What’s a beautiful duck hunt?
No duck hunt is perfect. Often we attempt to reach perfection, but duck hunting is too dynamic to ever be perfect. Somewhere along the line, something goes wrong to diminish the effort slightly. When that happens the hunt is no longer perfect, but it is still beautiful. And, that’s the way it was on Saturday January 9th.
My hunting friend Tom Billingsley and I arrived at Mayberry around shooting time. As usual Tom was ready to go and I was lollygaging around with my gear. We got into the marsh and set up by about 8:00 AM. A high fog settled in and there were very few ducks on the pond. We put out three mallard decoys, set up Lola’s dog stand to keep her dry and settled in. Tom took his position about 75 yards from me and I sat on my tule stool
As I lifted the pintail whistle to my mouth and twirled my tong to make the sound of a drake sprig, three birds came in over the top of me from behind and passed over the decoys whistling – two drakes and a hen. They flew past the decoys, made a u-turn and passed back over the decoys, arriving on my left at about 30 yards. Boom, I hit a drake, boom he dropped. Lola jumped from her stand and made the retrieve.
Well, she made most of the retrieve. I walked the last few yards and picked up the bird. Three minutes into the hunt and we had our first bird, However, perfection had already eluded us and thus the hunt could now only be beautiful.
The action slowed after the shooting and it was a while before more birds began to work. There were a few teal and wigeon, but we wanted mallards and sprig so we waited. A marsh wren hunted in the cattail a few feet from me. It alway impresses me that they are so unafraid of humans.
Geese were calling in the fog above us – mostly white fronts, but there were also a few snows and Aleutians. Occasionally I called on my spec call, but only one came in and Tom later informed me that the bird had slipped by me in range.
As I sat waiting, a black weasil like critter ran across a downed patch of cattail about thirty yards away. It was the first mink I’ve ever seen, but it wasn’t in sight very long.
Eventually a flock of mallards circled to my call and passed directly overhead. I knocked down a drake. Things were looking up.
I played with my camera and attempted to video the marsh wren, but it wouldn’t hold still.
Although we didn’t take a lot of shots, working birds held our attention and the morning flew by. A mallard drake passed by and I called, but he didn’t turn. A couple minutes later he came back and flew right past Tom who dropped him with one shot. Lola made a fine retrieve and now we had three nice birds with most of the day still ahead of us.
After retreating to the trailer for some soup, we returned to our decoys and more action. Teal, wigeon and spoonies were the first to work the pond, but we held out. About three in the afternoon, mallards and sprig began to drop down. Who knows where they came from or why, but they had arrived. And, they came to the call.
After I dropped a drake mallard that buried himself in a thick cattail patch, Lola dug him out. She didn’t retrieve him, but did point him out to me. After she snorted into the cattail, I walked over and peered into the crevice she had made with her head. Sure enough there he was.
The closest to perfection we came all day was on the next series of ducks. First a pair of pintail came in towards the decoys from behind Tom – heading east. As they passed over the decoys, I called on my mallard call and the banked away from me to the north while setting their wings and dropping down.
It looked as if they were about to come up short and land to the north of the decoys so I made a soft mallard call they the held up off the water long enough to attempt to land in from of Tom. That’s when Tom dropped the drake. Lola made the retrieve.
Within minutes, a flock of mallards passed by and I hailed them with the mallard call – they banked and passed behind me. I chuckled on the mallard call as they passed behind me and disappeared behind the cattail on my left. The next thing I knew they reappeared at about 40 yards in front of me and landed between me and Tom. I stood up and they jumped from the water heading directly over Tom who dropped the drake.
Birds continued to appear overhead and a flock of mallards circled around us to the north and turned back heading directly towards me. They were low and they were humming. I took a drake with a head-on shot (always thrilling) and swung to another drake but missed. It’s a lot more difficult to make doubles when you’re shooting only drakes. It was the first duck we shot at without killing it all day. It was also the last.
To finish the hunt off, a couple hundred greenwing teal came in off the nearby fields and worked the pond over our decoys. Sometimes the two groups of birds would come in from opposite directions at full speed and nearly collide with each other. The sound of the air rushing over their wings and the speed with which they passed at only a few yards was thrilling.
We picked up about 4:30 and made it back to camp with a little light left. We hadn’t seen or heard another hunter all day.
With a four-hour drive ahead of him, Tom posed for a photo before he left.
It was a beautiful hunt.