arlen?
Arlen Gartner: In the future, I think we have to encourage hunting. It is going downhill a little bit with the youth but the more programs they have like Green Wing Day and hunter’s education which helps and everything. All those things about hunting and being with friends, relatives, it makes a difference. It isn’t just about the killing of the birds and how many birds you get, being out in nature and that stuff, seeing the birds having a good time because there’s lots of stories.
Ramsey Russell: Let’s socialize. As my children grew up, especially, I can’t think of anywhere better because they were playing sports, they had girlfriends, later on cars, as children grow up the only time we really had to communicate without distraction was in a duck blind. It wasn’t the guns are going off, it was that lull in between. You really got to talk about things that you probably need to talk about, you’re not going to talk about when the cell phone’s going off, or alarm’s going off, or a TV shows coming on. What do you all do here in Kenmare with Green Wing Day, what does that day entail? What age groups are you all targeting? Is it just people here in Kenmare? Do people come from other communities?
Arlen Gartner: No, people come from quite a few different places. There’s 90 people out there, 90 kids this year and 40 adults at Green Wing Day this year. And what they do is, they have different stations, they have like 5 different stations, they can have a BB gun shoot, they can have archery, they have duck calling, sometimes they have dogs out there for retrieving. It’s kind of an educational deal for wildlife and that stuff. And the refuge really helps us out on that.
Ramsey Russell: They do, they do get involved. That’s really great. How long has that refuge been here? It’s been here a pretty good long time, it holds a lot of birds when we drive by.
Waterfowl Refuges and Sanctuaries in North Dakota
Rick Harris: It’s been here my whole life, I guess I’m 60 years old and it was here for many years before that and it holds the birds, it’s a sanctuary, so they don’t get kicked out of here, they always have a place to come and sit at night or in the morning, so it’s been really good hunting around here until that flyway was moved and that’s kind of affected a lot of it. They put a couple of big dams in up in Saskatchewan here that hold lot of birds too, now unless they get pushed down because of the snow – it pushes them down here and it’s kind of pushed them through here. So, I’ve heard maybe the flyway is kind of moving back towards the Devil’s Lake area.
Ramsey Russell: I think that may have something to do with it, and I don’t know, but they told me we have flats. A massive ephemeral wetland that’s been dry for a couple of years for lack of snowpack and rain. That’s got to – when you start talking about a wetland, it’s 18 miles long and I don’t know how wide, tens of thousands of acres that’s got to attract and hold a tremendous amount of waterfowl.
Rick Harris: It has in the past and now it’s pretty dried up. There isn’t much left of it, so the prairie potholes are disappearing.
I mean that’s kind of what’s held millions of ducks in the area and it’s limited right now with the waterfowl to have a place to sit period.
Ramsey Russell: How bad is the drought that’s going on right now, compared to your lifetime? What have you seen, how does this look compared to what you’ve seen in the past?
Rick Harris: Well, in the last 40 years, it seems like every 10 years we go through a dry cycle. I mean the Talle Flats were just full of water here 10 years ago, but it has been a continually dry-up process. The Des Lacs Lake out here where the refuge is that was actually pretty dry the lower part probably in the late 80s, is that right?
Arlen Gartner: I think it was the 80s.
Rick Harris: Late 80s, and that filled up in a hurry too, so it can come back. But boy, the rain falls, we’ve had have been very limited and you see that on the drought maps and stuff that, it’s pretty serious situation up here in this area. We got the right rains for the harvest or for the crops this year and we’re pretty fortunate up in the Gooseneck, that’s what it’s called where we live. It’s a Gooseneck County. You go west to here 60 miles, 70 miles, it was good. But after that, it got real dry in eastern Montana and they’re real dry.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve heard they’re extremely dry.
