Following a couple days event-filled mornings hunting snow geese, honkers and ducks, Ramsey meets with new friends Tom Mau and Monte Brekhus in Kenmare, North Dakota. Kenmare is genuine small-town America and the self-proclaimed Snow Goose Capitol of the US. It says so on a sign, the water tower in center of town is adorned with geese, and the local football team is named the Honkers. What’s it like growing up here? Why is goose hunting integral to the local culture and what attracts so many waterfowl to the area? What is GooseFest and what are these locals thoughts on outsiders hunting here? Pull up a chair and listen to another great conversation as Ramsey Russell’s 2020 North America Waterfowl Road Trip continues.
Kenmare, North Dakota: Absolute Positive Real America
I think I know these people, I’ve known them my whole life?
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host Ramsey Russell, join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome back to another episode of Duck Season Somewhere. I’m in Kenmare, North Dakota, way up near the Canadian border. Going into my next to last day in North Dakota. I’ve been running through the state North, South, East and West for about nine days, and it has been epic. Now I am way up at the Canadian border with some guys I met through a mutual friend and it’s like this: have y’all ever just met somebody and before you even got done when your first Busch Light you said, “I think we’re related. I think I know these people, I’ve known them my whole life?” I’ve got with me today Tom Mau and Monte Brekhus, born and raised right here in the great metropolitan of Kenmare in North Dakota. Introduce yourself Tom.
Tom Mau: Well, my name’s Tom, and Ramsey, it is just like you say. We’re just that kind of people up here. It’s a brotherhood that you could meet a guy one day and bang! You’re into it and fantastic. It’s nice to meet you.
Ramsey Russell: Never talked, never met. My buddy, Scott Saric, who I know you’ve had a long history with, a good friend and good client, introduced us.
Tom Mau: He told me you were coming and I invited my friend Monte Brekhus, who is a fantastic goose hunter. I said, “Hey, you want to get in on this deal?” And he’s like, “Yeah.”
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, you came out of retirement, didn’t you, Monte?
Monte Brekhus: No, I’ve never been retired. It kind of went, “Hey, we’re going to need some decoys. Do you want to come with?”
Ramsey Russell: You’ve got a trailer full of them. I don’t even know where to start because it’s really cool. I really think of this part of the world, of North Dakota, in general, but man, Kenmare is this little small town, real America. Everybody here are just real Americans. They’re friendly, they hunt. I met this little lady last night, Laurie, who I’m going to say is four foot nine and smiles like a sunbeam everywhere she goes. We told this epic story last night about her shooting her first moose. It’s just awesome to be here, man.
A Once in a Lifetime Hunting Experience
We have once in a lifetime moose tag here.
Tom Mau: That’s the thing about this country is everybody helps everybody else out. We have once in a lifetime moose tag here. One of our friends drew a moose tag this year and everybody helps everybody else out.
Ramsey Russell: Does the climate have anything to do with that? Because y’all get seriously cold up here.
Tom Mau: Oh, brittle.
Ramsey Russell: Is that part of it?
Tom Mau: Well, that’s why there’s a lot of babies born nine months after winter.
Ramsey Russell: Nine months after winter!
Tom Mau: We had some boys come up here between 20 and 22 years ago from Nebraska. They were up in Bull Bells. They couldn’t find a bird, so they came down to a feed at the local tavern downtown. We met him down there. I invited him to my garage 22 years later. They’re still in my garage. Every year they come.
Ramsey Russell: It’s a real sense of community, because I got here a couple of nights ago and the volunteer fire department was having that big barbecue. Monte brought some barbecue and I don’t remember what all we ate out there for supper that night, but barbecue was a big part of it. It was unbelievable how much money this little community raised with the gun raffle. I wouldn’t have thought you could sell that many raffle tickets in the whole town but it sounds like everybody bought five!
Tom Mau: Well, everybody is willing to throw in a $100 bill to the local fire department or any charity contribution back to the community.
Ramsey Russell: Monte, you were telling me this morning that there are 1300 people in this town. You got a tiny little movie theater and you just don’t really run for profit. Y’all just kind of keep it going for the kids.
The Best Goose Fest Around!
…he’s actually a Goose Fest Hall of Famer.
Tom Mau: One of the greatest things is the fire department also helps put it on the Goose Fest. Kenmare has a Goose Fest, which is usually in late October, and it’s just fantastic. They’re bringing a lot of people. They have a lot of things going on in town. It’s a different tavern.
Ramsey Russell: But what is it, what is the Goose Fest?
