Waterfowl and winter go hand in hand in my mind. First, fall comes to mind as the start of bird season. We can chase grouse and dove and all of that is a big warm up for the best time of year, waterfowl season. December has come on full force with winter. We didn’t even see snow until this month. The nice thing is that with it comes ice. If you don’t own a boat and spend a lot of time on your feet hunting, ice is your best friend. It forces ducks to move around, you can find spots where you can break the ice and ducks come right in; it really makes your job easier.
The Friday before our hunt, I went on a bit of a solo hunt/scouting trip. I had a couple of spots I wanted to go but wasn’t quite sure where to commit. During my solo hunt I managed to put down a single Drake Green Head Teal. It was nice not coming home empty handed but the best part was getting to see where the ducks were and where I should take Kaela hunting on Monday. That weekend I went to work and, like always, waited anxiously for Monday and our afternoon hunt.
Monday came and of course, work had kicked my butt the night before. Kaela was working her second job and I was taking a nap on the couch. She scared the crap out of me when she woke me up since I didn’t hear her walking in. I told her to get ready and we got our things together and loaded up in the truck. I again had a couple of spots in mind and I was planning on seeing the ice situation before I decided where we should commit to hunting. I used our OnXhunt app’s new weather feature and it looked like good hunting weather. We went to the first spot where I had shot my teal the Friday before. We got there and the disappointment quickly turned to frustration. There was no ice. All of the ice I was excited about had melted away over the weekend. We had a cold front coming on Wednesday but that warm up must have been just enough. I immediately knew that all my scouting had gone to a serious gamble.
With this new-found knowledge, we decided to move on to the spot that seemed the best when I was scouting. Usually this place holds some ducks and gets enough movement that we should be able to make something happen. As we pulled up, we could see some ducks out on the water. I told Kaela if we’re sneaky and hurry, we might be able to jump shoot them. This was Kaela’s first hunt with her new shotgun, so I was excited to get her shooting it. Mostly I was excited for her to get her first kill with it. We had a good ¼ mile hike so I knew it was a bit of a stretch that the ducks would stay close to shore, but it was fun trying to get to them. As I had expected, the ducks had moved in out of range, but it was still fun putting the stalk in on them.
Since all the ice had melted, our hike to our blind wasn’t an easy casual walk. It was a miserable hike through sticky mud that did everything it could to try and pull your wader boots off as you slid around. The entire way to the creek we were hunting I cursed the sun for melting all the ice. Ice just makes things so convenient when you’re a waterfowl hunter. We eventually made it to our spot. It looked OK, not super promising but we were there and that’s what hunting is all about. I found a decent spot for us to hide in the reeds and had Kaela go in to our hide while I set up my decoys. The water was a little deeper then I remembered and the 3-foot lanyards on my decoys weren’t deep enough in some spots. I had one decoy start making its way down stream. Kaela trying to be helpful and not wanting me to lose my decoy, went after the decoy. I knew that if the decoy wasn’t staying, the water was deeper than 3 feet. Well, Kaela wasn’t that aware of that. She quickly found her self slipping into the stream. I knew from experience that really the deepest it got was about waste deep but for a fresh new hunter, thigh deep can be intimidating, we’ve all been there. She was not very pleased with her surprise, but she still got my decoy for me. I finished setting up the decoys and went to sit down with her in our hide.
Sadly, my predictions came true. As we sat up, there weren’t many birds moving around. We had seagulls flying but the ducks just weren’t there anymore. I could hear a few ducks down the way from us a bit and tried calling but that didn’t seem to do much. We only had a couple of hours and we were really hoping for a good shoot. I was really hoping to get Kaela on her first duck with her new shotgun. We had a flock of mallards come close, but something spooked them. I think they could see our faces, or something wasn’t right in the decoys. I decided to move some of the decoys around, so they would stand out a bit more and hopefully look more natural.
While we were sitting there, the cold started setting in. I had told Kaela that a sweater would be enough, but I should have had her wear her jacket. It wasn’t super cold for me but then again, I have been out hunting a lot while she’s been at work. While she was trying to keep her hands warm in her waders, I saw two ducks flying towards us. I whispered “here they come, here they come” but Kaela never heard it since she was wearing ear plugs. Two Green Wing Teal came in range and something spooked them again. As they began to turn away, I pulled my gun up and shot. One hen came straight down while the other duck flew away. I was excited for my duck but bummed that Kaela hadn’t got a shot off. Since she started hunting with me, getting her on birds has been my number one goal and really, the best part of going hunting. Come to find out, she couldn’t see the ducks and couldn’t hear me at all when I whispered. I was excited for my duck but sad that I didn’t get her attention so she could have gotten a shot off, too. To solve that issue, we decided that a nudge is a better way of getting her attention.
We waited for the sun to go down and continued to try and call some ducks in. There was very little movement from the ducks and we ended the day with just a single duck in hand. Still, we had fun hunting together and made some good memories. Hunting with someone you love always adds to the experience. The last part was gathering our decoys when shooting hours ended. It was a solid 32 degrees and I knew that I had to push Kaela’s limit a little bit. I had 3 decoys in a somewhat shallow area of the creek and I wanted her to grab them. It took some convincing, but Kaela was brave and walked into some water that was a bit deeper than her comfort zone. I was right along with her holding her hand, so she knew she would be safe. After she got her three decoys, I finished putting the decoys away and we hiked back to the truck.
All in all, we had a good time hunting. Sometimes it seems that people forget that hunting isn’t about limits or trophies. Hunting is about connecting with something bigger than yourself and making memories from experiences. The best memories are the ones you share.
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- Wear a coat, or bring one along since it gets cold as the sun sets down.
- Bring Gloves.
- One ear plug is enough and keeps you from missing an opportunity.
- Target shooting really can make a difference.
- Escaping Decoys = Deep water
- Don’t Panic, you sink deeper
- Marsh Chair = A must for bad knees
- Be ready for ducks that come out of nowhere