Bill Marchel: Duck numbers good for waterfowl opener
By 9 a.m. we secured our limit and had time to relax and sip coffee, watch ducks and talk about nothing important.
BRAINERD — It was roughly 4:30 a.m. when Rolf Moen of Nisswa and I boarded my duck boat and shoved off from a boat landing at a sprawling wild rice marsh not too far from town. Accompanying us was Sally, Rolf’s German-shorthaired pointer.
This happened last Saturday, the 2022 Minnesota waterfowl opener.
It’s always dark on the duck marsh at such an early hour, but it was particularly gloomy for the duck opener. A new moon was just one day away; not that it would have provided any illumination because thick clouds hung low and a light mist was falling. As we motored toward our destination, we knew tree-studded shorelines were somewhere out there. Rolf and I had hunted this marsh for many years, yet on that dank morning we had to “feel” our way through the murk. Our headlamps did little good, barely piercing the gloom.
At one point during our trek, we jumped a few blue-winged teal that were roosting in thick wild rice, a rude awakening for them we assumed, since the ducks were so close our lamps illuminated them as they departed.
Eventually we arrived at our hunting location, about 90 minutes prior to legal shooting time.
One day prior I had scouted this area. I was impressed by what I saw. Here and there I had flushed flocks of blue-winged teal and wood ducks, many more than the past few years. Mallards were extremely scarce, but that’s not unusual for this marsh. Enough ducks, though, had leaped from the rice-laden water to provide me hope for a good hunt the following morning.
Now Rolf, Sally, and I sat in the dark in that very spot, awaiting legal shooting time. Rolf and I were sipping coffee, while Sally did what hunting dogs do — bounce about the boat, anxiously testing the air for olfactory clues to what might lurk nearby, hidden in darkness. Far off, a great-horned owl hooted. The air was so still, we could hear a beaver as it chewed bark from a log atop a large beaver lodge about 100 yards distant. Otherwise, a hush hung over the wetland. No wood ducks whined, no teal quacked, no whisper of wings overhead — nothing.
But that would change shortly after the 6:37 a.m. when legal shooting time arrived. Near and far salvos of gunfire sounded in every direction. Anyone who has hunted ducks knows at one half-hour prior to sunrise ducks flying low — below the tree line — are nearly impossible to spot until they whiz past. That was especially true on Saturday morning since dawn light was slow to come.
Soon though, a wood duck, silhouetted against the gray sky, banked to my left and dropped to the water at my shot. Shortly, Rolf repeated my performance on a blue-winged teal. Sally leaped overboard and made the retrieves.
For the next hour, ducks flew steadily. Not often were there moments when we could not see birds, at least in the distance.
Then, as usual, the action slowed. By that time, we had eight ducks in the boat, four short of our six-duck limit each. Our bag included six teal and two wood ducks.
By 9 a.m. we secured our limit, adding four teal to our take. Now we had time to relax and sip coffee, watch ducks and talk about nothing important.
“I love observing ducks zoom in on set wings,” I said to Rolf. “It’s great we got our limit, but now just watching waterfowl is a real treat.”
An hour later we motored toward the landing, satisfied we had a memorable hunt. We looked forward to a duck meal; I would roast ducks on the grill, basting often with lingonberry sauce, and a side of wild rice, while Rolf had duck stir fry in mind.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can visit his website at BillMARCHEL.com.