Opening Duck Hunt-The Thing Duck Hunters Live For.

e442593c-a825-4e8d-ba0b-2f7c77466beb.jpgIt’s finally here! Duck season opened for us here in Utah at the beginning of October. Just a few days before, I had been up in the mountains chasing grouse for the last time. That last grouse hunt wasn’t successful and the only thing that had me excited was that duck season was around the corner.  Duck season is what I wait for from the second duck season ends. I was excited about this hunt and was looking for a good start for the season. One of the best things is having a good hunt to start duck season. I decided to go to Bear River Bird Refuge, one of my favorite duck hunting spots.

Last year, Bear River Bird Refuge had done some phragmites control on some of its land. Right across from where I hunt, they had burned out most of it. I remember it being a barren wasteland. I don’t think any ducks even landed in there. I was worried that this year, they would burn my hunting spot. I didn’t let that stop my excitement. I got to the refuge about an hour before the shooting hours. This year I had a few new tricks up my sleeve. I had bought quite a few more decoys. Maybe that’s an overstatement, I had bought about a dozen more decoys. I wanted to find a new way to make my decoys pop out a little more and so I got some Canvasback decoys to put some bright colors into my decoys. I also got a motion decoy. I bought a MOJO Rippler and I was hoping that in low wind situations it would help me with putting some movement into my decoy spread. I had a plan on how to adjust my decoys, but I wasn’t going to know if it would work until I got out in the water.bdddf2b0-32fd-44b6-b7db-d3f1479d074b

I did have one more trick, I had seen in social media somewhere (honestly, I can’t remember where) that this guy was walking down a dike pushing a baby stroller carrying all his hunting gear. This is genius to me. I was planning on getting a beat-up mountain bike and attaching one of those baby carriers so I can get my decoys further from people, but I ended up just sticking to just a baby stroller. My spot is a long walk away from my truck and with the added decoys, my stroller was going to work perfectly. I was able to load my decoys and my marsh chair on the stroller. I chose to carry my shotgun on me in case shooting hours snuck up on me and I needed to get a few shots off. It didn’t take long for my fear to come true, only a few yards into the dike, I noticed that the vegetation that I had used as landmarks were totally gone. They had burned out my hunting area.

My worry turned into frustration. I understand that I’m just a lowly hunter, but my cover was gone. Looking around other hunters were setting up. I could see their headlamps all around me. I decided to take the first gamble of the day and decided to still hike over to my spot.  The stroller made it easy, but it was still a long walk. I got to about where I turn away from the dike and all I could see is black in front of me. I stood there thinking for a second and as I stood there, the sun started to put some light over the mountains and dawn was starting to come. That same sunlight, shed light on some hope for this hunt. It kicked just enough like that I could see patches of reeds out in the middle of the refuge. This was my only option; those small patches of reeds were the only cover available. I did see one more benefit, this would help my decoys stand out if I set up in the right spot. I set up in the first spot that looked decent.

dabd706a-817a-40f2-923e-beaf5423b2c4Soon my alarm was going off and it was shooting hours. The shotgun chorus started, and it sounded like a thunderstorm had just come in. With it, ducks started flying everywhere. I set my last decoys up and got ready for the hunt. As I usually do, my first few shots were rushed, and I was missing left and right. At one point I had a duck fly and almost hit me in the head as it tried to land in my decoys. It caught me by surprise, and I was pulling the trigger before my shotgun was even shouldered. Needless to say, that duck survived. Once the sun was up, I was able to take a better look at my surroundings. There was still a lot of gunfire and ducks were being hesitant about setting down anywhere. I watched a few ducks setting down a bit away behind some other reeds. After watching this a couple of times, I looked at my decoys. The decoys were a bit hidden still and I couldn’t get a good spot for ducks to land coming in. I decided to take my second gamble. I decided to move again.

