Imagine a river flowing with as much slush as water, fog hanging in the air, weak sunlight shining through the fog, and the temperature hovering in the teens. About the only things that could make the scene more inhospitable would be a strong north wind and heavy snowfall. Still, the conditions are nearly ideal for duck hunting.
Such conditions remind me of a slightly humorous view of my Catholic faith. I contend that I must suffer in order to have great rewards. Usually hunting under cold, wintry conditions gives me plenty of suffering and rewards.
Setting out the decoys in the slushy river is a chore, for I have to wade to a spot below an island where the slush flow is minimal and is a natural magnet for the mallards and gadwalls working the river. After tossing out a half-dozen decoys in the spot, I wade back to the blind about 30 yards away and place a few decoys on the ice and another dozen or so in the slushy water.
My dog, Peppy, has been pretty obedient and has stayed on the ice as commanded, but she whines for some action. She has been hunting sharptails and pheasants all autumn and has never been my retriever for decoy hunting. I figured that her small size, 55 pounds, might not be enough to keep her warm in the freezing weather. Oh well, there’s a first time for everything. If Peppy gets too cold, I will put her in her kennel and let her burrow into the bedding.
I hunker down in a blind that Chris Morton designed. Cattail netting surrounds me and a juniper tree branches out just above my head. I am practically invisible to any ducks flying overhead.
I load my over and under with a load of fours in the modified barrel and a load of twos in the full choke barrel. Peppy sits at my right side and peers out through a hole in the bottom of the blind. I fish around in my parka and find my duck call and grasp it in my right hand. I soon discover that I won’t have a chance to use the call.
Peppy cants her head skyward and I try to track her line of sight, but before I can, a drake mallard comes swooshing into the decoys at the end of the island and lands with an audible splash. I stand up as I shoulder my shotgun. I had to holler at the duck twice before it leapt up and headed downstream. I take a shot and am amazed that the duck flies on unscathed. The second shot was just as ineffective. It flies downriver and into Chris Morton’s range — he didn’t miss.
By this time Peppy is lunging at the lead I had tethered her to. The post the lead was attached to is an integral part of the blind. I have to reconstruct the blind.
I reload and untangle Peppy from the post and netting. We hunker down again. We wait, the cold creeps in and my feet become colder and colder. Ah, yes, I am starting to suffer.
As the cold seeps into my body and I start to shiver, I begin to wonder why I go duck hunting, but my thoughts are short-lived. A shotgun blast followed by two more brings me back to my senses. Chris has missed a goldeneye drake and it is flying about five feet off the river headed my way. The goldeneye is really packing the mail as I rise, shoulder my shotgun and swing on the bird. I pull the trigger and the shotgun barks. The goldeneye folds up and splashes into the slushy water.
Peppy is lunging against the leash and has dismantled the blind again. I manage to get to her, unsnap the lead and watch her bound over the ice and launch into the river. She swims rapidly to the flopping duck, grabs it and paddles back to the ice shelf. Fortunately, the water is shallow enough for Peppy to vault out of the water and onto the ice. She runs to me, drops the goldeneye at my feet and shakes the water from her fur.
The drake common goldeneye has a snow white belly and neck. The head plumage varies with the sunlight — black in the shadows and purplish green in the sun. What a beautiful bird it is.
Peppy and I return to the blind. I repair it and decide that having Peppy tethered is not a necessity. She sits just outside the blind and waits as I do.
Soon a drake mallard swooshes in and plops down. I rise, holler and shoot as the mallard leaps into the air. I drop the bird, but it still has its head up. Before I can fire another round, Peppy is churning to the duck. In short order she has it and is swimming back.
She leaps onto the ice, trots to me, drops the duck and shakes. Gol, she looks like an old hand at this duck hunting game.
Peppy managed to handle the cold, and I managed to warm up my feet. After an hour of no action, we called it a day.
Now I am wondering if I can sandwich in one more foul weather hunt before the season closes.