With the mercury barely climbing into the single digits during the day and plunging below zero overnight, few people could see any reason to go outside except for work and emergencies. As I hunker down next to my space heater and try to type out this column, I can only think of two good things that will come from this cold snap: ice fishing and duck hunting.
The way I have it figured, the below zero weather will easily freeze shallower waters such as Healy and Tongue River reservoirs and the ice should be able support anglers very soon.
The last time I was out duck hunting on Nov. 21, a fair number of ducks had arrived. The more common ducks were widgeon and mallards with a few gadwalls and a handful of wood ducks and goldeneyes rounding out the ranks.
With the cold weather entrenched in the region, it is a certainty that the northern flights of ducks and geese are pouring into the area. One buddy told me that the numbers of goldeneyes has jumped appreciably over the past week. Another buddy told me, “There’s a ton of geese and ducks in the area. The geese are so thick they resemble swarms of bats.”
I don’t think I can handle the subzero weather but I look forward to the day the temperature crawls into the 20s. I propose to slide down the river in my drift boat and set up at about two in the afternoon on a side channel. I will only put out about a dozen mallard decoys along with a Roboduck and then stash the boat 200 yards downstream in a brush clump.
The spot where I plan to have the decoys has heavy stands of reed canary grass among overhanging Russian olive branches— a perfect no-work-needed blind. I’ll hunker down in the grass with my duck call in one hand and shotgun in the other. Hopefully, my duck dog, Bo, will remember to stay still next to me but that isn’t a certainty.
As the sun begins to dip lower in the sky, the ducks should begin moving. Perhaps the first flocks will not be interested in my decoy set and they will continue their flights upstream with nary a look despite my frantic calls, but shortly a flock will come by and turn for another look.
I will give a highball call and shut up. They will swing downstream turn and fly up the island and swing out to look at the decoys at lower altitude. As they swing away, I’ll give them another highball, then switch to a feeding chuckle as they come around for a second look.
By this time, Bo has started to whine and I have to use my call hand to muzzle him. Fortunately, the ducks are satisfied and they slip into that rocking descent that will put them just downstream of the decoys. As they lower their feet, I jump up, shoulder my shotgun, release the safety and pick out a brilliant greenhead with bright orange feet. The blast from my shotgun followed by a shower of feathers and loud “Plop” on the water is how I picture the scene. Of course, I’ll try for a double but prosperity usually goes to my head so I’ll be happy for a single.
Bo was moving as soon as the duck hit the water. He lunges through the shallow water until he finally is swimming strongly to grab the downed duck. A swift grab, an about face, and Bo is churning his way back to shore.
Bo will stop about five feet away, drop the duck, shake, pick up the duck and deliver it at my feet—not feed trial perfect but the duck is in hand and that is all that counts in my book.
After heaping lots of praise on Bo, we settle back to await the next flock. If all goes well, we’ll have a limit of mallards and maybe a widgeon or gadwall to round out the day.
However the script plays out Bo and I will have a fun time in the field and will bond even closer thanks to a day in the blind and the early winter cold front that pushed the northern ducks into our region.