Rick Harris: Yes very. I mean, it’s way serious out there with the gentleman I’ve talked to from that area. But overall there’s still some hunting –
Arlen Gartner: There’s still potholes out in the hills and that stuff and we have 2 refuge – actually 3 refuges, there’s one Lostwood that’s out west here. I don’t know if I’ve seen a drought quite as intense that as it was this year because a lot of the potholes did dry up. Probably 50%-60% of them dried up. But we have snow cover this winter and they’ll fill right back up. I mean, it doesn’t take – short period of time, it just depends on that March, April, May’s rains and snows, that’ll take care of them.
Ramsey Russell: Overall, we’ve been on a 20 year wet cycle as shown by the liberal duck season and everything else and everybody’s kind of holding the breath thinking we’re past you for the big one. I mean that’s scary to me. I don’t want to give up days or duck numbers. You know, it’s scary. Let’s talk about Goosefest a little bit more. What are some of the events that happened throughout the week up here? I mean, it’s a week-long event, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday Friday, what’s all going on around here?
Arlen Gartner: You want to take this one Rick?
Rick Harris: Well, it starts out – we have a BB gun shoot for the kids that are a certain age I think, I can’t remember what the ages anymore but let me see here, first grade through 13. The parents come in and help them and they have this shoot for a couple 3 hours and it’s sponsored by our local telephone company, which is nice, they like to get their name out to help the kids learn to shoot and stuff and that’s been very successful the BB gun shoot. And then they have a two person shoot, it’s kind of a fun shoot where it’s a little different in the shoot on Saturday, it’s just two person and they go out and they hunt their birds, I think they had 26 teams this year. They give away a gun to a young kid and they give a gun away to a parent that are donated by –
Ramsey Russell: Are the 2 men team comprised of father and son?
Rick Harris: It can be, but it’s anything. It can be few friends or a father daughter or whoever wants to hunt and it’s a fun shoot –
Arlen Gartner: That’s why the prices aren’t that great. That’s $20 entry fee, $10 per person and actually they can win quite a few prizes but we don’t have anything great, we want them to have fun. That’s the main thing.
Ramsey Russell: Right. Go have fun. What wins an event like that?
Arlen Gartner: I think what won it was 27 snows and 6 –
Rick Harris: No, actually I think 15 snows and like maybe 6 ducks and then maybe a couple of honkers is what won. It was really close, I read it in the paper, the top 3 teams were real close, they all had around 15, 16 snows –
Ramsey Russell: Wow that’s a heck of a week, heck of a shoot.
Rick Harris: Had a nice shoot for that, very good. Especially with the flights just showing up now we’re seeing, I think it’s going to be a really good shoot on Saturday. And anyway, back to Monday then, we used to have a business after hours, but because of COVID and stuff, they kind of went away from that to get the people. But Tuesday, there’s a ladies night out where all the ladies in the communities around Kenmare come and they have entertainment and they have a good time by themselves, leave the husbands at home and they can go out and have a good time.
Ramsey Russell: All the husbands are at the bar.
Rick Harris: Yeah, probably there was a few. But Wednesday night then is a really nice bank with which you were at last night where we induct Hall of Fame members and of course Arlen, he’s a Hall of Famer here and I was lucky enough to get into the Hall of Fame here in 2015.
What’s the Landowner Appreciation Banquet?
So, we appreciate the farmers that let people on their land for hunting.
Ramsey Russell: Let’s talk about last night. It’s a landowner appreciation banquet.
Rick Harris: Exactly.
Ramsey Russell: Explain why? Because I know why, but why is it important to the community to have appreciation for the landowners?
Arlen Gartner: Well, without the landowners, I mean we wouldn’t be able to have Goosefest on, hunting opportunities for the young people wouldn’t be out there. So, we appreciate the farmers that let people on their land for hunting. There’s posting of land, but if you talk to the people generally speaking, they’ll let you hunt on their land and we appreciate them. They’re so important to an activity like Goosefest and we want them to know that we do appreciate them.
