The Off-Season Allows Many Post-Hunt Reflections
The end of duck season lets us reflect on our days afield, ponder many observations from the marsh and forge some strong opinions about the state of waterfowling.
As such — and having little of substance to write about — I thought I'd share some of the thoughts that have bounced through my head since the season closed and I returned to regular sleep patterns.
The New Gray
It's fascinating to document the changes in prairie gadwalls. Twenty years ago, when I first hunted the Dakotas and started shooting gray ducks in numbers, gaddies were pretty gullible and decoyed with abandon. After a two-decade crush of non-resident pressure, that's no longer true.
Nowadays, gadwall might circle a spread endlessly and hesitate to commit unless everything is perfect, much like a mallard or black duck. And they don't tolerate pressure, either, finding out-of-the-way waters and congregating in open water safe from guns — again, much like a mallard.
Oh, we still shoot plenty of them, but hunters have made real ducks out of the prairie gadwall.
Honestly, what would many Northern, Eastern and Midwestern hunters do without wood ducks? Woodies seem to enjoy hatch after great hatch, and their numbers many years border on ridiculous. Best, they occupy a variety of habitats — streams, rivers, marshes, lakes and even dry fields — so they're accessible to almost anyone. Cans will always be king, and mallards still represent the holy grail, but woodies are the people's duck.
My retriever has a unique personality, but her hunting behavior directly reflects my training: perfectly imperfect. She still wants to break. And some days, her whining drives me nuts. But she marks like a champ, takes pretty good hand signals nowadays and will hunt till her end to find any bird I knock down. I guess I should just appreciate my time afield with her. We'll continue to fall short of perfection but have a pretty great time along the way.
Advancements in hunting clothing continue to amaze me. Years ago, duck hunting meant shivering in the wind, wiggling your toes to preserve some feeling and losing most hand function while picking up decoys. And when you dressed for really frigid weather, bulky parkas or multiple layers basically rendered you immobile and made you look like a medicine ball.
Now, modern fabrics keep me toasty when the mercury drops, wind-blocking outerwear keeps the chill away from my core and specialized decoy gloves leave my digits dry and functional. I'm not sure what advancements will appear next, but I like where we are.
I'm convinced that no one works anymore. Even during the week, pressure at well-known spots can be ridiculous. Who are these people, and what do they do for money? What are they — duck bloggers?