It seemed that all the birds flying that day were ducks. Not large flocks but smaller flocks of 3, 5, 7 or maybe artist Les Kouba’s 13 ducks on canvas and they all wanted to land where we were. The water they wanted to land on held our bogus birds, a couple dozen lifelike mallard Dakota packable decoys and a pair of robo ducks on poles with battery powered wings whirling to simulate landing ducks on water. The long, narrow dog bone shaped pond was situated in the middle of an ocean of corn, like so many other NoDak wetlands. Hidden in the corn near cattails our dogs watched the sky, whining in anticipation of shots and fetch commands. As hunters loaded their shotguns in the predawn darkness just before shooting hours, they knew they had found the pot of gold because it seemed that all the ducks flying wanted to land on this pond as the clock ticked down to shooting time.
It was a parade of mostly gadwall ducks; smaller than mallards but larger than wood ducks, they made up roughly 70 percent of the ducks we bagged. A great tasting duck, corn fed on their way south from Canada and the heart of the Prairie Pothole Region, North Dakota, along the Central Flyway the gadwalls kept coming, mixed in with mallards, green and blue winged teal, pintail, bufflehead, ruddy ducks, bluebills, ring necks, red heads and shovelers. It was a duck hunter's dream. Although hunting a crop field might be easier, there is just something that makes duck hunting over water much more fun. It makes sense when you think about it …… waterfowl!
Besides, wetlands are amazing places. A marsh is full of other birds and wild critters that hold more life, bio mass, than any other land mass on earth. Swamps filter our drinking water, are a nursery for our fisheries and are great places to explore in the heart of nature.
This trip was a major father-son get away that included Chris and his dad Bob LeMay, Shaun Floersch and his dad John, Josh and me and Chris and Shaun’s old high school buddy Dan Francois. It was a reunion of old guys and young men who love dogs, dry waders, living in a tiny North Dakota rental VRBO, good dogs and hunting ducks.
On the swamp the smaller flocks came right in but larger flocks of up to about 20 ducks would generally circle a few times before committing and making that final approach. Then it was a matter of when to shoot. Do you take the one duck coming right in at you or do you think of the group and pass up that shot letting the flock circle one more time so everyone gets a shot? Then after the entire flock leaves, including the one you could have taken, it’s time for that age old discussion of should that single have been taken or not. About 30 seconds into that conversation another small group drops out of the sky, shotguns roar and dogs retrieve on command.
Jim Bennett is an outdoorsman who lives and worked in the St. Croix River Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.