Sometimes a duck just want to be shot!
Steam was lifting off the river just after daylight one morning last week as good friend, Kent Caplinger and I untied my big canoe from the back of my pickup truck for a duck hunt on a local stream. It was COLD! Across the shoal from our access another hunter we did not know was tucked into the willows with a handful of decoys out, chest waders on, and was wailing away on his call for passing ducks that could be traveling the river looking for a place to rest and feed. We hustled along while unloading our canoe and building our blind on the front of it. We did not want to interfere in this guy's efforts to drop a Mallard or two on his morning hunt. Sunlight began to glisten on the ridge tops as we shoved off into the current. We hollered "good luck" to our fellow hunter and focused down river for we knew ducks would be there..... waiting. We needed to be ready for the jump-shooting to come. There was no wind, and outside the squawk of a Great Blue Heron we disturbed at the first river bend, there was only the silence of the woods and slap of moving water at the bow of the canoe. And then, there they were! At the head of the next shoal, and in the sunlight, a dozen Mallards were up on the gravel and in the waters' edge feeding and diving. We watched them closely as we drifted in. You would have thought they were on the beach in the Bahamas the way they were moving about at the river's edge. Kent and I, with the air temperature a few degrees above zero, were looking forward to our first stop so that we could build a fire and warm up. But, to this little bunch of ducks it was "come on in, the water's fine"! The Adrenalin rush of sneaking up on ducks is exactly what Kent and I had been wanting.........for weeks. It was our first duck hunt of the season. Missouri's zone 1 had finally opened and we were way over-due on getting out there after them. We had spotted the movement of wings a hundred yards away and closing the distance to within shooting range would test my paddling skills and the effectiveness of our blind construction. As I hunkered low in the stern and worked my sassafras paddle to keep our canoe aligned I began to have doubts about the holes that I could see in the blind, my skill with the paddle in keeping us out of sight and not least, Kent's shooting ability from the front of the canoe with his shotgun. Minutes seemed to drag by for the next 50 yards and a couple of Suzy (female) Mallards already had their heads up looking suspiciously at the pile of driftwood coming downstream. Each moved out into the current to swim downstream and I was certain they could see us through the holes in the blind. I mumbled to myself about being in too much of a rush at the access. But, good news, six or eight Greenheads (males) were still resting and feeding back in a still-water pocket, and it was males we were after. I paddled on to within 30 feet of them, and well within range before they flushed. It's amazing how they can jump and be thirty feet in the air by the time you get your shotgun up, but, Kent came through on his shooting and he had half his four bird Mallard limit drifting on the water within seconds. We retrieved his birds, talked about the excitement of sneaking in so close, undetected, and pulled into a gravel bar to walk our stiff muscles and to warm our toes. A few minutes later we heard shooting back upstream at our put-in. "Good for him" was our consensus. Apparently the Mallards we had just jumped had responded to the decoys for the hunter at the access and he had at least got some shooting. It was already a great duck float and we were just getting started on our ten mile trip down river. Float hunting winter streams is both unique and wonderful. Most folks would say the idea doesn't sound like fun and some might even say that it sounds a little foolish to be out on moving water in sub-freezing weather in a canoe. I got started at it a long time ago and I can still remember my first Wood Duck that came out of a brush pile at the river's edge like it was yesterday. I had never been that close to any duck and here was perhaps the prettiest, wildest duck of all and he wasn't 20 feet away. Obviously from that moment on, I was hooked for life. I have a lot of friends that duck hunt from heated blinds, have trained dogs to retrieve, use five hundred dollar duck calls and spread a hundred decoys that can swim on their own, fly on their own and do about everything imaginable to attract flying ducks. Now the way I look at it that kind of duck hunting is not my kind of duck hunting. Sure, the heat in the blind sounds nice, and having a limit by seven thirty in the morning could have some practical advantages; but, that's just not a duck hunt, I'm sorry. Nope, I'll take sneaking up to within a few feet of ducks in my canoe every time. There is just so much more to the hunt! Kent and I had our toes and muscles loosened up, so we loaded up and eased on down the river. Sure enough, it was going to be one of those days to remember. Around the bend and within minutes we were within sight of more Mallards. As with the first group, they held to within feet of the blind before they blew off the water. The sight of those green heads, brilliant in the sunlight with a river bluff and white Sycamores as a back drop just has to be seen to be appreciated. Kent must have been dazzled by their beauty, too, as he somehow punched holes with all three shots without lifting a feather. Naturally, he brought up the failings of today's steel shot vs the lead shot of old. He also pointed out the weaknesses of a full-choke shotgun barrel vs a modified choke. I listened and agreed totally, as I knew it wouldn't be long until I'd have to bring up something about how a duck I missed had purposely went between me and the sun. We had no reason for concern though as two shoals later were more ducks piled in for a day on the river. We both got birds on that flush as a pair of green heads had peeled back over the canoe and left themselves wide open for a shot to my left. It soon was lunch time and a fire on a gravel bar. The heat felt great and lunch wasn't hurting either. Near finished and standing around with our hands in our pockets and warming our rears, Kent said, "would you look at this, the ducks just want to be shot today". As I turned and looked in his direction I could see a Mallard drake flying up the river not ten feet off the water. And, to our surprise, he landed not forty feet away in plain sight. We both chuckled and I grabbed my shotgun. Sure enough, he jumped within easy range and I added another duck toward our limit. Thirty minutes later and back in the boat we were headed downstream again and there ahead, swimming up stream was a little squad of ducks swimming coming directly toward our blind. Kent whispered, "more ducks wanting to be shot"! We could see that these were smaller ducks; but, we couldn't ID them for certain. Were they were perhaps Teal or maybe Gadwalls? Finally, right in front of the canoe it became obvious........Shovelers! We dropped two of them on the jump and had to give them an inspection as it was the first time I had floated up on this species of duck. Sure enough, their bill widens into a shovel like appearance. Another of God's wonderful and wild creatures. Along toward sundown, we had killed all the duck we wanted. Both of us had a limit of Mallards. We jumped another bunch or two before we reached our take out; but, our float hunt had not been all about getting a limit of ducks. Along the way we had seen perhaps a dozen Eagles, and a big flock of Turkey. We had spent a day in the wilds of the Ozarks, on a clear, gorgeous stream without a thought toward the troubles of every day life. We were out of reach of cell phone service and we never missed it. We had only seen one other human and he was a hunter. We were tired, yes, a little cold on the outside, yes; but on the inside we were as warm as we'd been in quite some time. I'm already looking forward to my next trip out there on the water.