Ramsey Russell: How does posted lands now compare with 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago or whatever in your lifetime in North Dakota? Because see, I still perceived North Dakota as being like the wild west of duck hunting and goose hunting because down south, you ain’t knocking on nobody’s door and going nowhere to shoot a duck, it’s either your buddy or you own it or you lease it. I mean, it’s just different up here, it’s always been different up here. And I know times change with liabilities and the hassle of maybe everybody knocking on your door not treating your land right? But still it’s still just like last night, all those landowners and they’re friendly and it’s just this sense of community and their extended family grows as they meet people from out of state and develop relationships, but how are things changing in that regard?
Arlen Gartner: Well, I think there’s probably getting to be a little bit more posting all the time, but that doesn’t mean they don’t let you hunt on it.
Ramsey Russell: They just don’t let anybody hunt.
Arlen Gartner: Yeah, they just want to know who’s out there, the ones that paused it there, generally speaking, that’s what I get from them is that they just want to know who’s out there, they’ll let people hunt and that stuff, there’s going to be a little bit more of that. But as long as you talk to them and let him know that, where you’re from, who you are and visit with him, take care of their land, don’t trash it, respected it, that’s all they want is a little respect from what they own.
Ramsey Russell: Of course. I thought that was just a really cool thing that it wasn’t just a Goosefest banquet, it was a landowner appreciation. Because they are the necklace of why this thing exists here and throughout North Dakota and they deserve it. That was a heck of a meal you cooked last night, Arlen we enjoyed that.
Rick Harris: Yeah, that was a good meal, wasn’t it?
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I think everybody enjoyed that. I saw some heaping plates, mine was pretty dang heaped up.
Arlen Gartner: Yeah. And it’s all free, we give it to them free. And everybody that comes to the banquet it’s all free to them. We want them to enjoy it.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Now, let’s talk about the Hall of Fame. Because I was at a cafe here in town we’ve been eating breakfast at and there’s a wall with just all these Hall of Famers. What is the Hall of Fame? Why the Hall of Fame?
All About the Kenmare, North Dakota Hall of Fame
Arlen Gartner: That’s something that started back, I don’t know if it’s the first year, second year, maybe third year we started doing to honor people around the community and the surrounding areas and even out of state for what they do for this, the surrounding area, what they’re involved in whether it’s wildlife for their community and that stuff, it’s a kind of the elite group that we –
Rick Harris: I don’t know about elite Bud Grant, he is a Hall of Famer and he’s elite to everybody’s heart around here because we’re all Viking fans and I got to say the one thing, there isn’t very many packer fans, but the ones they are, they’re pretty tough people.
Ramsey Russell: This is Minnesota Viking country.
Rick Harris: This is Viking country, I don’t care what anybody says, but Bud Grant back to him, he did a wonderful thing to kind of make Goosefest, the word of Goosefest spread. It was great having him come out and he brought along Dave Osborne, which of course he’s from Cando, North Dakota, so he had no problem coming out here because he would go over to can do and hunt ducks and he was a good hunter and he came out here a few times and anyway, Bud brought his buddy Senator Lazard, so we had a senator from the state of Minnesota here that came out and hunted and he loved it. But he’d fall asleep all the time and then Verne Gagne of course the world wrestling jeopardy, you might not know him, but he came for many years. So Bud was good for us and we’ve lined up different people that come all the way from Jason Mitchell with Mitchell outdoors has been here, Tony Dean was here, we had Ed Schultz, the talk show guy, Ed Schultz and talk show Joe Heitkamp, we did a couple, Arlene, I’ve and Jerry Esler have did a few different live radio deals with those two. It’s great to see people come out and want to do it and that’s why I appreciate you giving us a chance to talk about Goosefest in the city of Kenmare as well.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, I love it. It’s like I told you last night, of course anywhere that proclaims to be a waterfowl capital of sorts, I know I’m going to find like-minded people to hang out with. But I just happened to pass through last year and spend some time with friends and it’s just like I found my tribe, I just had a really good time with everything and they kept talking about Goosefest . And so I’m sure that Goosefest still generates little economic activity but what I see from the outside looking in, it’s almost like a tremendous amount of local involvement and local pride, it’s just like a sense of community around this thing.