Tom Mau: It’s just a big, giant goose festival. That’s what it is.
Ramsey Russell: They also have a contest, because I know there’s hunting teams and parties and people go out and hunt. Is that right? Is there some form of contest?
Tom Mau: Monte was instrumental in the Goose Fest, in building this deal, he’s actually a Goose Fest Hall of Famer.
Ramsey Russell: Hall of Famer. What is that all about?
Monte Brekhus: I’m on the wall with Bud Grant. You’d never guess that, huh?
Ramsey Russell: No, never would have.
Monte Brekhus: 32 years ago, a lifetime guy, was out in Pennsylvania and saw something similar and he got together with some of the forefathers of the town here and they started a week-long festival. There’s two man shoot to try to get kids involved and there’s a clay pigeon shoot one day, there’s a free movie and then there’s a chili cook-off. The final day is a 30 team 4 man – 5 man shoot and it’s a snow goose shoot.
Ramsey Russell: You’re targeting snow geese. That’s the point bird.
Tom Mau: That’s the target deal. But they have a big calcutta evening before and feed.
Ramsey Russell: Whoever goes out and shoots the most snow geese wins?
Monte Brekhus: Right.
North Dakota: Wide Open Hunting
We take care of our own up here.
Ramsey Russell: Because one of y’all told me the other night, I noticed you were working the phones, man, you were born and raised here. You’ve got all these buddies, “Hey, where are the geese? What is this? I got a guy in and we’re going to do this, do that.” But you said before this Goose Fest, nobody says Jack Diddly about a goose.
Monte Brekhus: Well, it’s kind of, “Where’s the big buck at?” It’s a little tough during that week because of that festival that end deal, but prior to that and after that, you can pretty much hunt anywhere you want in this country. As you’ve seen today, it’s wide open. If the geese are here, then the geese are here, and people don’t mind if you hunt their land. It’s pretty wide open.
Ramsey Russell: To me, that’s always made North Dakota unique from anywhere else I’ve ever been in the United States. You still can [hunt] if it’s not posted. Like your dad out there cutting hay today. He doesn’t want to be pulled off his tractor 32 times a day to be asked permission to go hunt. Maybe a farmer like him wouldn’t post the field because he’s got a busier thing to do, but still, you just knock on the door and most people will give you access, let’s go out there and hunt.
Tom Mau: Any kind of real hunters at all will ask to go on that section land, anyways. If there’s a pile of geese in there, they’ll go up to that farm landowner and say, “Hey, do you mind if I hunt?” I think that’s a great thing with hunters to do that because I think it brings a lot of value into that with the landowner instead of just going out there and hunting it. As a landowner, and part of that ranch out there as I showed you around today, Monte’s got the same thing: piles, a bunch of ground. I think it’s nice that you just go up and talk to that landowner. You don’t want to bother him on the Baylor, bother him when he’s doing his thing, but if that guy’s driving up the driveway, stop and talk to him. Just say, “Hey, you mind if we’re hunting that?” instead of just going out there and hunting it.
Ramsey Russell: Well, it’s real America, everybody here’s neighborly.
Tom Mau: Absolutely.
Ramsey Russell: Y’all haven’t had any statues torn down or anything like that going on the last six months, I’m guessing?
Monte Brekhus: That we have not, nor will we. That is not going to happen.
Tom Mau: We take care of our own up here.
Growing Up in the Snow Goose Capital of the World
We used to shoot snow geese before we got into the school bus with a shotgun.
Ramsey Russell: What was it like growing up in Kenmare? The self-proclaimed snow goose capital of the world: y’all grew up in that era. Why is it named that and what was it like growing up here back in the “good old days?”
Monte Brekhus: Well, the biggest thing is we got four refuges in 120 miles. All bird hunting. We got the Lostwood, Des Lacs, Upper Souris, and Clark Salyer, and each one of the refuges held 300,000 – 400,000 snow geese.
Tom Mau: And we are directly in the flyway in the 80s.
Ramsey Russell: Right up in the thick of it. What are some of your memories of growing up in this area as a child? I’m assuming y’all’s dads got y’all into this too, your family or your friends?
Tom Mau: We used to shoot snow geese before we got into the school bus with a shotgun.
Ramsey Russell: So you’re at the bus stop with the shotgun, you and your brother?
Tom Mau: Yeah, me and my brother Tim. That wasn’t cool anymore, so we tried with a bow and arrow because that’s how many geese were coming over the house at a time at the ranch out there. It was phenomenal, but we got used to it. Then, we got in the guiding business after that because we’re like, “Yeah, we can take goose hunters out.” Then, we got burned out goose hunting and stuff because if you didn’t shoot a 50-bird day, it wasn’t a good day.
