DUCK HUNTING, MY WAY!
For a lot of us, duck hunting just isn't what it used to be. If you don't have a land lease on a flooded marsh or if you're not part of a duck hunting club, it's just hard to justify buying a duck stamp. Then, you've got to consider the expense of a good duck boat and a trained retriever. On top of that, you've got to get up hours before daylight, spread decoys in cold, wet conditions and more often then not, spend the morning staring into a clear blue sky wihout a Mallard in sight. With all that work; and, if you're lucky, you can wind up with a few pieces of fat meat with feather's attached...So, why bother? As a yougster on the farm back in the 60's, we'd just go around and pot shoot them off the pasture ponds. It didn't take a lot of effort and there was no expense, either. We'd still have some Squirrel loads left, and every winter we'd eat a mess or two of roast duck. Grandma knew how to make a meal out of near nothing. Most important, for my brothers and me, it was another way to just hunt. When September rolled around every year, we'd always have a gun with us and if it was wild and "good to eat", we'd be hunting it. We even figured out a way to rig up a gun rack on the tractor. I've just included two of the very real reasons I'm still duck hunting. There's not much expense to it, and I'm still hunting something wild and good to eat. We are in the middle of duck season as you read this and there's a good chance I'm out there on a river float hunting for ducks. Hunting from behind a blind is not an every day concept, even among hunters. In fact, I only know of two other hunters that know how and I've fished and hunted from one end of the Ozarks to the other all my life. There are many reasons that I enjoy duck hunting from my canoes. Foremost, I'm out there in the wild on moving water in total solitude. But, the list continues. I can hunt any legal day I desire, I see hundreds of ducks every year, I don't need an expensive duck boat, nor do I have the slightest interest in a lease or a hunting club. I don't even need a retriever. Heck, I don't even need a duck call! Truth is, if you are passionate about the outdoors and hunting, being practical is often just a secondary consideration, anyway. I've had the chance to experience many wonderful adventures in the out-of-doors and one thing remains constant: I look forward to my next float trip with total anticipation. I still don't care all that much for roast duck; but, if you don't grab another piece of duck breast wrapped in bacon off the grill and then go for another bowl of duck gumbo, I'll be surprised. A duck hunt goes something like this: I start whenever I want to, normally not long after daylight. I will have picked a stretch of stream that I'm familiar with and that I know is in good condition to hunt for the day's trip. I'll have my blind mounted and secured on the front of the canoe. Blind construction is key. The frame is made from light, metal tubing, with welded-wire attached, much like someone might use for dog or chicken pen fencing. The frame doesn't need to be higher then the top of my canoe. With the frame mounted, the rest of the concealment is developed from what you learn by experience. By using vegetation such as river cane, oak-leaf sprigs, grasses and other pieces of vegetation, a natural "screen" is created on the frame. It must not be so "thick" that you can not see through it. In fact, it's important to be able to see clearly ahead from the canoe. Just as important, you want pieces of weeds and leaves to be protruding high enough on the blind to screen your profile and also placed down close to the water (but not in the water) to conceal movement of the canoe while paddling. Then you've got to be able to manage the canoe properly as you course down the stream. Any use of a motor is not only illegal, it's just plain unsporting. Perhaps the greatest reward of all is knowing that you've developed the skill to ease within feet of nature's wildest creatures entirely on your own merit. Learning to "read" moving water is important. Floating along, the guide must be able to keep the canoe lined up with the blind providing concealment while missing obstructions in the stream. Truthfully, it just takes a lot of experience to become completely confident. I can paddle my canoe all day long, from either side of the canoe without ever removing the paddle from the water if need be. I can decide where I want my canoe to go through a shoal with lots of rocks and logs long before I get there and put the canoe exactly where I want it. You too can become skilled; but, it takes a lot of doing to get there. It can only be learned by doing! The wonderful thing is the rewards in developing these floating skills can not be measured. As I write this article, just yesterday I made a hunting float trip to be treasured. I was alone on the float and didn't get started until well after daylight. I was deer hunting and that's another skill that I've learned as a result of spending a lot of time observing wildlife along streams. Normally, deer prefer to cross streams at the head of shoals and if you look, you'll find their paths or "crossings" up the banks of the stream. Another fact is that "islands" are often formed at shoals because the stream will often split and have two or more channels of running water that converge together again at the head of the next hole of water. Deer love to bed on these islands during the middle of the day. I was perched on one yesterday on the "down wind" side when a healthy eight pointer came slipping along from the other end of the island. I keep running out of summer sausage every year, so, I'm planning on at least 18 pounds of it out of this big boy. It's worth mentioning here that it is also illegal to shoot a "swimming" deer. Besides, what kind of a hunter would even consider it? The nice buck was the climax of the float hunt; but, adding to the enjoyment was that I never saw another soul, I also saw three other deer, two Otter from about ten feet away, and four Eagles, one an immature. Birds and squirrels were always within sight or sound. The foliage had fallen from the trees and I could view the many bluffs, massive Sycamores and many other features normally not seen during the summer. Later in the day I floated up on another eight point buck, this one even larger. Unfortunately, someone had shot him and had lost the trail to recover the buck. The coyotes had found him overnight and at least they were making good use of the bounty. Later, I found the farmer that owned the land and told him of the buck's location. One of his grandson's had made the shot and had been really depressed about losing the trophy. The grandfather told me that he would plan to surprise his grandson with the rack of antlers. I suspect that the big eight pointer could have been his best Christmas present last year. Not all trips are this eventful. I made many memories back in October hunting Turkey along the streams. I've been enjoying smoked, wild-turkey sandwiches for several weeks now. Expecting to see the unexpected is a huge part of the anticipation of float hunting. I know that a surprise can always be around the next bend in the river. That's what I'll be expecting while I'm duck hunting.....as you read this!