Arlen Gartner: Oh, there is. One thing I like about – you gain so many friends from outside the area, the community really gets involved and backs it. I took my grand out quite a few years out hunting, I got to know him a little bit and he really wanted to hunt because he was in football those years and that stuff, he didn’t get to hunt as much as he really wanted to and when he came out here, that’s what he wanted to do but with Goosefest, he put it on the map and they spoke to people our banquet quite a few years and we inducted him into the Goosefest Hall Of Fame too.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I’m honored to follow in the footsteps of Bud Grant.
Rick Harris: You got it. But yeah, I mean we have people, I think I mentioned the Christians and the slough that I grew up hunting on and my brothers and I hunted out there all the time, we had the privilege to get in there and they allowed us and Hart was a good friend with my grandparents, so we kind of had it in there and he got inducted into the Hall of Fame and his kids did it. He was a big active hunter his whole life and he owned that slough and it was a great place to hunt and it still is. And the waters heard it out there, but it’ll come back out there, I’m not worried about that, but I just hope there are kids that are still willing to go hunt in the future and that is a concern of mine. And I’ve seen a drop off, I don’t know if it’s going to continue and I think the national study shows that, but I think if we keep working at it, people like yourself we can keep it built up and events like this will help and I don’t know how many more years Arlen and I’ll have, but I think we’ll keep working out at it the rest of our lives.
What Can We Do to Provide Future Hunting Grounds for Generations to Come?
Because we may be losing hunters, but we’re losing places to hunt also.
Ramsey Russell: You talk about getting kids involved with hunting and that kind of him holds around a lot of what my thoughts are, and my feelings are, and why somewhere like North Dakota that the landowners and the communities invite people to come partake of it is, to me, one of the greatest limited resources, it’s really not so much the sports and the telephones and the time is just the place to hunt. From my part of the world, there’s really not a lot of places to hunt. There’s public land, but it’s not enough public land. And that’s really becoming, I think, a limiting factor as where the heck is everybody going to hunt? Because we may be losing hunters, but we’re losing places to hunt also. It seems like, even though Fish and Wildlife says we’re losing a lot of hunters, it seems like if you hunt public land or hunt, there’s a lot of duck hunters, like more duck hunters. Well, I think it’s because there’s fewer places and it’s just becoming more distilled into less areas. And that’s scary time. And it’s like, I feel like sometimes we’re putting too much pressure on the resource because more hunters hunting less geographic area, but at the same time we need more hunters to keep this thing alive and keep it thriving, keep it economically relevant.
Arlen Gartner: I think also, some of the factors that come into play as with less land to hunt is that in some places people don’t respect the land and one bad apple, going to hurt everybody. And that’s why we preach to pick up your litter, respect the farmer and be sure to take out any kid you can.
Ramsey Russell: Absolutely. We were talking about some of the events and we stopped on Wednesday night with the landowner appreciation banquet. What is Thursday entail? Today’s Thursday. What does that entail?
Rick Harris: Well, we’re having a clay shoot right now and that’s where we’re at out at the Kenmare Country Club and we’ve had this clay shoot and that’s been going on probably for about 15 years plus everybody goes out and shoot some clay pigeons and tries to sharpen up and brag up their shooting skills, I guess all day here till dark. That’s sponsored by the Birth Old Sportsman’s Club and that town is 40 miles away from us. So it’s nice, we have a lot of friends from over that area, they come to our events, they’ve been in the goose shoot, so we draw in people from the other communities, which is great and we try to go back and participate in the Birth Old Sportsman’s club that people do in town, many of them have went to that every year and it’s kind of a mix. In fact, I think the Birth Old Sportsman’s Club is part of cooking the fish downtown tonight at one of the local establishes.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve been looking forward to the fish fry.
