Waterfowl hunting is a lot like Christmas morning. Or I guess more like your birthday every time I go hunting. There’s always a surprise every time I go hunting. I never know what kind of ducks I’ll shoot that day, or if it’ll be a busy day with nonstop flights or if it’ll be slow until the sun goes down. This time around, I decided to bring along my friend Tom. Tom is from Ohio and spent a lot of time goose hunting on fields. He’s new to Utah and I decided it would be a good time taking him out on the marsh at Bear River Bird Refuge.
Tom had to have most of his hunting gear shipped over and once he got it all in, he gave me a call. We ended up deciding on an afternoon hunt. Like always, the anticipation was getting the best of me. I had everything ready and had a plan to set up on my honey hole. Knowing I was bringing Tom with me made me even more excited. I’m not a hunting guide or even close to being an expert at getting people on ducks but I always enjoy hunting with a buddy. The first stop we had to make was to my taxidermist. I had shot a Ruddy duck last January that I needed to get out of my tiny fridge. Tom and I met up and off we went.
We made our stop at my taxidermist and talked about the Ruddy duck. I tend to see taxidermists as artists and subject matter experts. We planned out a mount and my taxidermist’s eyes lit up and he all but jumped for excitement to do the mount. Heading out to the refuge, Tom and I were also full of excitement. We were about an hour behind schedule but being a weekday, I was hoping for most people to be at work. Pulling into the refuge, the parking lots were mostly empty. I had warned Tom that when I hunt we do a bit of walking. This time it wasn’t too far. We only had a mile and a half to hike to the spot I was hoping for. Maybe as a habit from work, I got out of my truck and looked around. The ski was clear blue and the sun was cooking everything around. I could feel a slight breeze hit my face and the smell of the marsh was rich. It was game time.
Unfortunately, the spot I was hoping for had some boaters set up on it. It was a bit frustrating to walk as far as we did just to have a couple of guys on a boat in our spot. We set up in a spot that seemed decent. The water was a bit shallow but I was hoping that it wouldn’t matter much. With little wind and not much cover, it ended up not being a very good spot at all. We watched ducks fly and get shot at by two different sets of hunters. The ducks didn’t even consider our spot. It was time to move. We had been watching the ducks work and land about 30 yards away from us. It was foreign territory to me but we didn’t have much choice if we wanted to bring home some ducks.
Tom spotted an area that looked like we could get some action on. It was kind of a cove next to some open water. I set up our decoys so that some of them were in the open water and they looked like they were swimming into this cove to a “quiet” spot. I was hoping that ducks would see the decoys on the open water and then see the cove and think that this was the place to go. I’ve tried setups like this before and they’ve been really hit or miss. The sun was starting to move west and soon the ducks were flying. I had expected the wind to pick up a bit and for the temperature drop to start moving ducks. So far the afternoon had been slow and I was counting on the sunset to bring the ducks. The other thing we changed is that we made sure we were more concealed. This spot had more reeds and it was easier to blend in.
As predicted, the ducks started moving. Tom and I were calling out ducks as we saw them. The ducks were coming from all sides. It was one of those moments that like a duck hunter, I felt like we were in it. We were in a hunt that all waterfowlers want. Soon we had flights of ducks buzzing our decoys. Our first few shots were more excitement and anticipation and not very accurate. That seems to be the way it goes sometimes. Eventually, I was able to slow my self down a bit and I was able to connect. I shot my first duck of the day. As soon as I could, I ran over to my duck. I had been struggling to identify the ducks as they were flying by. Once I had my duck in hand I knew why. I had a shoveler hen in my hand. The first shoveler I had ever shot. Watching the ducks fly, they were fast and all looked like hens. These shovelers were still eclipsed and that was the reason why I couldn’t spot any drakes. The ducks were smaller than a mallard and bigger than a teal and they flew somewhere in between.
Now we knew what we were chasing. The ducks were still moving. “ducks on the left” Tom said, locking me onto some mallards flying our way. We let them circle a couple of times. The problem was that the hunters on my honey hole were getting ducks coming in nonstop. It made it so that if we didn’t shoot after the second pass, we weren’t going to shoot at the ducks. When this flight came by, we opened fire. With my third shot, I managed to wound a drake mallard. Tom was still shooting too and I waited a bit before trying to chase my wounded mallard. That was a mistake. Even though he folded and dropped, I was able to catch a glimpse of it as he swam into the reeds. That was the last I would see of that duck.
The day was slowly coming to an end and the ducks were still coming in. The evening flight was not letting up. “Birds on the right”, “Birds on the left”. It seemed that we were constantly calling our ducks. The problem was still the obnoxious people set up on my honey hole. We could hear them yelling at their dogs and would watch as they would shoot at ducks that may have possibly been in the stratosphere. That may be an exaggeration but for a pellet to hit a duck that high it would be a gamble. I would take my odds in Las Vegas over the shots they were taking. The nice thing is that it made our decoys look even more friendly. A flight of ducks snuck up on us from the right. The shovelers were flying low and fast and kept sneaking up on us. This time, Tom was able to connect with his first duck of the season. I watched his duck fold and drop out of the sky. This was the best part of the hunt. Tom walked out to get his duck and came back with an eclipsed drake shoveler.
I know that eclipsed ducks aren’t everyone’s favorite but I like seeing ducks in their different phases. I had never seen a shoveler before that day. Seeing an eclipsed drake was even cooler. The evening soon came to an end and shooting hours were over. After collecting our decoys, we made our way back to the dike. As if Karma was on our side, we heard the guys that had been hunting on my honey hole get stuck in the mud. They were running that mud motor at full throttle and were not making much progress. With two ducks in hand, Tom and I made our way back to the truck knowing that the guys that were spooking the ducks had to put in some work to get off the marsh.
This hunt just reinforced to me the best thing in waterfowl hunting. There had been a push of shovelers that gave us an opportunity on a first for both Tom and I. We had fun chasing ducks and our gambles paid off. I even ended up calling this new spot “Tom’s spot” and saved it on OnX. We got to apply lessons we had both learned and worked as a team to have a successful hunt. Waterfowl hunting is full of surprises and these surprises were worth it.