As with many days during the duck season this was one of those cold and rainy mornings that was so dark no sane man would even think of venturing deep into the swamp. Well, at this point in the season we were no longer sane men, we were hardcore duck hunters, willing to go to extraordinary lengths just to shoot a few more birds before it was all over for another year.
The reason for the very early trip was to try to get the best blind in the public swamp. The blind, and the spot it was located were legendary for the way the birds of all types seemed unable to resist most any decoy spread bobbing around in the perfectly shaped opening in the reeds. With its legendary status came a long line of hunters willing to take the ninety minutes of time that were required to push and pull your boat through the swamp to reach it. Every morning you had to get there earlier and earlier if you wanted a chance to fill your limit from one of the premium spots.
This particular morning we were not the first ones at the launch site but the hunters in front of us chose to drive down the one hundred yard mudslide to the water’s edge and got their truck very stuck. If it were me I would have unloaded the stuck truck and went hunting leaving the task of getting the truck out until after a limit of duck were in the bag, but then again we all have different priorities. Sliding the twelve foot flat bottom full of decoys past the stuck truck we knew we would get some good shooting once we reached the magic spot.
Making it to the water first was important but we still needed to find our way in the darkness through the ever changing swamp. As with most things there was an easy way that would take about two hours or the short cut that could save you about thirty to forty-five minutes if you were lucky. There were hunters launching behind us so we went for the short cut hoping the rain would make the route easier rather than harder. Using the shortcut meant having to spend a lot more time pulling the boat behind us as we trudged through knee deep mud and waist deep water. The rising water made the boat slide over the shallow brush pretty good but it did mean that in a few spots a surprise deep hole let some water in the top of my waders making for a bit of a cold uncomfortable rest of the day.
Reaching the blind was quite a relief. My thighs were burning and I had worked up a good sweat even in the thirty-six degree air temps. Once inside the blind we were quickly reminded of why we would bother to go through the effort to get there. Many hunters have visited the blind in the off season over the years with loads of building materials to improve on the structure. At this point it was deluxe accommodations as far as duck blinds go. The six foot by twelve foot structure provided plenty of room for several hunters at a time. The full roof made it the place to be in the cold rain and the foam insulation made it possible for us to heat it so we could dry off some before we had to go set up the decoys.
Getting into the blind two hours before shooting light may seem a little extreme but that’s what it takes to get this spot and this spot is just that good. We felt it was worth a fist bump and a smirk as we heard other hunters splashing by and cursing that we had beat them to the honey hole. Gotta love first come first serve when you’re first. I felt bad for them knowing they had a long way to go from there to get to the second best spot but three days before that is what I had to do.
Waiting for the sun to rise was just another part of the adventure made much more pleasant while sitting in a dry warm blind on a bench with a boat cushion under me and a hot coffee in my hand. If the day lived up to the stories we were telling this was going to be a day to remember. We had many stories of our own plus some we had heard from others who had used this blind in the past. Of course at this time we only remembered the great days we had and completely forgot about the ones that weren’t so good. The conversation soon turned to the fact that quite a few black ducks had been taken from the area in the last few days and that was one of the species I still wanted for my wall. The anticipation was growing with every tick of the clock.
With the slightest hint of pink starting to show in the eastern sky it was time to put out the decoys. Before setting up we checked the wind to find it from the southwest at near 5 miles an hour which is exactly what we wanted to be able to get the most out of this spot. This just might turn out to be the best day ever thanks to a little luck and a lot of preparation. Four dozen varied duck decoys and a dozen floating geese left a nice little opening for the birds to land from twenty five to thirty yards directly in front of us. Because of the wind direction we had the bigger decoys closest to us with the smaller ones farther out. First the geese then the blacks and mallards followed by the woodies and teal. The decoy spread looked like a magazine cover photo.
After hiding the boat we took some time to add some reeds and branches to the chicken wire on the outside of the blind everything looked perfect. We uncased our guns and placed them on the well planned racks right next to the trays that held our shells and calls. With the birds starting to whistle by and the dog showing his excitement we knew the time was near.
Like they say there is one in every crowd and fifteen minutes before shooting time he made himself known with the first boom boom boom of the morning. All we could do is look at each other with an oh no he didn’t expression knowing there was a good chance the game warden would be stopping by to enlighten the hunter on the legality of shooting before you are supposed to. That was right about the time six teal came sliding to a stop right in the middle of our decoy spread. The dog who can’t tell time looked up at us as if to say “hey what ya watin for”.
With every tick of my watch there were more and more birds in the air until it was time to fulfill the dreams we had come here to realize. We barely had time to cackle on those calls we had been practicing for months when four mallards came right at us. After pointing empty guns at our quarry we realized that from now on we should load the guns before we make our first call. This was no big deal though it did provide a good laugh and extended our hunt by a few more minutes.
Loading the guns and taking one more sip of coffee we were now really ready. To get the most out of the hunt we chose to only shoot the birds that fully committed to the decoys and not to shoot at the ones flying across our spread. Even with these restrictions it only took ten minutes before the dog was out of the blind chasing down a pair of mature greenheads. Whoever was the one that put up the board between the god door and the hunters was brilliant because without it we would both have smelled like wet dog when he dropped the first duck and shook off what seemed like five gallons of swamp water. The dog barely waited for a pat on the head and a good boy before he was out the door again to retrieve another.
My buddy soon filled his limit with miracle shot where he downed two teal with one shell and then I noticed some large dark ducks off in the distance. They were blacks and I wanted one for my wall. When I let my friend know that I would like to wait for a black duck if possible he stated he was more than willing to wait it out for a while as long as I didn’t mind if he hit the goose call some to try to add a Canadian to his bag I was stoked.
It was only a couple more minutes and we were able to convince a big black duck to swing by our spread with the help of several mallards that had flown into our decoys. At twenty five yards out and just a few feet off the water the big black folded landing six feet in front of the blind. As the dog bolted out the door my buddy picked up his gun and pointed at the five Canada geese that were making the fatal commitment to our honey hole as the mallards were leaving. Boom boom and we now had our limit of ducks and geese with a bird for the taxidermist to boot.
We didn’t always have the greatest luck with our duck hunting endeavors but that is the nice thing about time. Time seems to let you remember the good trips and forget about some of the bad ones. I’m sure there are times that the memory of an outing is better than the reality of an outing but a good story is the only thing that separates an average hunter or fisherman from a legend like my dad. Man could he tell a story.