Nest Dragging in North Dakota

It’s often easy to focus on the superior features of Chippewa boots – the classic silhouette, durable Vibram rubber outsoles, or the heavy duty oiled leather. But, for a brand that immediately conjures images of classic American craftsmanship I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the boots than to simply put them to good use in America’s Heartland! And that’s exactly what I did on a recent Ducks Unlimited TV trip to North Dakota.

I think the majority of the waterfowlers and outdoors television enthusiasts have a somewhat limited sense of the “boots on the ground” conservation work that organizations like Ducks Unlimited fund year after year. Last month I was fortunate to be a part of an in-depth waterfowl research project near Minot, ND. There I met Brandi Skone, a graduate student from Montana State University, who was researching the effectiveness of winter wheat as alternative nesting habitat for waterfowl.

You see winter wheat resembles native cover like grasslands and since winter wheat is planted in September it provides ample cover for nesting birds throughout the spring and summer. And because the crop isn’t harvested until late July or early August there is plenty of time for the ducklings to hatch and leave the nest. This is ideal Brandi explained because spring-seeded crops simply won’t supply sufficient cover for the migratory birds in time for nesting.

Since I’m a producer/boot guy and not a wildlife biologist my role was pretty simple – highlight the important work Brandi, her crew leaders and research technicians were performing in the field. For a short-timer like me, finding, counting, and monitoring nests was pretty fun, all you need are a couple 4-wheelers, two hundred feet of anchor rope, and a team of research techs with keen eyes.

Nest dragging is a relatively simple, cost-effective, and accurate way for wildlife biologists to locate nesting birds. 4-wheelers drive the fields parallel to each other pulling a gentle loop of rope over the wheat. The sound of the bending grass flushes the nesting hens, giving the spotter riding on the back of the 4-wheeler the perfect opportunity to locate the nest. It’s important to note that the rope doesn’t damage the wheat crop or the nests.

The nests are immediately flagged. This is when Brandi and her team go to work. They’re looking at the plumage used to create the nest to identify species. Are the feathers mallard, pintail, gadwall, or blue-winged teal? The eggs are counted, candled, and then returned to the nest. And as an added measure of protection Brandi and her team mark the nests with a 4-foot fiberglass rod and fluorescent surveyors tape exactly 5-yards north of the actual nest.

Brandi and her crew labored in the field from mid-April to mid July. And at the busiest point of the summer they were gathering data six days a week and averaging 14-hours a day. Impressive work by the next generation of conservationists and wildlife biologists.

Mike Garner Outdoors
mike garner outdoors

Chippewa has teamed up with Mike Garner, a lifelong sportsman and television personality with a love for everything outdoors, to bring you Mike's journey across the United States in his Chippewa boots.

View Mike Garner's Blog Articles