Waylee, Josh Pickett's retriever, rushes out to fetch a wood duck during a hunt in the early split. (By Jon Swaby)
Duck hunting can be a hit or miss proposition. One day the birds are everywhere and you can seem to do no wrong. Then, the next day opens to empty skies and a figurative desert wasteland for waterfowl.
Over the last couple of years, two things have affected my fortunes more than any other factor. The first, having good relationships with landowners, without which my ability to pick up and move to greener pastures would be severely limited. Secondly, a good hard rain can create a world of options. The former takes years to build a reputation of trust and respect, while the latter is up to the whims of nature.
Anytime these two factors coincide, the recipe is amazing duck hunting. During the early waterfowl split season, at the end of October, heavy rains swelled the river banks and spilled over into adjacent fields. Wood ducks were in abundance and having access to easy feed they quickly capitalized on new resources.
My work schedule affords me the ability to scout for birds during the day while my hunting partners are at their day jobs. Utilizing this has put us on the “X” when we would be going in “blind” otherwise.
Such was the case for opening day of the early split. The “Joshs” (Josh Pickett, Josh Mason and Josh Buskirk) and I were able to put ourselves on just such an “X.” Never before had I witnessed such a parade of wood ducks.
Crouched down as best we could, among the flooded beans, we welcomed the new season with a barrage of gunfire and ended the morning with a beautiful harvest of wood ducks. The smiles on my buddies faces expressed, more than words could, the effect the morning had on their spirits. Duck season was back and so were my hunting buddies.
It’s funny how a simple thing like a duck hunt can bring people together. Deer hunting, in contrast tends to be a solitary activity. A time for inner reflection and deep thinking. In a duck blind, however, you get to share stories, bonding over a common experience. That’s part of the appeal of duck hunting.
The second morning’s hunt we were able to adjust location and put ourselves exactly where the birds wanted to be. Frank Lemaire, Alan Jackson, Josh Buskirk, Josh Pickett and myself were greeted with a show indeed. 10 minutes before legal shooting time the wood ducks started pouring into the flooded field, some no more than five feet from where we sat, oblivious to our presence. By the end of the hunt we once again had a nice harvest of wood ducks and grins that could be seen for miles. Opening weekend was one we will talk about for years to come and I’m grateful for everyone I was able to share time in the blind with.
Now that the second split of duck season has started and I have a few hunts under my belt I find myself longing for flooded fields and floods of ducks. While we have had some success, the season so far has been more of a grind than anything. Hopefully that will all change soon, cold weather in Canada and the northern states may finally push a significant migration this way. Furthermore, a kind landowner has given permission to hunt some water holding in a field. With a little good fortune this arrangement will reap dividends and I can write a glowing story about the results. (You know who you are, and I’m sure you are reading this... THANK YOU!)
As a side-note, I ask that anyone who has the privilege to hunt private property to show respect to the landowners. It only takes a moment to clean up after yourselves. If the ground is too wet to drive then walk a little farther. Most of the places I hunt are farm ground, and as such I remind myself that the primary concern for the owner is farm practices. Anything I am allowed to do is a distant priority to that, so when I use a permission I try to park out of the way and avoid any conflicts. These things only take a small effort but can make the difference on being invited back.
I’m anxiously looking forward to what the rest of the season has to offer, especially in early January when we are holding our annual Waterfowl Weekend with some old friends and new. Randy Cesco, owner of Cold Front Calls, will once again be coming down from Syracuse, Ind. to join us for a weekend. To top it off we also have the pleasure of Rob Miles (Indiana state goose calling champion) and his son Daniel from LaGrange, Ind. as well as Tommy Wagoner and his son J.P., from Carlisle, Ky. joining our crew.
As stated earlier, a big part of waterfowling is the stories shared, and I have no doubt that this crew will have plenty of stories. Unlike my regulars, these will be stories I haven’t heard a hundred times before. Sorry guys, you know it’s true. If last year’s waterfowl weekend was any indication, then this year will be a great way to close out the season and make new memories to retell next year to all the guys in the blind.
Jon is a staff writer for the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached by telephone at (812) 847-4487, ext. 21. He can also be reached via email at email@example.com.