Ramsey Russell: Do you have similar stories, Monte?
Monte Brekhus: I grew up quite a bit north of them in a slough called Johnson Slough. It was two, full sections of posted land that the birds rested on. It was a big roost for them, and when I was growing up, we would stand right in our yard and shoot them, or we’d take a couple hundred Hilux jugs out in the Goulgers, which was just across the street from her house, and throw them out and shoot snow geese out of Hilux jugs.
Ramsey Russell: Would this have been back in the 80s?
Tom Mau: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: The limit was five. It should have been probably 50 to get this goose population under control but the limit was five. That’s pretty incredible. You showed me something today. We’re riding out there to your ranch, you raise buffalo and elk. But you were showing me something: Tolley Flats. What is Tolley Flats?
Tom Mau: The Tolley Flats is a big, low area between Des Lacs and the Upper Souris. It does not drain, so it’s just a big bowl basically. This thing will fill up with water.
Ramsey Russell: Like a marsh, a natural ephemeral marsh?
Tom Mau: Yeah, pretty much. The geese, when the flyway is on, the Tolley Flats is probably the goose capital of North Dakota, where it started. Tolley, North Dakota is probably that, but since then Kenmare has got the name of it.
Ramsey Russell: Well, y’all got the big water tower. I didn’t see one over near Tolley. I saw canola growing. I saw some different crops out there where this big marsh existed in the past, back in the 80s, you said. It hadn’t been tiled, it wasn’t drained. The Corps of Engineers won’t let them drain a natural well. What’s going on?
Monte Brekhus: The thing with the Tolley Flats is, like you said, it dried up in the early 90s. In 2010-2011 we had a big flood here and it filled up. I bet we lost between 40,000 and 50,000 acres to that water.
Ramsey Russell: Explain that concept because when I think of it flooding, I think of it being lots of water, but that ain’t the way water works here in this part of the world. Y’all don’t need a heavy rain, like a thunderstorm, y’all need snow.
Tom Mau: That water comes from Canada. It comes through here on the river and that’s what flooded the river part, but we also got those same rains down here, lower 48. It filled that backup, because it’s all a natural drainage from the flat land up top and it drained in that bowl.
Ramsey Russell: What would it really take to make Tolley Flats be Tolley Flats again?
Monte Brekhus: Another 60-90 inch snowfall again this year.
Ramsey Russell: Heavy snowpack.
Tom Mau: Heavy snowfall.
Ramsey Russell: For those of you listening, a lot of our listeners are from the Deep South and when we get a flood, there’s just water everywhere for months and years and it’s a big mess. But here, you need snowfall that will gently melt. Like you were saying the other day, you don’t want to snowpack and for it to become a 70° day.
Tom Mau: That’s the problem. It’s cold and then it’s the 10th of April and you get 65 ° a day in a 30 mile an hour wind, you get all kinds of water. It’s running over the hills. Honestly, it’s running over the hills.
Monte Brekhus: Just like us hunting on Sunday, it was 7 ° out. When we picked up decoys today we were in t-shirts, one day later.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. I cannot believe I’m out here about to fall asleep just in the sunbeam because it’s so warm today. Y’all are predicting that this country is going to freeze out this time next week.
Tom Mau: I think in a week to two weeks we’ll be looking at some below zero temperatures.
Ramsey Russell: Is that what the weather forecast is calling for?
Tom Mau: Probably, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: There’s no denying that something made those bazillion big Canada geese move into that lake area today.
Tom Mau: Ramsey, we’ve seen it tonight and you just don’t see the greater Canadians moved in like that in one or two days. Bang, they’re here. I had no idea where I was going to see that today.
Ramsey Russell: They were probably arctic birds that were thinking, “This thing is starting, let’s get the heck out of Dodge.”
Tom Mau: I think Monte had an inkling last night when you saw those northern mallards coming in from the northeast. When I saw all the big Canadians in there tonight, I was like, “Yep, the birds are coming through here.”
Monte Brekhus: Canada is getting cold. They’re moving out with this northwest wind.
Tom Mau: It’s their migration and its time. When it happens, it’s fantastic. Just like you’ve seen as well tonight.
