Sometime in the late 1990s, Jay and Gary Haut of Jamestown, N.D., went to a team goose shoot in Bottineau, just south of the Canadian border. Unfortunately, geese hadn’t yet started to migrate. The hunt was a bust. But the idea got the brothers thinking. Their family roots were in Gackle, 200 miles south, known for sloughs, potholes and abundant local ducks.
The Haut brothers gathered a couple of other guys, formed a committee and in 2002 they launched Duck Fest, an effort to give their struggling small town an economic boost, and to improve the often tense relationship between hunters and landowners.
“It really helps the businesses in our little community,” said Warren Zenker, who’s farmed near Gackle since 1986. “I’ve had land in Duck Fest for the last 15 years, and you build the relationship with the hunters.
“All we ask is that when you come, you ask permission to come on the land, and you show respect. The respect from the out-of-state hunters in particular has been fantastic,” he said.
In the inaugural festival, 12 four-man teams competed. The second year, registration was capped at 30 teams, many from Minnesota. That limit still stands. And on the wall at the Gackle American Legion Hall, headquarters of Duck Fest, hangs a list of 33 teams on the waiting list. They’d better not get their hopes up, because teams rarely drop out. The combination of great hunting and a party-like atmosphere breeds loyalty among the participants. The whole event has the feel of a family reunion…