Waterfowl destination nestled near Minatare
MINATARE — As the brisk morning air danced in front of a bright orange and pale blue sky, the sound of cackling ducks and geese surrounded a river bed south of Minatare.
While the sun peeked over the horizon turning the sky into an array of oranges, reds and blues, Cheyenne Ridge guide Ross Juelfs threw 33 duck decoys into the Winters Creek Canal south of Minatare in preparation for the morning hunt.
As a Kimball native, Juelfs grew up in a family of hunters and helped his father guide from a young age. At the age of 8, he shot his first pheasant and the following year, he took his first duck. Juelfs has turned his knowledge and passion for hunting into a career. He is in his 11th year serving as a guide for Cheyenne Ridge Outfitters at the North Platte Outpost in Minatare.
With sunrise 30 minutes away, the sound of gunshots echo through the trees. In Nebraska, regulations allow hunters to shoot 30 minutes before sunrise until sunset.
As the temperature hung at 26 degrees, Juelfs climbed into a blind beside the river and loaded a round into his 20-gauge shot gun. As the ducks started to lift, Juelfs called the birds to get them to decoy.
While the decoys attract birds closer to the blind, Juelfs said the sunlight plays a role, especially right after sunrise.
“It’s that time of the morning when they don’t really decoy all that well,” he said. “They’ll decoy better earlier because they can’t see all that well. Now they can see really well but there’s more sunlight on the decoys so they don’t quite look right to them.”
After a few minutes of waiting, a soft humming of the birds’ wings came from overhead and Juelfs grabbed his gun, waiting for the birds to approach the water.
The smell of gunpowder filled the blind as an empty shell cartridge flew through the blind as the mallard splashed into the water.
“I love that smell,” said Juelfs with a smile.
Now it was Lemoyne’s turn to retrieve the duck floating down stream. The black lab is Juelfs’ dog who accompanies him on hunting excursions. Lemoyne is responsible for returning the birds to the blind. As he made his way down to the riverbank, Lemoyne pranced through the ice before wading out into the faster waters for the bird.
“Anyone with an open mind should give hunting a try,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be scary. It’s fun.”
Once the first duck dropped, the waterfowl in the area took to the skies as nearby hunters also were getting in on some of the action. Within a couple hours, Juelfs shot three mallards despite not taking every duck within range. As another duck prepared to come into the decoys, Juelfs watched the green head intently and dropped the fourth mallard of the morning as the bird took a nose-dive into the water. Shortly after Lemoyne retrieved the duck, Juelfs shot his final mallard and Lemoyne went for a final swim and retrieved the final bird as Juelfs secured the ducks’ feet to a duck strap.
As the unloaded shot gun sat propped up in the blind, Juelfs took in the sights and sounds.
“I like watching them just as much as I like shooting them,” he said. “I don’t need to get every one of them.”
When Juelfs doesn’t have a shotgun in his hand, he guides hunting expeditions in the area. As a guide, his role is to call and send out Lemoyne to retrieve the birds.
Juelfs said hunters typically shoot for ducks in the morning and, if the morning hunt was successful, they look for pheasants and geese in the afternoon.
Cheyenne Ridge North Platte Outpost has 1,500 acres of private land for hunting around the Minatare and Bayard areas, with a 3-mile stretch along the North Platte River bottom. The North Platte River is one of the top five waterfowl hunting spots in America.
For anyone interested in a guided hunting excursion, Juelfs recommends people do their homework and ask for references.
“It’s nice to introduce people to hunting because a lot of people are not as fortunate to have a dad or grandpa take them out,” he said. “Try to find someone to take out because it’s an exciting and fun hobby once you get into it.”
For more information about Cheyenne Ridge, visit cheyenneridge.com or call 877-850-5144.