Ramsey Russell: It has been a heck of an experience just in the last few days. We stopped over here the first day, we had a great time at the most unofficial, hottest bar in town: your garage, where everybody seems to congregate. Scott gave me directions and said, “You’ll know it when you see it.” I’m following the GPS and I get right here in the corner and I see about 50 trucks out front, “That must be it.” Right under the Kenmare Water Tower with all the geese painted on it. I knew I was there. That snow goose hunt we went on, that was a pretty good trek from here.
Tom Mau: The boys do a very good job down there, snow goose hunting. They’re fantastic hunters and gentlemen. You can go anywhere between here and Steele and Bismarck, Garrison, wherever, and meet gentlemen like that that will take you hunting.
Ramsey Russell: Unbelievable.
Tom Mau: If you just stop in and say hi.
Ramsey Russell: But they didn’t just take us hunting. I don’t know that I could have killed a white tailed deer across the spread, it was so big. They’ve been setting up decoys for hours, three of them. For days, maybe, as far as I can tell. We pulled into the field. It was just unbelievable.
Tom Mau: We left here at 04:00 in the morning and they started setting up decoys at 04:30.
Ramsey Russell: We helped them finish setting up. We got there two hours later. Here’s one of my fondest memories, because we went out and we were a mile from that lake where those birds were roosting, up maybe a mile.
Monte Brekhus: Yeah, maybe not even a mile.
Ramsey Russell: You could hear the snow geese when they would boil before they wanted to get up and go fly off to wherever. You could hear them boil and you can tell a lot of them, but it wasn’t until after the hunt, we picked up 10 acres worth of decoys and we’re leaving there, that I recognized just how big a raft of snow that it was. 3/4 of a mile long and a quarter-mile wide of solid white. It started off soft, the wind was nothing, the frost got on the decoys, that didn’t help, but by the time we left, other than some of the frost, it was a good wind, good weather, good decoys, a lot of birds in areas, but snow geese did what snow geese too often times do. They just didn’t give us a chance. My most enduring memory, and I’ll never forget this is, you know where it’s going. You could say it looked like a Kid Rock concert with all the lights out in the field setting up those decoys. When we pulled in, Sig had brought his two little children. I’m going to say there were 7 and 10 years old. I figured he’d have to wake him up and carried him to the blind because it’s so early and they’ve been up since three in the morning or something. I thought it was two bird dogs running across the field or two deer. It was those two younglings, and they were hands on, it was four little hands that knew what to do and were glad to be there and they never quit smiling or petting the dog or watering the dog or putting up decoys or doing something and chatting away. I’m going to tell y’all, I know I go hunting to shoot stuff. I know why my dog is fetching, because she can fetch stuff. These kids, they’re just there to be outside and have a good time. It inspires me!
Tom Mau: It is great for the youth to experience around here. We try to push that in our community for our use. Be a hunter, be out there, do that. The Goose Fest puts on the baby gun shoot, and the youth gun shoot, and all kinds of good stuff. It’s fabulous.
Ramsey Russell: No, it’s wonderful. Then, afterwards, I figured we’d all just go grab a greasy cheeseburger somewhere at a truck stop and the boy said, “No, let’s go cook breakfast.”
Tom Mau: Well, that’s the big thing around here is, we’re that kind of people. We want to bring you to our house and I want to feed you antelope sausage and deer sausage or goose sausage or elk.
Ramsey Russell: These boys had a griddle in their shop, about half the size of a sheet of ply board. They were telling me that it was real bacon, real sausage, and I don’t know how many eggs. I said, “Is your church Sunday school group coming over or something?” There’s only 10 of us hunters and they cooked enough to feed an army. Isn’t that great? Homemade horseradish, homemade pickles. What a great time!
Monte Brekhus: Sig’s originally from there.
Ramsey Russell: So he’s one of them?
Monte Brekhus: He’s one of them and he moved up here 12 years ago, I suppose. As you can see, he fit right in.
Ramsey Russell: Oh yeah, we all fit right in, like one big family.
Monte Brekhus: He’s got an 18 year old daughter that had a moose tag this year.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Tom Mau: Yeah, and Eric said his wife, Candace, had a moose tag as well, so we did the boost deal.
Ramsey Russell: Sig’s got a bunch of moose meat then..
Monte Brekhus: His wife jumps in with Tom and he follows me and I show them where this moose is just a mile away from my farm. He called me back five minutes later and they shot it. I go down there and Tom shows up with his pickup and wench and we’re loading this moose up and little Emmett’s like, “Don’t you think we should get it out so I can crawl in it and warm up?”
Ramsey Russell: He must have watched a movie to have said that. The Revenant.
