Best duck hunting buddy, John Caldwell, and I had spent more than a few mornings in the duck blind in the early part of the 2016 season. The vast majority of these were warm, windless trips ending up with few, if any ducks.
The first days of this year's waterfowl season were not too bad. Teal and gadwall, along with a few woodies splashed in our decoys. But the local ducks got smart quickly and a passing shot at blue-winged bottle rockets was about all there had been lately.
All that changed with the temperature hovering around 30 degrees and the 20- to 25-mph north winds that Friday brought us.
As that morning began our blind and its combination of three hunters had killed only two mallards. John's other duck hunting buddy is Ace.
Suddenly a pair of small ducks flew right into our faces. "Were those teal?" John asked. "Way too fast for me to tell," I answered, as we both made better preparations for the next assault. It came only a minute later.
Two fast moving ducks came to the decoys from the south and immediately set their wings. "There they are!" I yelled as I stood and shot. I fanned on my first shot but connected on the second.
"Too fast for me," John said, sending Ben, his black Lab, on his first retrieve of the day.
John and I both fully expected a teal. We were amazed to see a duck that should not have even been in the Midwest. I had taken an Old Squaw hen -- a sea duck. I have killed only one other one in my life. It was an unusual start to what turned out to be a great duck day.
Now John saw a half-dozen big ducks fighting the wind trying to get into the decoys. They passed too high and four of them kept going north. John watched the lower two ducks circle. They were virtually hovering when John called the shot. Two shots, two splashes, and Ben went to work again.
"This is starting to look promising," John said as he took the fat gadwall from Ben's mouth. Ben had no sooner returned to the blind with second gadwall when I saw two ducks coming from the north with a strong tail-wind. These two were really moving as I shot and dumped the lead duck. There was just no time to shoot at the other one.
The other duck flew to the end of the slough and turned coming back north, this time into the stiff wind. I dumped it, as well. A pair of shovelers were ducks 4 and 5 on the morning.
The slough on which we were hunting snakes and winds through the Mississippi River bottoms.
At about 8 a.m. I saw a flight of 30 bigger ducks circling the ditch to our north. I have no idea why they did not see our decoys but they swung into the wind and landed in the slough a few hundred yards from us.
We sat for another half-hour with no action at all. I asked John how long we were going to sit there before we went to find those ducks and jump-shoot them. He said, "Let's go."
Jump-shooting is spot-and-stalk. Finding ducks or geese roosted for the day on a body of water that allows hunters to sneak up on them is a highly productive way to put meat in the freezer. My boys and I often finished our limits on slow days by jump-shooting sloughs and ditches.
I thought the ducks had landed on an "S" turn in the slough. John, with six decades of experience in this bottom, was confident they were 150 yards south of that. Luckily I did not argue.
We had the wind in our favor so we knew they would not hear us coming. The water was 6 to 7 feet below field level so we should be able to get pretty close if John could keep Ben at heel. Ben did great and when I spotted the flock on the water they were less than 30 yards away.
"I'll stay here and you move down 50 yards," Caldwell instructed. "When you are set I will stand up."
I made a wide, quiet circle approaching the ditch in a tight crouch. When I peeked over the bank I was right on top of them. I gave John a "thumbs-up" and he slowly stood and moved forward.
The birds flushed and John's first shot splashed a mallard drake. I did not see what he did after that because the area in front of me filled with ducks immediately. Under circumstances like this it is difficult to pick out single targets and stay with them through a shot. It is much like shooting quail in a covey rise.
I had recognized they were mallards when we first slipped up on them. Now I was concentrating on finding green heads for targets. My first target was one of the first birds off the water. I shot and instantly acquired a new target. As soon as I saw a green head I swung through and shot, quickly looking for the next shot.
I fired three shots at the rising flock and took three mallard drakes out of it. John hit another duck before his gun jammed, ending the flurry of action. Ben went to work and helped us pile up a nice mess of ducks for John and Sue's freezer.
After weeks of frustration and little ducks the mallards were here ... finally.