BY TIM E. HOVEY
A flock of widgeon raced over the pond and then banked sharply to the right. It was shooting time but they just weren’t close enough. I was well hidden deep in the cattails at the edge of the water. I watched as they did what ducks do and completed a few more flyovers before they felt comfortable enough to approach.
I watched as they banked again, far lower this time. They flared near the rising sun and began their final approach. I stood up, mounted the shotgun, slightly swung in front of the lead bird and squeezed the trigger twice. The group recovered and left the pond completely unscathed. My first shot at ducks in over fifteen years was a clean miss.
When I lived in San Diego, I used to hunt waterfowl quite a bit. Once I relocated further north, the opportunity to hunt ducks was almost non-existent. This season, however, a small group of my hunting friends decided they wanted to get back into it. I dug out my old waders, several decoys that I’m sure had been boxed since 2004 and tagged along for a mid-season waterfowl hunt.
The original group of four dwindled down to two by the morning of the hunt. We decided to split up my meager decoys and each take a pond on the property, hopefully kicking ducks back and forth during the morning shoot.
I reached my spot and waded out setting up just five decoys of varied species. I slogged back to the shore, situated my gear and waited for shooting time. While I waited I practiced on a duck whistle I had found tossed in with my waterfowl gear. Within minutes, I found the sound that had always turned ducks for me.
The morning was filled with close fly-bys, easy shots and the frantic search for additional shells. Thirty minutes after the widgeon miss I had taken several shots and still had yet to put a duck down. If you’ve been hunting long enough, you start to know when something may not be right.
I have two identical shotguns, in identical cases. The only thing different about them is that the one I use for coyote hunting has a super tight choke on it. Sure enough, one glance at the end of the barrel and I realized I had grabbed the tighter shooting Browning.
I quickly unscrewed the tighter choke and replaced it with an improved modified choke I had in my gear bag. I reloaded and started searching the sky once again.
The next group that got close was a flock of gadwall. They did a safety pass, banked left and started flaring right over my head. I waited for them to appear in front of me and dropped the lead duck. My first duck since 2004 was down.
I will freely admit that I spent much of my hunt seeing if I could identify the species of ducks that buzzed by to inspect the pond and my dusty decoys. From what I could see, teal, widgeon and gadwall were the main species in flight and all seemed to respond to my duck whistle.
A few shots from the other pond meant that Jose was getting into birds as well. We both knew that the flight would probably shut down by late morning, so we decided to stay put until nothing was flying. I already had two ducks down and I wanted to see if I could add to that.
The next hour was spent searching the sky, working small groups and dropping a few more ducks. At around 10:30 the sky went silent and absolutely nothing else was flying. The morning flight was over.
I had killed five ducks, a mix of gadwall, widgeon and teal and I had thoroughly enjoyed myself. As I gathered the plastic ducks I started to wonder why I had stopped hunting waterfowl.
Back at the shore, I tossed the decoys on the muddy bank and got ready to head back to the truck. The plastic pintail decoy hit the ground and tipped over revealing the initials D.B. on the bottom. I smiled. My buddy Darrin, who isn’t here anymore, had quit his job, gotten married and moved to Newfoundland in the span of a few months. He had been my duck hunting partner down south. Once he left, and I relocated, I didn’t feel much luck hunting ducks anymore.
Back at the truck we looked over the morning’s harvest. As I loaded up to head home, I knew I’d be back. It was time to get back into waterfowl hunting. Just before I got back on the road, I saw a text from one of the sleepy hunters. “How’d it go?” read the text. A photo of me smiling in front of a pile of ducks was my only response.