Sharing the outdoors with others is truly one of my favorite things about hunting and fishing.
During this past opening day of duck hunting in Wisconsin, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do exactly that. This turned out to be a hunt that I will remember for the rest of my life.
I’ve been on my fair share of, shall we say, opening day “adventures” on public land. In recent years, I have opted for sitting out the first few hours of duck season unless I have a private land spot. Though that may sound a bit entitled, I’ve found it to be the ideal approach for keeping my blood pressure at healthy levels.
This year, a good friend of mine, a seasoned waterfowler, locked down a quality private land spot in the weeks leading up to the opener. It was a cut corn field with some standing water in the low spots. You really can’t dream up a much better scenario.
The appointed group consisted of myself, the friend who found the spot, a mutual friend of ours, and my brother-in-law. The latter two gentlemen had pretty much no experience duck hunting and I was excited for whatever opportunities awaited them.
As the sun set the night before go-time, we parked our trucks on an old county road adjacent to the property and watched through our binoculars in awe as hundreds of ducks and geese exited the feeding grounds en route to their roosts.
It was a sight to behold. We gawked as hundreds of birds filed out of the corn, cloud after cloud. The processional brought forth memories of watching flocks of migrators arrive on the Mississippi River for a much-needed respite.
Our blood was pumping and our sense of optimism high.
Darkness eventually fell and we began the preparations for the following day in the newly-abandoned ghost town.
Truck headlights lit the dusty field as we began to collect the stubble necessary for concealing our layout blinds. Morning couldn’t come soon enough.
On the drive home, I went through some of the shooting basics with our mutual friend.
“No matter how close they get, wait until shot is called.”
“Mind your barrel. Know your angles.”
“Start shooting at the bird farthest from you and work your way in.”
“Don’t group shoot, pick a duck and commit.”
“Remember the four Bs: butt, belly, bill, blast.”
“Follow through on passing shots. Swing with the birds. Don’t forget to lead them.”
I busted out all the cliches, but I wanted to do my due diligence to ensure the best possible experience.
In the pre-dawn hours of the following day, the full group assembled in the field and we began to set decoys. There was plenty of confident chatter, but no one wanted to jinx it.
The spread was set. Now we just had to wait. Always the hardest part.
Shooting light came. Things were quiet. A bit too quiet.
I began running through the doomsday scenarios in my head. Had the cold evening temperatures chased the birds south?
After roughly half an hour, a flock of local wood ducks forced my mind back onto the positive track.
We dropped a few birds out of that first group. We were on the board and the adrenaline rush was just starting.
After the initial volley, the next ducks appeared in short succession. We didn’t even have time to close our blinds before a nice flock of mallards was eyeing up the decoys.
More shots rang out, more birds plummeted to the earth. We were rolling now. Fist bumps and plenty of hooting and hollering ensued. Ear-to-ear smiles were fixed upon the entire group. Each member of our party had successfully contributed to the tally.
My brother-in-law and our mutual friend both harvested their first ducks among the initial flocks. An amazing moment to be part of.
A mix of mallards and woodies kept the steady action coming and we continued to capitalize. Before we knew it, we were in double digits, then in the teens, then at 20.
There were points when we couldn’t reload fast enough. Whoever had the fastest access to shells re-supplied the entire group.
“This is chaos,” our mutual friend said with a grin.
“I know. Isn’t it awesome?” I replied.
In the midst of all this, the goose flight began. We had some honkers in our spread and were equipped with sufficient goose loads but, amid all the craziness, the thought of stacking Canadas completely slipped my mind.
We worked the more serious flocks for, what felt like, forever. A group of five eventually locked up and threw down the landing gear.
Despite a mouth full of spit and a goose call still pursed to my lips, I was able to call the shot.
A pair of geese fell, including our mutual friend’s first goose. He folded it on his first shot.
As things began to quiet down, the green-winged teal started flying. Known for their small size and incredible aerial acrobatics, it’s altogether different than shooting at mallards and miles away from cracking a few rounds off at a committed goose.
We ran the duck total up to 23. One away from our limit.
“I don’t care how long it takes, no one is leaving until we get this last bird,” said our ringleader.
That statement was met with unanimous approval. After all, we were hardly two hours into the hunt.
Since three of us had our limits, it was all up to the organizer of the hunt.
A pair of teal came screaming across the makeshift pond from left-to-right. One shot, one bird. And that was that.
A flurry of cheers echoed off the nearby woods followed by more fist bumps. What an amazing morning. A four-man limit in under three hours.
Both the ringleader and I were sure to remind our greenhorns that they were unlikely to ever experience something like this again. But we also made sure they celebrated the morning.
Twenty-four ducks, a pair of geese, including three firsts. I’ve never been a part of anything like it. I may never get to be again. And you know what? That’s OK.
But that won’t stop any of us from trying.
The next day, our alarms went off and we went back out again.