From the Editor
For me, last year’s waterfowl season had a less-than-stellar beginning. I had promised my fiancée’s son, Marshall, that I would take him on his first-ever duck hunt; however, returning home late the evening before the opener, I managed to hit the wrong button on the alarm and failed to set it. When I finally woke the next morning, rousing the 11-year-old for school when he thought he’d be going hunting was not pleasant.
I promised Marshall I’d make it up to him, and the following Saturday we were awake, dressed, fed and on the river before dawn. We set up in a spot where I’d taken ducks in the past and that likely would offer good pass-shooting.
But it was not to be, as in the first hour of legal light we saw nothing but a pair of woodcock settling into the nearby alders. Nor did we hear a shot upriver or down. In fact, I was about to call it a morning when a fortuitous glance behind revealed a drake mallard streaking toward us at treetop height. I instinctively threw my gun to my shoulder, swung and sent the duck splashing into the river. It happened that fast.
I felt bad for not giving Marshall the shot, but he seemed happy to have witnessed the action and to hold the mallard when my wirehair, Gunnar, retrieved it.
A half-hour later, having seen nothing more, we returned to the car and drove to a friend’s millpond where shoreline woods would provide cover for a jump-shoot. Leaving Gunnar in his crate, we headed down through a hayfield and entered a thick spruce swamp. An old snowmobile trail allowed passage, and we were about to break out into more open woods when we heard a lone honk from the pond.
I froze in my tracks and turned to Marshall. “Geese!” I hissed.
Sure enough, as we neared the water the honking became more evident and we began seeing pieces of white, black and tan bobbing in the distance. But the Canadas already sensed something was wrong, and we were still 80 yards away when the flock of several dozen lifted off and clamored over the treeline. My only hope was that they hadn’t taken whatever ducks were there with them.
Thankfully, they hadn’t, and when we reached the next point I barely could believe my eyes: There, scattered about the pond in singles and small groups, were maybe 60 ducks. Mallards, black ducks, woodies and green-winged teal. More ducks than I had ever seen in that spot before. And not one of them had a clue we were there.
Marshall and I huddled, formulated a plan, and on three stood and high-stepped toward the water. All motion out front ceased as the ducks had an Oh, hell moment, then came a tumultuous roar as the birds lifted en masse.
It was hard to pick a shot in the tempest of wheeling, twisting bodies, but I found a drake woodie and managed to miss twice. Fumbling to reload, I was amazed to watch Marshall, toting a single-shot 20, coolly swing on a flock of greenwings and drop one into the drink. “Way to go!” I yelled before snapping my gun closed and whiffing twice more on a quickly departing black.
And again, as quickly as it had begun, it was over. We walked back to the car and fetched Gunnar, who fished Marshall’s hen from the water, and then took time to snap photos of a boy and his first duck—actually, his first game animal of any sort.
It was a proud moment for both a young hunter and the guy lucky enough to witness it. And it was a great restart to the season.
- By: Ralph P. Stuart