Rick Harris: And it’s really good. Yeah and beer bob’s downtown puts on a really nice feed so everybody enjoys that. Then later that night they have duck bowling which it is a duck bowling but its frozen what are they called? I can’t remember, anyway it’s frozen –
Ramsey Russell: Cornish hen.
Arlen Gartner: Yeah there you go.
Rick Harris: You got it. But anyway we got a local boy that runs out his name Rocky Ackerman and he has a heck of a good time, he’s a judge, so if you go above or beyond the line when you throw your ball, he disallows it so it’s a good time and everybody enjoys it up there at city limits later that evening. Friday night then now that’s banquet where we auction off all the teams that are in the goose shoot on Saturday morning Friday nights, it’s kind of like a bragger is night to everybody brings in their mounts and stuff. So the community in the area gets to see a lot of these deer and an antelope and things that even over south Africa stuff brought in so that’s pretty neat, a lot of us don’t get to see that.
Ramsey Russell: That’ll be on Friday night?
Rick Harris: That’s Friday night, yes. And then they have the big Calcutta and then Saturday morning then they have breakfast early at MKS Pizza hub there for all the hunters and the checkers that go out with the teams. And then by 3 o’clock that day they weigh everything in and give the team awards out.
Ramsey Russell: When’s the big chili cook off?
Rick Harris: Oh yeah, we forgot about the chili cook off, how could I do that?
Ramsey Russell: Because I’ve heard there’s been some teams competing for a long time in the chili cook off.
Rick Harris: Yeah, Friday starting at noon, we start cooking and I say we because I am in it and I’ve been in it for many years and Lance and Ron are on my team and we tend to have a lot of the trophies. There’s a few other –
Ramsey Russell: Got a secret recipe or something?
Rick Harris: Well, the brothers are very good cooks and I’m pretty much just the PR guy, I visit a lot. So, now it’s great to be there and we used to have it in a tent in town but we’ve had some weather issues over the years and blowing down a couple of times. So Kenmare Country Club out here is where we’re having the chili cook off this year. They got a real nice building that is not going to get blowing down in the morning of the chili cook off. So, it’s nice to have that security and it’s a great time. We’ve had everywhere from 40 teams down to 15 teams, so sometimes it gets pretty big.
Ramsey Russell: How many teams are in the chili cook off this year?
Rick Harris: It’s not really a pre-sign up, but we’re hoping for 20 teams.
Ramsey Russell: Okay. And talk about the Saturday competition, 30 teams are signed up. How does that work?
Rick Harris: Well, on Friday night and the Calcutta off all the 30 teams, so there’s a buyer for each of them, a group of buyers or whoever Saturday they go hunting then and they pay the Calcutta prices out along with the regular prizes and the teams do have to be in and they weigh them. Snow geese is a premium still, is that correct, Arlen?
Arlen Gartner: Yes, it is.
Ramsey Russell: Its 5 points for snow geese?
Arlen Gartner: Yes.
Ramsey Russell: That’s how it works? 3 for honkers?
Arlen Gartner: Yeah. And we used to have ducks in there, but we don’t allow ducks anymore, it’s just a goose contest.
Ramsey Russell: I was here last year and my host Monty and Tom and everybody was saying, man, people get real quiet about sharing where the birds are until after Goosefest . Because everybody’s out scouting right now looking for the hunting hole Saturday morning.
Arlen Gartner: They set up decoys the night before sometimes they sleep in the fields. Oh yeah, it’s competitive.
Ramsey Russell: And then what happened Saturday? When does the hunt end? When do you come in with your birds and your prizes and stuff like that?
Arlen Gartner: Well, see they pick up their checker at 6AM.
Ramsey Russell: And what is the checker do?
Arlen Gartner: The checker just observes how the hunt is going, it isn’t their checkers, some other team’s checker.
Ramsey Russell: Okay.
Arlen Gartner: And they go out with them and watch –
Ramsey Russell: Make sure they ain’t cheating.
Arlen Gartner: Right. That’s what they’re there for.