Tom Mau: It was funny, that evening, Candice shot hers. We got done with Eric’s daughter’s moose and we got some lunch and everybody went their other ways looking for Candice’s moose. By golly, if she didn’t shoot her moose that evening. They got through two moose in one day.
Ramsey Russell: Unbelievable. Moose season is open now or it’s been open?
Tom Mau: I think it shuts down this weekend.
Ramsey Russell: It shuts down this weekend and but then you got deer season.
Tom Mau: It starts Friday.
Monte Brekhus: Friday at noon.
Ramsey Russell: I’m pretty impressed with the sets of antlers you got hanging in the shop out there. I did not know there were that many big white tails up here. Y’all have got some great hunting out here.
Monte Brekhus: There ain’t that many. You’ve got to hunt for them.
Tom Mau: That’s from years and years of hunting but they’re here. There’s good white tail up in this country. I don’t like to advertise it, obviously, but sure.
Rodeo Riding Traditions
That’s the camaraderie of good people and good friends and rodeo, right there.
Ramsey Russell: Everybody I met up here is practically rodeoed. I know you and Scott had a colorful rodeo history. Was that something all the kids did growing up?
Tom Mau: Not really. Not a big rodeo community, not so much as you think, but we all did. That’s probably helped me and Monte Brekhus and my brother get our brotherhood. It was through rodeo. I was probably 12 years old when I started hanging out with Monte. We’re just kids wanting to broaden our horizons. Monte was already going. It’s this man that started my career in rodeo.
Monte Brekhus: I had an uncle that was in the service. He came back from Vietnam and my dad got hurt in ‘79. He was a big horseman. When my dad got hurt, he took care of us for a while, because dad was in the hospital for two years. Larry got us into it, me and my brother, but my brother didn’t last long. It was something we could do. My dad was in a wheelchair and he could go to the rodeo and he enjoyed watching us boys ride little britches and it just built up from there.
Ramsey Russell: What event did you ride, Monte?
Monte Brekhus: I rode bulls and bareback horses when I started, but I had to quit riding bareback horses. They beat you up too bad.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, that’s what Eric did, isn’t it?
Tom Mau: Scott rode bareback horses, yes.
Ramsey Russell: What did you do?
Tom Mau: I rode bareback horses, bulls, and saddle bronc.
Ramsey Russell: Was this just a weekend hobby?
Tom Mau: Not really, I really got into it pretty heavily. In 1984, I was the world champion Little Britches bareback rider.
Ramsey Russell: Wow.
Tom Mau: I won a couple of state championships and went on to go to professional rodeo. That’s when I met Scott and that’s what I did. I was a rodeo cowboy professionally.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Tom Mau: Yessir.
Ramsey Russell: No aches and pains, all these years later?
Tom Mau: Yeah. Absolutely. It hurts laying in the blinds.
Ramsey Russell: I want to hear this. True or false? You once borrowed a Mercedes to go to a rodeo.
Tom Mau: I sure did.
Ramsey Russell: But you didn’t take the Mercedes did you?
Tom Mau: I did not.
Ramsey Russell: Come on, tell the story.
Tom Mau: Oh it’s a long story. We’re in California and my Uncle Ed had this Mercedes and I had this really good horse in Red Deer, Alberta. I needed to get up there and Uncle Ed said, “You can take the Mercedes.” I’m gearing up, we’re loading this Mercedes. Next morning, my Aunt Felma comes out there in her nightgown and she goes, “You ain’t taking that car.” And my Uncle Ed’s like,
“Oh, I guess you can’t take the car.” So he goes, “Well, I got a pick-up for you.” He comes over with this pick-up, it’s got jacked up tires, 14 rear ends on it, and we drive this thing all the way to Red Deer, Alberta. Well, we don’t even make the Red Deer. We end up in Lethbridge and blow this thing up.
Ramsey Russell: Did you make good time?
Tom Mau: No. 14 rear ends. We’re driving like 55. It sounds like something’s going to blow up and sure enough we blow it up. Long story short, we rented a car, got up there, got on the horse, won a lot of money, came back, and this is where Scott Serik comes in this deal because this truck is still sitting in Lethbridge and I’m already back in California. I said to Scott Serik and Deb Greeno, “Hey guys, you guys coming over to Hayward rodeo?” “Absolutely.” I said, “Will you pick up this pick-up in Lethbridge?” I said “It’s got a topper on it, a stereo in it. One can drive, one can sleep” and they’re like, “Yeah, nice,” thinking there’s a camper on it or something. They jump in this thing and it’s just a bomb. I hid when they came to the rodeo in Hayward because I thought they were going to kick my butt.
