The Last Windrow: Duck hunting tales from years past
A simple offer from a friend brings back treasured memories.
They once bobbed gently just outside the cattails and swamp grass. Now they serve as lawn ornaments sitting above my wife's flowerbed. They look lonely.
A week ago a good friend of mine gave me a call and asked me if I would be interested in a couple of blue-winged teal he had harvested in the Minnesota early teal season. Of course I said yes! I haven't had a wild duck since I hung up my Model 12 Winchester a number of years ago.
My friend's offer instantly transported me back to those duck and goose swamps when both my hips worked and I didn't run out of breath after walking.
The waterfowl season is upon us, and the shotgun blasts I hear now just before sunrise remind me of the times I slogged through the marshes and belly crawled up on an unsuspecting goose. The sweet/sour smell of the marsh is deeply embedded in the cracks and fissures of my brain and will remain there until the end of my days.
There were highlights and lowlights in my waterfowl hunting career. Each and every time I and my partners plowed our way through the reeds and cattails provided a new experience. One never knew what bird would jet overhead or honk its way toward the blind. The icy cold fingers and runny nose were instantly forgotten when a flock of mallards approached the decoys.
I broke into duck hunting along the Big Sioux River in western Iowa. The river and the nearby Missouri River provided a flyway for all kinds of waterfowl during the late fall months. Mallards, pintails, bluebills, teal all traveled the flyway as did the Canada geese, snow and blue geese and speckled belly geese. The flyway was a virtual bonanza to a waterfowl hunter.
My uncles were duck hunters, and I was visiting one of them one roaring wind of a day in late November.
"The ducks are on the river," he told me. "Why don't you take Bud (his black Labrador) and pick up the neighbor and head on down there. Bet you get a shot!"
The temptation was too much and I loaded Bud into my car, picked up Bard and headed for the river.
As we approached, we saw a giant flight of northern mallards circling the river and finally drop below the treeline to the water.
"We're in luck!" I said to Bard. "I'll take Bud and you crawl in above the bend where the birds lit, and we'll do an encircling movement and come away with a duck dinner!"
I could hear the ducks quacking as I crawled toward the bend in the river, having to keep the eager dog behind me with a twig. I thought to myself, "This is just too easy!"
I saw Bard out of the corner of my eye, and he was waving to move forward quickly. I hastened my pace, but before I could even see the water's edge, Bud, the dog, broke and steamed toward the shoreline. In an instant a thousand mallards rose out of range, and neither Bard nor I fired a shot.
Bud, the dog, came back panting like he had done his job. He had.
I thought of that last week when my friend offered me those two ducks for dinner. I also thought of other hunts that were more successful. I thought of those early South Dakota mornings when geese filled the sky, and the day my brother and I found a North Dakota duck hangout, and the day my other brother found a radio transmitter in one of our downed bluebills.
I thought of all those things.
And I was also thinking of those duck hunts when I placed those bluebill decoys above my wife's flowerbed last week as decorations. I don't know if they'll ever see the water again. But they have been on the water, and they did do their job.
Much like Bud, the black Labrador, did so many years ago.
See you next time. Okay?