I’ve never seen the water as low as it was this year on our 48th Annual Duck Camp. Nestled in northern Wisconsin this original tent camp has let in a couple mini campers in for no good reason. They miss the magical sounds of nature that only comes through a thin walled tent. The sights and sounds of the autumn woods and magical wetlands that hold more life per square foot than anyplace on earth are special.
Add the dog work, group camping, camaraderie and great food prepared in an outdoor setting. This year’s food presented in a new gastronomical framework by Brian McFarland in just his second Duck Camp with aluminum Dutch oven. I’m planning on doing a separate column on outdoor cooking focusing on the Dutch oven. For now focus grasshopper, this is a duck hunting column!
The afternoon before the opener my son Josh Bennett tried getting his duck skiff across the marsh in two inches of water to the “Pond at Wounded Knee.” Named after a knee injury he incurred years ago finding this honey hole. As usual it was full of ducks that flushed in view of a few vehicles that took notice of the numbers and stopped to watch. Despite the duck numbers no one else was willing to attempt getting back there in a year with no water.
Duck Hunting is all about who wants the best spots the most. One group near us was up and gone at 2:00 AM opening morning. The group Josh lead was next, on the road a little before 3:00 AM. One of the best waterfowlers I know, Matt Pasche said that paddling was almost impossible. He chose to ride his Fiber Dome craft more like a scooter, pushing it with one leg. It didn’t take long for Josh, Brian and Matt to hit the far side and floating ground, walking to the pond in the dark. Dave Kell fell behind, got a bit off-track, ending up moving into flashlights of what he thought was the aforementioned group. It was another group who quickly told him to go take a hike; “Paddle on dude!”
The constant sounds of wings greeted the hunters as soon as they arrived until all four hunters had taken their 6 bird limits of blue and green winged teal. From singles to flocks of around 30 birds they just kept coming. McFarland had so many ducks in front of him at one point he couldn’t pick a single bird out, lowering his gun laughing. Kell called it a “Ducknado”. Pasche just said it’s what he’s come to expect during the 16 years he’s been coming to Duck Camp. “To me Duck Camp is like Christmas. Opening morning is like Christmas morning. Every duck I’m blessed to take home is like opening a present. I’d release them like fish if I could. In the end they are a fine meal for us to share with those we love most.”
Jim Bennett is an outdoorsman who lives and worked in the St. Croix Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for comments.