Rick Harris: They’re observer I guess.
Arlen Gartner: It’s kind of an honor system to – we don’t want anything to happen out there. But anyway they leave at 6 o’clock, they cannot start shooting until that checker gets here and they may travel 100 miles so they want to get going at 6 o’clock and pick up that checker and they’re gone. And they have to be back in by 3 o’clock if they don’t go through the line by 3 o’clock, they’re disqualified. If there is a hunting violations they’re disqualified. So, it’s pretty good competition out there and they do decoys, they can sit around slough quite intense.
Ramsey Russell: Any legal way you can hunt them, hunt them.
Arlen Gartner: Right. But the sneaking part, they can sneak on geese but they can’t sneak on them until 10 o’clock. So that kind of ensures that they’re not sitting on the roost, not sneaking up on a slough filled with geese while they’re sleeping, so that’s why we ruled at 10 o’clock they can start.
Ramsey Russell: And then what happens the rest of Saturday? After everybody comes in, it’s 3 o’clock, they’re checked in then what?
Arlen Gartner: They award the prizes after that but there’s prizes for – they do a drawing for the checker, they win $50 each. Some of the teams give their checkers something for being there. They get sweatshirts, prizes or guns, decoys and a plaque. Main thing is the plaque.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, bragging rights. I thought the folks that got inducted into Hall Of Fame last night was a big team out of Wisconsin and one of them told me they’ve been coming here since 1997 or 1998 a long time. And I was talking to him, we were cleaning guns after the rain the other day and I was talking to him in the shop, he said, it was the people. He said, we came out here just to go hunting, but then we met all these folks out here and now they’re all second families and that’s why they keep coming.
Arlen Gartner: Yeah, just like a family.
Rick Harris: It is a tremendous deal for people to come here and the people who experience the nice people and the friendly landowners. I mean, I don’t know how much and I think every one of them last night thank the landowners.
Ramsey Russell: Every one of them did.
Rick Harris: I think every one of them and that was pretty impressive.
Ramsey Russell: Most of them. They knew most of the landowners there.
Rick Harris: Yeah. I think that’s pretty great.
Ramsey Russell: I think it is a pretty good thing. Where do you want Goosefest to go from here? What do you see happening in the future? What do you want to happen in the future with Goosefest or with hunting around Kenmare? And what would you tell anybody listening that might want to come out to North Dakota up to this area to hunt? That’s two questions.
Tips for Hunters Visiting North Dakota
Probably the one thing I like to stress is that when they come out here and they see the wide open areas that we have out here, and that stuff, enjoy it.
Arlen Gartner: I think as far as the Goosefest, I think we’ve got a lot of young people involved in it now. And that makes the whole thing is you got to get the young ones involved and they got to take – basically taking over from the older guys like myself, I was involved in 33 years, we want them to keep it going and we need those young people to do it.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. It’s funny, I was out in Chesapeake Bay last year talking to some man, they body boot which is going out in chest deep water, real cold water and putting up these great big decoys to stand behind because there’s just wide open water and then they throw out just a mountain, just a ton of decoys, you can’t hardly shoot across spread. It’s so big and he’s about my age, mid-fifties and he said, when we were younger, those old guys brought us because we were the muscle and he said, but hunting is declining so quickly that now I’m the old guy and there’s not a lot of young people behind me, so I’m still the muscle. And we got to stop that trend in hunting and that’s what you all are trying to do. And it seems like we’ve met a lot of young people last night at the banquet.
Arlen Gartner: And those young people, they have a lot of great ideas. And if you’re in there too long, you get a little stale, you want some good ideas, you wants some new ideas and that’s what our Goosefest committee is really doing, they’re getting after it and they’re keeping it going.
