by Bret Amundson
“So much for this being a ducky day,” Jamie Dietman (from What’s Up Outdoors) said as I turned and looked at him through falling drops of rain this morning.
Such is life in the great state of Minnesota. One day it can be sunny and warm, while the next cool, gray and wet.
It’s also a common occurrence in the life of a duck hunter.
It’s days like today that I look forward to all summer long. As I sweat out 85 degree afternoons, I dream about cool mornings hunkered down in cattails. I’m not going to lie, it was slightly colder than I would have liked it to be this morning-and I’m not happy that it’s been snowing already-but, I will take 40s and 50s any day versus 80s and 90s.
Call me old-fashioned.
We scouted out a number of locations last night, looking for the right spot to set up our decoys. We were leaning towards a pond that held a variety of species, including wood ducks, ring-necked ducks, and teal. As we glassed it from shore, fifty mallards bombed in from the heavens and took up residence. That sealed the deal.
At 5:09 am, we pulled out of Dietman’s driveway in Brainerd and headed out into the darkness. Few vehicles greeted us on the busy thoroughfares as we wound our way out of town. This would be my first waterfowl hunt in the north-central part of the state where the terrain looks a bit different than my usual prairie-pothole haunts.
“Where we’re setting up decoys, you should be able to wear waders,” Dietman said reassuringly. At least I think it was reassuringly. He went on to add, “Although there aren’t any places that I hunt between here and Park Rapids that I won’t use a boat.”
Huh…I like hunting potholes that a good pair of waders will allow me to walk all the way across it. Turns out, that doesn’t happen up here.
I found that out early on as we arrived and drug his small duck boat down to the water. A sea of floating bog and wild rice came into the round view illuminated by our headlamps. Have you ever walked across a waterbed? An uneasy feeling crept over me as I bounced from mound to mound. I stepped into a “puddle” between bog mounds and soon I was sinking. My leg flailed searching for bottom without success. Murky water was quickly over my waist on one side and I had visions of my waders filling up. Luckily I had a good grip on the boat and still had one leg above water. I nervously glanced over to Jamie and said “Don’t step there,” and continued the boat drag.
He would paddle out and place decoys while I backtrack and head down the shoreline to the permanent blind that had been built years earlier. A back wall would block the wind and a bench seat would keep us comfortable. A floor stabilized by 2 x 6 beams that extended out on each side over the floating bog would keep us dry. Mostly anyway-my lab Mika would sit oin 2″ of water most of the morning. She didn’t mind too much. Although later in the day she’d climb up on the bench with us.
As the night finally started to give way to day, teal called softly from some tucked-away place upwind. The 15-20 mph “breeze” would be a factor today. Sounds would come from one direction and flight patterns would come from another. If ducks were flying with the wind, they would seem to be breaking the sound barrier.
Because the bog/rice situation completely encircled the open water, we were relegated to hunting from the stability of the blind. That meant a crosswind set-up that left us just a little further from the water than we’d like. We also found out quickly that it wasn’t going to be the spot that birds wanted to be in. We’d get a few landers throughout the morning, but most ducks would buzz the decoys then land EVERYWHERE else on the pond. It didn’t seem to matter where, just not in front of us.
The first group of ducks came through featuring a drake mallard that came closest. I told Jamie to take him and he pulled up and all I heard was “click”. After giving him the chance, I took on my duty as back up and beaded the bird. Soon the greenhead was floating in the spread and Mika was on the trail. The whole slough woke up and soon a whole slew of ducks were winging by from every direction. A flock of 5 landed all around Mika’s bobbing head and smartly took off before it was safe to shoot. Another half-dozen ducks came over a foot off the water-but right where she was swimming-and vacated the area before Mika was clear.
Let me set the record straight, my lab-as awesome as I think she is-likes to break. In fact, I had her staked down and she ripped the stake out after the first shots were fired. Because of this, we missed out on some of our best opportunities.
We managed to scrape out a few darting teal, including a young green-wing. As the morning wore on, the wind picked up, the rain began and the sweat that we created from the morning set-up, soon became a hindrance. As 9 am approached I leaned over and said, “It’s hard to want to leave when I can see ducks swimming over there and over there AND over there!”
But by then my teeth had begun to chatter and we decided that enough ducks were in the area to warrant another hunt tomorrow. This front and strong wind might even bring in new birds to our pond.
Just as we decided to leave, another teal gave us a look. My 12-gauge echoed across the water and similar to before, the skies were full of ducks flying this way and that. In the melee we managed to knock down two more birds.
While the cold, rainy, and windy day that hunters associate with good duck hunting didn’t offer up a limit to us, we still spent a morning on the hunt. A hunt I’ll remember because it was my first in the Brainerd area. And as the saying goes: “I’d rather be hunting”.