Not much duck action on the not-yet-frozen water
A mallard flew past the decoys with the wind and then banked back into the spread. It cupped up and came down hard but started winging hard at about 15 yards high. I called the shot and we both emptied our guns without drawing a feather from the duck. Sienna whined from her spot off in the boat.
We had been hunting for about 45 minutes and that was officially the first duck observed, heard, or otherwise noticed. Ten minutes later, a flock of 25 lesser scaup buzzed the decoys from behind us but were out of range before we noticed them.
The day held promise the night before. I scouted and found ducks there. I saw at least 500 ducks from at least four species working in the reeds that the water had not iced over. Small ponds and creeks had frozen over with a southerly wind that day. The next morning was supposed to be a west wind. I knew just the spot to set up. We would easily shoot a limit each.
That was the hope that led to a fitful night’s sleep — the kind when you keep waking up to make sure you haven’t missed your alarm. And, at 0330 hours, I rose well ahead of the alarm and started getting ready. I didn’t want any surprises making me late, I might have had to fight for a spot at the landing. This was it, the beginning of the last big push of ducks. We would be frozen out by next weekend, so this was sleep-when-you’re-dead type hunting.
Nothing went wrong that morning. Even the zipper on Sienna’s neoprene vest started on the first try and worked well. She hates that vest, so between her and the zipper, it took 15 minutes to get it on the last time. And then five other things took too long and suddenly I’m 45 minutes late. Today the vest went on in a minute and nothing went wrong. Today I was ahead of time. I had the boat completely set up and loaded, with engine test fired, well before Clyde arrived. I could feel the fast and furious action to come.
The new-to-me motor worked perfectly. The decoys went out smoothly and set just about right for the coming west wind. The blind went up the best it ever had. We were ready 45 minutes before shooting hours, with the shotguns loaded so we wouldn’t spook any ducks closer to shooting light.
I zipped up the parka, pulled the hood over my head, set the alarm to vibrate for five minutes before shooting hours and we settled in to enjoy the morning on the marsh (read: nap).
Ten minutes prior to shooting hours, three brant were flying around honking. We were awake and ready. But it turned out we heard no ducks flying or quacking or anything. That west wind turned out to be a northwest wind. Still we waited. And we waited some more. And, after that, we waited some more. I had plenty of time to figure out that we should be about 100 yards to the northwest with a J pattern instead of where we were with a modified U pattern, given the actual wind. And by the time that lone mallard showed up, we were plenty stiff and cold. I told Sienna she should be happy she didn’t have to get in the cold water. She didn’t seem comforted. She kind of gave me the “if you miss another you’re fired” look.
I asked Clyde how long he wanted to hunt. He said, “Well, I doubt I’ll make it another hour today.” I told him I was thinking another 15 minutes. He seemed surprised. He said he had to answer the call of nature and stood up to start the process while wearing chest waders. I tell you, my wife just doesn’t appreciate what I do and what it takes to put fricassee of duck on the table.
Not even one duck teased us during this whole process. The geese that flew out that morning numbered less than 50 before I called the hunt. The wind, of course, was up to a good 15 mph for picking up decoys, and that leak where the legs come together in my waders hadn’t been found or fixed. But at least we didn’t spook any ducks by loading up early. And the guys that went grouse hunting had a banner day because woodcock flew in and the ducks migrated out.