Rick Harris: Absolutely. Yeah, I think, I don’t know, I’m very proud of our younger generation that are taken over the leadership of the Goosefest. And it’s no border anything, this is just a voluntary committee that was started 33 years ago and it’s led into what it is today and now the younger guys that are 20 years, 25, 30 years younger than Arlen and I, they’re starting to take over and I’m pretty – it’s great. I mean, I like going to the events now where I don’t have to do everything and you’re seeing them take over and I think that’s kind of the same thing we got to do with hunting, we got to make sure there’s going to be somebody that’s going to take over. And then I’m sure it’s easier said than done, but I think events like this definitely being a fall festival, we never dreamt it would do what it’s did. We’ve donated well over 200 – as of 2015, I know when I used to do the books, we’ve donated well over $200,000 back to different things that we’ve raised.
Ramsey Russell: What are some of those different things besides Green Wings?
Rick Harris: Well, we’ve donated, we put docks in and we sponsor handicapped fishing. It isn’t always just hunting and some of it deals with fishing docks down at our refuge, I had a big list of this in 2015.
Arlen Gartner: We’ve also donated to the Lake Road project, so we fixed up a lake road coming from Highway 52 into Kenmare that was 6 mile area with gravel on it and widen the road and that stuff. And anything that has to do with hunting or fishing or recreation, we try to help out, they put picnic tables in the park down there this year, there’s many different things that we –
Ramsey Russell: It’s a really good way it sounds like to reinvest in outdoor activities within the extended local community.
Rick Harris: Definitely. I mean, another one I just thought of we gave money to help Sherwood build their trap shooting place. And I went up there for the first time this year and it’s unbelievable.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, fantastic.
Arlen Gartner: So, this isn’t just the money stays in Kenmare and around Kenmare it goes quite a ways out to that we can help things out.
Ramsey Russell: That’s really good. What advice would you all have for any out-of-staters listening that have looked at Instagram or dreamed to coming in North Dakota or participating in something like this? What friendly advice would you have the first timers coming here? Or repeat guys here coming here to enjoy North Dakota resources?
Arlen Gartner: Well, probably my advice to any out-of-staters that come in here, and anybody that’s out of the area coming in here: talk to the landowners, visit with them, do your homework. The main thing I have stressed before is respect their land, pick up the shells, every empty, and that stuff. Don’t lay any garbage around and if the fields are wet, don’t just drive in there and make ruts and that stuff. And the farmers really appreciate that and they’ll remember you.
Ramsey Russell: Is there anything they can do while they’re hunting here to kind of keep the hunting quality better long term? I mean, is there any taboos or anything you’d advise them not to do or to do besides just pick up litter and respect land? Because that kind of goes without saying respect the land, it’s not yours, treat it like it’s yours.
Arlen Gartner: Probably the one thing I like to stress is that when they come out here and they see the wide open areas that we have out here, and that stuff, enjoy it. It isn’t just about the killing of the birds, it’s seeing the hold here and that stuff, you see a lot of different stuff you’ll see moose out here, you’ll see deer and the antelope, and there’s a lot of pheasant opportunities and that stuff and joy the moment.
Ramsey Russell: That’s something we didn’t even talk about, the upland bird hunting opportunities out here are really good. I’ve met people from Colorado, Iowa, of course North Dakota, lots of North Dakota, lots of Kenmare, lots of other North Dakota, I’m from Mississippi, Wisconsin. I’ve met a lot of people here and a lot of them are going out and taking advantage of the upland bird hunting opportunities. Hungarian, partridge, sharp tail, pheasants.
Arlen Gartner: Like I say, pheasants dozen population really grew in the last few years seems like when it dries up, there’s more grasshoppers and that stuff, they have a lot of food and the population goes up and with North Dakota you can have one bad winner and wipe out a lot of them. Because the heavy wet snows in March and April and that stuff will really take a toll on pheasants.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Well folks, you all have been listening to Rick Harris, Arlen Gartner. Gentlemen, I appreciate you all being here, telling us all about Goosefest , I’ll be coming back next year. Thank you all for listening this episode of Duck Season Somewhere from Kenmare, North Dakota, weeklong Goosefest but a long season. Come check it out. See you next time.