Ramsey Russell: That was a good time.
Tom Mau: But that’s what buddies do. That’s the camaraderie of good people and good friends and rodeo, right there. I can’t stress it enough.
Ramsey Russell: It could be safer waterfowling. Same camaraderie.
Tom Mau: The hunting world and the rodeo world are two of the same. It’s a big world out there, but it’s a small world. When you start to know the people and the good people that are involved in it, it’s not that big. There’s some fantastic people out there.
The Best Laid Hunting Plans
He orchestrated that fantastic plan.
Ramsey Russell: This morning was a good plan. Tell me what was going on out there. We went to that pea field yesterday and there were peas galore, but the ducks weren’t hitting any one place in that section, they were everywhere.
Tom Mau: Yeah, they were bouncing all over. Monte, go ahead and tell him about that.
Ramsey Russell: Monte put together the plan we orchestrated this morning.
Tom Mau: He did. He orchestrated that fantastic plan.
Ramsey Russell: You sat back and saw some of it. It worked like a charm.
Monte Brekhus: With that west wind in a pea field, there ain’t no cover. You ain’t going to hide nine eyes out there. With that little waterway going through there, itt was perfect with the west wind, the way it came out like that. If they’re going to work that field all day like that, I’m like, “West wind, let’s get them guys down in that gully there and get the decoys right on top of that hill.”
Tom Mau: It was the only place we had cover for that many people, actually. It was really good.
Ramsey Russell: This morning when it started getting light, we were down on the low spot, very hidden in the grass. We were perfectly invisible and the decoys were sky lined on that ridge in front of us, maybe 20 yards. The kill hole was right dead center between all that and the way that water bent, once they got in there, they were toast.
Tom Mau: Yeah, it was kind of the perfect setup.
Ramsey Russell: Perfect set up.
Monte Brekhus: It was fun to be sitting back in that tree hole watching that first volley that came in.
Ramsey Russell: I thought the Moon had screwed us. It was a bright, full Moon. I’m thinking, “Man, I bet these things fed all night,” because it seemed late to me.
Tom Mau: It honestly was a heck of a shoot for a bluebird boy warning like that, to have that many guys come in.
Monte Brekhus: The first one that came in didn’t even look at us.
Ramsey Russell: No, they did not. They’re thinking they’re going back to water. They fed all night. They’re going back to water. We’re going to sit out here and twiddle our thumbs.
Tom Mau: Then, we got some black geese out of it, too, which was fantastic. That’s a bonus.
Ramsey Russell: Sure did. That was a great hunt.
Tom Mau: I really thought it was, and to invite them guys from North Carolina in there with us, everybody had a fun time. There goes to show you, Ramsey. We’re locals, we’ll take you and we’ll take that other guy. If he and this other guy don’t have anywhere to hunt, jump in.
Ramsey Russell: Jump in.
Monte Brekhus: Yeah, get as many as you can, in case it was like on Sunday, and you sit in the decoys and watch the birds fly over a mile high. Then you got somebody to talk to, anyway.
Ramsey Russell: That was fun.
Tom Mau: It’s either going to be really good or not really good.
Ramsey Russell: I think about that snow goose hunt. I was glad I was with some family. I met some new family because I was a tad humble that morning. The birds had no interest whatsoever. They had too many choices to go, there were too many birds, too many eyeballs. We couldn’t have been better hidden, better set up, better nothing, then finally.
Tom Mau: Also, I recommend if you’re going to sit in the snow goose decoys, load your shotgun.
Ramsey Russell: I had to ask for a cup of coffee. I had to go the boy’s room. It was 16° in daylight.
Tom Mau: I’m truly just giving you…
Ramsey Russell: No, I’m telling the story, it was like finding a Tootsie roll in Mamaw’s big old handbag. By the time I got back, the geese started flying and I forgot to put the shell back in the pipe and that one juvie came over. He flew over Monte, he didn’t shoot. He flew over you, you didn’t shoot. He got right there and my fangs came out of the wheelhouse. That’s a chip shot. When I showed him my gun, all I saw was that red shell stovepipe., and I’m like, “Well, that’s over. This bird’s going to live.”
Tom Mau: Well, that makes for good stories though.
Ramsey Russell: It’s actually a better story than having shot one juvenile.
Tom Mau: Absolutely.
Ramsey Russell: I’ll own it.
Tom Mau: We got some miles out of that one, didn’t we? But that’s the fun about it.