During those first morning hours, I had seen ducks landing behind some reeds about a quarter-mile away from me. It looked like there was some better cover for me and it looked like the wind was moving the water better out there. I picked up the decoys and made a move. I remember last year I wanted to try out an area about where I was heading. The mitigation fires didn’t reach these reeds for some reason and that was ok with me. I had been struggling to get covered up and hidden and the extra cover was welcomed. Decoys were spread and I chose a spot to set my marsh chair. It wasn’t long after I sat down that the ducks started moving. They danced in groups of 5, sometimes more. There was a flock of geese that kept teasing all the hunters, but they never set down anywhere. I was listening to the geese when a flock of 7 gadwalls landed in my decoys. I watched them for a second and waited to see what they would do.

c6d3c23b-b9a5-43c4-80a6-0bb3a1d20910The gadwall started feeding and swimming around. They had one duck that stood looking out. The lookout stayed just a few feet away from the group. This reminded me of how geese do something similar. When they’re in a flock, there’s always a lookout goose. I hadn’t realized that gadwall uses a sentry duck. A few minutes had gone by and I didn’t see any other ducks moving. I singled out that sentry duck. I began to line up on it when it noticed me and faster than I could blink, the flock of gadwall took to the sky. I shouldered my shotgun and creating my own thunder, I was able to knock down the sentry gadwall. I attempted shooting at another one in the flock but missed. That sentry was the first duck of the season for me. It was redemption from my month of grouse hunting, turned nature walks.

Now as a form of habit or tradition, or superstition, I grabbed the duck and pulled one of its wings so I could see the colors on it. I then turned and looked at its back feathers, I am still crazy about the patterns that feathers make. My excitement was invigorating. Sitting down on my marsh chair I awaited the next flock. Soon I discovered a problem with this new location. About 70 yards behind me, there was a group of hunters and their dogs. They were very loud, and my decoys really helped them out. Ducks would see my decoys up high and start making their circles coming down. They would do a flight right over my decoys just out of shooting range and then go for the big loop to line up for their landing and would cut down just over the top of those guys hunting. Every time the ducks did that, the thunder of shotguns would go off, the ducks would leave, and dogs would be sent out.

665aee9b-d24c-4117-b77d-291cc2644495I would have had more shot opportunities if it wasn’t for that. I did have a couple of single geese come into my decoys. It must have been the canvasback decoys that did it. Both geese only lost a few feathers, but none fell victim to the scattergun thunder. As the morning went on, ducks were getting smarter and the shooting had slowed down. Other hunters must have reached their limits and they must have gone home already. The ducks also changed their pattern. I should have adjusted my decoys, but they were working, and ducks were still coming in. I watched a large flock of mallards come flying in. There must have been about 10 mallards in this flock. They came straight at me and then made a sharp right turn. Picking out the trailing drake mallard, the thunder roared again and down went the drake mallard. I was surprised. My horrible shooting had done nothing but spread feathers everywhere but this time I was able to connect.

af15d6ca-a883-45c9-9da5-1e7261c0d79dWalking up, the drake mallard was sitting in the water perfectly still. I took a picture of him before retrieving him. The drake had 3 beautiful curls on its tail feathers. I have always wanted to shoot a nice drake mallard with big curls on its tail. The drake was still coming out of his summer feathers and part of its collar was still grey. I liked the character of that drake mallard. He had been around for a while and survived multiple duck hunters, it had lived through the summer and was still getting changed into his beautiful fall colors. I did my usual appreciation ritual and then returned to my marsh chair. About this time, I had to leave.

I ended the hunt with renewed enthusiasm and motivation. The grouse season had taken some heart out of me and these two ducks brought that back. Duck hunting does that, it keeps us all moving along, to some it even keeps us alive. It takes effort and most of the time it pays off. Even in no duck days, there are benefits from simply hiking out and getting some exercise. My season started out with a win and I no longer must wait for duck season. Now it’s time for more adventures.

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