Bill Marchel: Good hunting on the 2020 duck opener
Flurries of action followed by quiet lulls seemed to be the theme of the day.
The pre-dawn sky was inky black, and low-lying clouds obscured the stars as Rolf Moen of Nisswa, his dog Sally, a German short-haired pointer, and I motored toward our hunting destination a half mile or so from the boat landing. The air was calm and mild -- about 55 degrees.
We had navigated roughly this same route for nearly two decades, so we knew it well.
This was last Saturday, the Minnesota duck hunting opener.
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. Otherwise a hush hung over the wetland. No wood ducks whined, no mallards quacked, no whisper of wings overhead -- nothing.
But that would change shortly after the 6:39 a.m. legal shooting time began. Anyone who has hunted ducks knows at one half-hour prior to sunrise ducks flying low, below a near or far tree line, are nearly impossible to spot until they wiz past overhead. That was especially true on Saturday morning since dawn light was slow to come. Numerous ducks got past during the first several minutes.
Then, a small flock of blue-winged teal buzzed by. Rolf swung his shotgun and touched the trigger. Two ducks fell with his first shot, and his second shot went astray.
Then things changed, dramatically, like someone hit the “ducks off” switch, if there is such a thing. The ducks were gone, and so was the shooting. East and west, north and south, it was eerily quiet. There were many minutes when we could not see a single duck in the sky, even in the distance. It was only 7:20 a.m.
Rolf and I discussed the situation. It’s not rare for the opening flurry to quickly taper off, but on Saturday, it ended particularly abruptly, we both agreed. This year, the wild rice was so thick, we figured ducks had found secure locations to rest and feed.
Time passed, and eventually a drake wood duck tried to sneak behind us. Rolf and I both shot, and the bird folded, splashing into the water about 40 yards away.
Sally leaped from the boat and swam toward the duck. She made a nice retrieve of a well-plumed drake.
Eventually, we moved to a different location. There was a brief flurry of action and I was able to add a blue-winged teal to the bag. Rolf and I both whiffed on a few others.
Key to our hunting success was the scouting mission the day prior. We knew exactly where we wanted to be. Rolf and I reasoned we had a satisfying opening day, and I’m sure Sally agreed.
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.