Special Traditions in Kenmare, North Dakota
It’s something that them kids remember for the rest of life.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve got one last question for you guys. I just find this kind of stuff interesting. As I’m driving into town the other day, every hilltop coming in town had a number on it. What’s up with that? It’s a big old number that you can see from outer space: 67, 66, 84, 89. What the heck is up with all that?
Monte Brekhus: It started in the 50s at some time. When the graduating class thought, “Let’s go put our number out there, the year we graduated, so everybody can see it.” You’ve seen some say state champs, some say KHS, some of them are pretty fancy, some of them are just a number. But it just caught on. I don’t think there’s a year missing from 53 to now.
Ramsey Russell: That’s incredible. We’re not talking about something that a class goes out there and spends 5 or 10 minutes on. How long would you think some of those took? Weeks, days?
Tom Mau: Probably about two or three good afternoons, because what they do is they dig a trench and then go pick rocks and put rocks in there and paint the rocks.
Ramsey Russell: That sounds like work.
Tom Mau: Yeah, but you know.
Monte Brekhus: You’re a senior, there’s some beer drinking. It was a fun time putting the rocks in there.
Tom Mau: Yeah. It’s something that them kids remember for the rest of life.
Ramsey Russell: Every time they come home, every time they drive by.
Tom Mau: Right. Memories.
Monte Brekhus: Now I remember the first ones are bringing their grandkids home and the first thing they want to do is go see grandpa’s rocks.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Tom Mau: Oh yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Somebody said the other day that it was on 60 Minutes or something one time. I mean that’s just cool stuff. That’s real American stuff right there. I love that kind of stuff. What’s the rest of y’all’s year going to be like? You just go out as you can until these birds are flowing south? Because I did not believe that the snow geese were gone, but now I do. The snow geese we hunt today, I believe, are telling them.
Geese Numbers in North Dakota & Other Game to Hunt
We’re starting to get back into the flyaway of things, migratory birds are coming back through here, even in the spring, and we’re getting some fantastic spring hunting here.
Tom Mau: I do believe that the major push to snow geese is through here, but the Canadian geese, after I’ve seen what I’ve seen today, are not, and I think the northern ducks are still yet to come.
Ramsey Russell: Y’all still have a big push of mallards coming.
Tom Mau: I think, as long as this weather holds a little bit, we’re going to have fantastic hunting for another week, week and a half.
Monte Brekhus: Deer season starts Friday like we were talking about earlier. That’s kind of the end of our duck hunting.
Tom Mau: Yep. That’s the thing for the locals, yes. Like Monte said, when deer season starts, nobody hunts birds anymore.
Ramsey Russell: In real winter time up here, y’all will get some -40 windchill days? It gets that cold, because we were talking about snow geese spread. When you’re in the part of world that every town had to build a bulletin board that says self-proclaimed coldest place in the world, it’s pretty damn cold.
Tom Mau: You know where the coldest place in the world is? Wherever I’m in January.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, no doubt up here. Will some of these big geese hang around this far north and winter through that or are they going to eventually leave out?
Tom Mau: Most of these geese will probably drop down to the big water locals to the Missouri River.
Ramsey Russell: Okay.
Monte Brekhus: There’s a damn there that will stay open all year, they’ll stay there.
Tom Mau: They’ll be there and then they’ll come back. The migratory birds will blow through.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, they’re just stopping over, feed and go, yep. Yeah, that’s pretty darn cold for anything. When do y’all start seeing birds come back?
Monte Brekhus: Mid-March.
Ramsey Russell: Big Canadas?
Tom Mau: In April, it’s been a little bit different in the last 15, 20 years. We’re starting to get back into the flyaway of things, migratory birds are coming back through here, even in the spring, and we’re getting some fantastic spring hunting here.
Ramsey Russell: Will they stay and pile up pretty good? Somebody told me, maybe this morning, the birds showed up earlier but they stayed late. The snow geese stayed a long time up here this year.
Monte Brekhus: That’s because there was so many unharvested wheat fields that never got combine because we had such a wet fall. They had unlimited feed. Driving around the last couple of days, looking at all the pheasants and the hunts, that’s all because of all that standing wheat. Every farmer had 1/4 of their wheat standing.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. That’s incredible. I guess they made it okay, though. I mean that’s just part of farming up in this part of the world, isn’t it?
Monte Brekhus: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Not a good year.
Monte Brekhus: That’s why you got insurance.
Ramsey Russell: I know you run elk and buffalo hunts out there on y’all’s pretty substantial family ranch. How long does that season run? How long were you doing?
