When the duck hunting season ends, there is a feeling of sadness like saying goodbye to a friend.
When the season ended recently in the north and middle zones, I noticed the older I get, the more the seasons seem to streak by, leaving only a blur of fond memories. Most duck hunters know it is the act of shooting wild ducks or the number bagged which landmarks a season. It is the hunting partners, special places and tradition of the sport which cast special feelings. By its very nature, waterfowl hunting places the participants in uniquely wild and beautiful settings.
Duck hunting produces adventures as well as predicaments unlike other forms of outdoor activity. It is a test of endurance, patience, skill and determination. There is some relief when it is finally over. However, no sooner than it ends comes the trickle of anticipation and hope the wild places stay wild and the birds grow in numbers next season.
Are duck hunters a crazy bunch who relish 4 a.m. alarm clocks, artic-type weather, knee deep mud, and long drives home? Maybe! It goes with the territory. Why do grown men lust for the haunts attracting and hold migratory ducks? It is in our blood. In a way we are lucky.
The duck season just ending was forecast to be strong. Duck numbers were indeed high. In my many years of duck hunting I can recall other good seasons which might have presented more challenges and adjustments than this one.
Several years ago, when the season first opened in the north zone, it was hard to get too excited about hunting ducks with temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s. Most of the ducks stayed north for the opener. However, the warm weather presented another opportunity. Paul Hoffman and I camped and hunted at a favorite lake and managed to take several mallards opening morning, but what I remember most was our Saturday night campfire: grilling steaks over glowing coals. Normal duck hunting weather probably would have precluded tenting and feasting under the stars. The rest of the north zone was good, yet nothing could take away the magnificent sunrises and the wild stillness of the lake. Ironically, the last day of the north zone season, the lake froze so we had to break ice to set the decoys. A lot of ducks flew overhead, but the motionless decoys and broken ice spooked the mallards showing our setup as thoroughly fake.
Ever since I was a teenager, I don't remember missing a duck season opener at a favorite spot, although one season I hunted at Truman Lake for the first time and enjoyed surprising success during the weekend there. I shared a blind with John Benjamin and Glen Atkinson. We had an excellent hunt and one thing stood out. There were two mallards heading for our decoys, but Glen didn't see one of them and when I shot, the bird fell into the blind knocking Glen to the floor. “I thought the sky was falling,” he said.
There is no finer adventure outdoors than sharing duck hunting days with your sons, daughters, wives, friends and Labrador retrievers. It makes you realize memories were being made. The season ended all too fast.
White, a Stockton resident, has a versatile background in the outdoors as a participant and journalist. His column appears weekly.