The waterfowl season in review

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I spent last night in Dawson, Minnesota surrounded by people who share the same passion as myself this time of year.  People who love the smell of swamp at 4:30 am.  People who’ve learned to get a 360 degree view without turning their heads.  People who would rather spend a Saturday morning staring at an empty, bluebird sky than sleep in and “waste the day”.

Duck hunters.  These are my kind of people.

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The 31st Annual Ducks Unlimited banquet took place last night and overall was a success.  Guns were won, prints were auctioned off and money was raised to preserve wetlands and continue the fight for conservation.  I was behind the microphone for most of the evening but that didn’t keep me from coming home with two gigantic framed prints, an electric grill, a lighter wallet and a small headache.  It was a good time.

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I began the event explaining that I had left North Dakota and moved back to my native state of Minnesota.  Everyone questioned my sanity because I liked to shoot ducks.  While I did have some great hunts in the central flyway, I had my personal best waterfowl season on the east side of the Red River.  There are a couple of reasons for this, including the fact that I had a new job that allowed me to hunt everyday.  That will make a big difference.

It also seemed that there were more ducks in Minnesota over the last couple of years as well.  That could be due to habitat restoration efforts along with a wetter landscape than the Dakotas.    Ducks like water and will shift around to find it.  Whatever the reason, I can’t complain about the numbers we had this fall.

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Disappointment crept over me shortly after shooting a limit of ducks on a slough just north of where I live.  A lot of birds were shot out of there throughout the season, so we went back the next day to try our luck again.  The mercury had dipped lower that morning and when we arrived, a half inch layer of ice spread nearly across the entire body of water, save a small hole with a half dozen gadwall that spooked out of it.  They gave us the hope that if we punched a big enough hole, we might be able to pull a few stragglers from the sky, tempted by frozen, floating decoys.

We shot one.   Then left with cold fingers and a decoy bag frozen in an odd, lumpy shape.

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And just like that, poof, our duck season was all but over, days before the season officially ended.  It’s tough to predict how long a duck season will last as a couple of weeks later the huge waves of northern mallards arrived.  The 60,000 geese in the area were keeping holes open on the big water and the mallards had joined them.  The only trouble was, the season closed a week earlier.

While I’ll never tire of watching 500 mallards spin down into a cornfield 1/4 mile from my front door, it’s frustrating to know that we missed out on the last couple weeks of the season because of frozen sloughs and now the area crop fields were green once again-teeming with fat mallards tipped with black curls.

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One topic that surfaced a time or two at last night’s banquet was that we’re lucky to live in an area rich with waterfowl and waterfowling tradition.  When people think of Lac qui Parle they generally think of goose hunting around the refuge and how great it was in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.  But not the 2000’s or 2010’s.  (2010’s?  What do you call this decade?) More than once I heard the comment, “I think all the area duck hunters are in this room right now.”  That’s sad.

Someone gave me a Canada goose mount a few days ago.  Just GAVE it to me.  He said that his son shot it 20 years ago, “When everyone used to goose hunt.”  Why don’t they anymore?   I thanked him for the mount and it was immediately hung on the wall.

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The question here is, after having the best season I’ve ever had and seeing great numbers of ducks, why aren’t more people doing it? Are the traditionalists getting too old?  Are the kids too busy with video games, sports and other activities?  Is it too much work, too expensive or too hard to shoot a limit?

I’m not sure, but we need to keep recruiting kids, women and anyone else into the world of waterfowling if we want it to survive.  With the number of birds I saw this fall, I’m not sure why anyone wouldn’t want to throw a 12 gauge over their shoulder and join me.

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