Tom Mau: I usually start doing my elk hunts in September. The rut gets rolling about the 10th of September, I suppose. The roar is going by October 1st. I’ll do between 20 and 40 hunts a year on the Elk and the Buffalo.
Ramsey Russell: How late in the year will you go on those animals?
Tom Mau: I usually do not go any later than February on the elk. We can do them all year long, but everybody wants to hunt the bulls with the horns and the bison hunts are generally from the 15th of October on, because everybody wants the winter hair.
Ramsey Russell: That’s what I would think. I got into that hind piece of rug you threw on the bed last night. I know I couldn’t stay in that for long.
Tom Mau: Everybody wants a buffalo rug for their bedspread. Tell me how that worked out for you.
Ramsey Russell: It would probably work out pretty good if it were -40° and you’re sleeping on the ground outside. I see how Native Americans survived in this part of the world. Good gosh, that’s a warm rug.
Tom Mau: Yeah, they’re pretty heavy and it overheats you.
Monte Brekhus: There’s a reason they eat the third of what a cow would eat here. What they take for hay.
Tom Mau: Yeah, you can run about.
Ramsey Russell: They don’t burn as much energy, more energy efficient?
Tom Mau: Bison and elk both are native to North America and they’re efficient to the land. Beef cattle is not, and nothing against beef cattle, because we love it, but I guess my point is elk and bison are native animals to North America and they’re efficient to the land. They will go out and dig when it’s -20° and -10° and scrounge for that native grass that’s there. Versus, for a beef cow, you got to have a hay bale there. They’re just fantastic creatures to be around and live around because you learn so much from them. Then, you understand the history of how they made it. It’s pretty intriguing actually.
Ramsey Russell: I think the buffalo is one of the most iconic American species. It’s something about seeing them out there. I just love to just know they’re out there. I can’t imagine this country 150-175 years ago when there were millions of them migrating through the prairies.
Tom Mau: Well I get such a kick out of it. You get these hunters that want to shoot buffalo and they think they’re going to take a 300 win mag and just tip them over, take them off. “I’m going to bring my 300 win mag and just take him off his feet.” You ain’t going to do that.
Ramsey Russell: You tell me the other night about how the Native Americans would drive them over a cliff.
Monte Brekhus: There was a lot more of that than anything.
Ramsey Russell: They could really feed a village when you drive a several hundred buffalo off a cliff, couldn’t you? What were you telling me out there on your farm, you’ve got a rock or?
Monte Brekhus: A buffalo rock. A rub rock.
Ramsey Russell: Is that where they were fleshing them?
Monte Brekhus: No. This rock was sticking far enough out of the ground that [the buffalo] would walk around this to scratch them. This one that’s on our land is like a cone. It looks like a cone sticking out. After they walk around it so many times, they wear it on the ground. It’s about two feet above the ground and wore out about four feet down. There’s several of them, they dug up one just east of our place and they put that down to the park and with a big monument.
Ramsey Russell: Here in Kenmare?
Monte Brekhus: It’s at the Mouse River Park, which is straight north of Tolley.
Tom Mau: You’ll see these like the rock, but there’ll be a wallow below it. It’s just a divot in the ground where the buffalo used to wallow to get away from the bugs, the hill flies and stuff in the summer when they were migrating through. These buffalo would just wallow, and these wallows could be as big as half of a city block. They’re deep. Now they’re just a slough, but if you know what you’re looking for in this country, in this flat land…
Monte Brekhus: It’s a nice place to go look for arrowheads if you can pick it out. You’ll find some.
Ramsey Russell: Have y’all ever found some of those old petrified skull pieces like that around or something?
Tom Mau: Yeah, on the river bottoms you will find them.
Ramsey Russell: Those things could be thousands of years old.
Tom Mau: And even elk.
Ramsey Russell: Elk, wow. That’s some amazing country and I’ve had such a good time. You know I’m coming back next year, right?
Tom Mau: I hope so.
Ramsey Russell: Probably every year.
Tom Mau: I hope so.
Ramsey Russell: I might just move in.
Tom Mau: Well, we’d love to have you.
Ramsey Russell: Until it gets cold.
Tom Mau: Then you’re going out to help us feed the buffalo.
Ramsey Russell: Folks, thank y’all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere. Kenmare, North Dakota, absolute positive real America. Y’all need to come up here, hook up your truck, and hook up a trailer, and I’m not saying come to Kenmare, these folks wouldn’t appreciate it, but come up to this part of the world, get out of your backyard and go see some real America while it still exists. Thank y’all for listening. I’ll see you next time on the road trip. Bye.