In the predawn darkness, Rolf Moen, of Nisswa, and I sipped coffee and discussed what duck hunters normally mull — nothing of too much importance, which is good.

This was last Saturday, Sept. 25 — the 2021 Minnesota duck hunting opener.

Rolf was seated in the bow of my duck boat, I was in the stern. The air was still, and a sulfur-like aroma filled the air — the smell of a duck marsh, an odor perhaps only a duck hunter can enjoy. The temperature was a comfortable 50 degrees.

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Missing was Rolf’s German short-haired pointer, Sally. She was benched, at least for the day, having recently sustained a leg injury. It would be up Rolf and me to find our downed ducks, a task Sally had performed for the past four or five years.

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One day prior, Rolf and I had scouted the sprawling wild rice marsh in which we now occupied, waiting for legal shooting time to arrive. What we had found was very disappointing. Here and there we had flushed a few groups of wood ducks, but not like most years. Totally absent were mallards, and we had jumped only one flock of blue-winged teal. Toward dusk, we had watched as several flocks of wood ducks had landed where now sat. We hoped they’d return.

One day prior to the Minnesota duck season opener, a scouting trip revealed fair numbers of wood ducks but very few other species like teal and mallards.
Contributed / Bill Marchel
One day prior to the Minnesota duck season opener, a scouting trip revealed fair numbers of wood ducks but very few other species like teal and mallards. Contributed / Bill Marchel

Shooting time arrived, and near and far salvos of gunfire sounded in every direction. Long minutes passed before a half dozen wood ducks winged into gun range. Rolf fired, and one duck somersaulted and hit the water, a colorful drake.

A half hour or so later, Rolf and I discussed moving to a different location. The wood ducks we had seen at this spot the day before had apparently gone elsewhere. It was time to relocate.

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The second spot proved to be not any better than the first. We saw ducks, and had missed a bird or two, but soon we became impatient. Off we went again.

Our second move proved to be a smart choice. Not long after arriving, we added four more wood ducks to our bag. I had secured my daily limit of three wood ducks, so I became a spectator, watching and hoping Rolf would get a chance for his third wood duck. And maybe, just maybe, ducks of a different species would wing by, giving me an opportunity at them.

Wood ducks are arguably the most colorful of all North American waterfowl. They also excel as table fare.
Contributed / Bill Marchel
Wood ducks are arguably the most colorful of all North American waterfowl. They also excel as table fare. Contributed / Bill Marchel

But that didn’t happen. About mid-morning, we decided it was time to quit. The sky was basically devoid of ducks.

We ended our hunt with five wood ducks, one short of our two-person limit. The total limit is six ducks each, but only three can be wood ducks. Neither Rolf nor I fired a single shot at any other species.

Back at the boat landing, we discovered other hunters had similar success. Wood ducks predominated, with an occasional blue-winged teal in their bags.

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BILL MARCHEL is a wildlife and outdoors photographer and writer whose work appears in many regional and national publications as well as the Brainerd Dispatch. He may be reached at bill@billmarchel.com. You also can visit his website at BillMARCHEL.com.