Hunting Swans With Beams On The Prairie


By Dan Wennerlind

As we packed up our gear at 3:00 am on a cold October morning we headed west to meet waterfowl legend Dave Beam of Beams On The Prairie, in southeastern North Dakota for what was sure to be an exciting adventure. My counterpart T.J. Sirovatka and I were both very fired up as this was not your standard waterfowl hunt. T.J and I had both successfully applied for a North Dakota Tundra Swan permit late last summer. This would be T.J’s first swan hunt and my first swan hunt over decoys.

As we arrived in camp and met with our outfitter and guide Dave Beam, he explained what we could expect on this non-traditional waterfowl hunt. Dave explained that hunting swans was more like hunting big game than it was hunting ducks and geese. Dave said that there is nothing else like watching a flock of monster swans set into your spread, as they can easily reach over 20 lbs with a 7 foot wing span.

And be assured that Dave knows his stuff. Dave started Beams On The Prairie Guide Service over 10 years ago and since then he has spent well over 100 days each year in the field hunting every species of waterfowl that the central flyway has to offer. This would be my third hunt with Dave in the past 3 years and I would have to say that hands down Dave Beam is the most dedicated waterfowl hunter/outfitter that I have ever met. Since I have known Dave, he has suffered several health complications that would keep even the most avid waterfowl hunter down and out….but Dave’s attitude and perseverance have allowed him to overcome several life threatening ailments and he has only missed a handful of days in the field because of it.

But back to our mission: Operation Tundra Swan! We were up and at ‘em at 5:00 am on this the 31st day of October- Halloween. Dave informed us that we were in no big rush to get out to the pre-scouted feed pond that he had been watching over the past week hold up to 50 swans.Dave explained that Tundra swans are not early risers like other species of waterfowl but they are very patternable. Dave said that he had five roost and feed ponds in a 4 mile radius and his past clients have achieved very high success taking swans in this very same area over the past few years. As we drove up to the slough we were able to count over a dozen swans already sitting on a mud flat out in the middle of the lake. Dave said that today we would be using a spread 3 swan decoys.

Dave informed us that he has used up to 2 dozen swan decoys and has had just as good success with 3 decoys as 2 dozen. Dave also informed us that as a special Halloween treat this would be a combo swan / diver hunt since most every other small lake and slough in the area had frozen over the night before. We were not even set up for 5 minutes when our fourth partner and swan hunter for the day Chris Peterson called out SWANS! We had an 8 pack dropping in from behind. They swung right around and set in…nobody moved a muscle. They looked like B52’s coming in with their massive white bodies. Unfortunately they slid by just out of gun range and kept going. What a sight!

As we anxiously awaited the next flock of swans, the divers started dive bombing our spread of 10 blue bill decoys that we strategically placed about 25 yards in front of the swan spread. It only took the four of us 45 minutes to take a limit of full plumaged Blue Bills, Redheads several other species of ducks. We also had opportunities at Canvasbacks, Buffleheads, Golden eyes and Mallards. Chris even took a very nice drake Green Wing Teal while T.J. shot a full plumaged drake shovelor that almost made it as a wall hanger. By two o’ clock we decided to pack it in and grab some lunch while warming up a bit as the 20 mph NW winds took their toll on us with the temps only reaching 30 degrees that day. After lunch we were all revived and headed back to the north side of the slough on a little point that jutted out where a couple of Dave’s clients had taken two swans earlier in the week. About ½ hour after being set up we had a small flock of 5 swans work the outside edge of our decoys just out of gun range before they were pulled over to a flock of live birds sitting on the far side of the slough. Then it finally happened, a 3 pack of mature swans came out of now where. They dropped in with their big paddles down and made a swing right over the top of us, not more than 20 yards high. It was a sight to be seen. They made one big swing and settled right in our spread of two swan decoys, the perfect landing. Unfortunately as most every waterfowl hunter has experienced, they came in 10 minutes after shooting time so we were forced to let them go…but it was definitely a sight to behold.

Day two started out at 6:00 am and this day we meant business. We enjoyed our combo diver hunt the day before but today we only had one thing on our minds SWANS! As we made our way out of the motel a chill went down my back as it was well below freezing with 35 mph NW winds. Unfortunately earlier that night the wind died down to nothing and every lake in the area froze over, including the four sloughs holding swans in our area. Luckily for us our guide knew of every drop of water in the county and immediately took us to the only lake left with open water, located about 30 miles NW of our motel. And luckily for us it was holding swans. As we pulled up we saw a flock of 8 big birds lift off the far side. Then 10 minutes later a pair lifted off a land point in the middle of the lake that Dave had hunted successfully years before, not to mention about 50, 000 snow geese.

Being the only open water left in the county there were more birds on this chain of two small lakes than we had seen since we had arrived. There were also large flocks of every species of diver duck not to mention thousands of mallards working the area fields. But today we were focused and it was swans or bust! We made our way out to the point only to find that after 10 feet off the edge, it dropped off to over 20 feet deep. We were forced to set up back on a mud flat on the other end of the point, where we could get our decoys out far enough to be seen. With minimal cover we settled into a thick patch of thistles which offered a very nice make shift blind but very little wind resistance as the 35 mph winds ate through our gortex coats. We saw about 10 different flocks of swans pass overhead throughout the day but they were definitely migrating south. We lasted until 3:00 pm before the weather and hunger took its toll on us. With Mother Nature against us on this day, the swans had gotten the best of us. We reluctantly gave in and made our way back to the motel. There we met up with Chris and another one of Dave’s guides. They had hunted Canada geese in the field that morning and limited out in about ½ hour. Chris said that 10 hunters could have taken limits of geese that day. Although we went home with out our swans, I personally enjoyed the best diver duck hunting I have had in the past 10 years and the overall trip was a definite success. I will say that without the expertise and experience of our guide, I don’t know that we would have even seen a swan all trip as they were very selective in the sloughs they fed and roosted in, especially that late in the year. And let me say this, it would not have mattered if we would have killed a bird all trip, spending time with our guide and friend Dave Beam made the trip an absolute success and a very enjoyable experience. With all of the stories and light heartedness, Dave offered us exactly what was needed to last on a mud flat for 8 hours with 35 mph winds ripping through your skin, without firing our guns. For that reason alone I was able to offer Dave Beam our most prestigious award as’s 2007 Outfitter of The Year!

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