3 Steps from Cover – more North Dakota Duck Hunting
Duck Hunting by Jump Shooting
Greetings, dear reader. If you have been following the saga of the *best vacation* Uncle Milton has ever had, then you already know that North Dakota is a GREAT PLACE for waterfowlers to go, that the *prairie pothole* region of North America is North Dakota and surrounding states and provinces, and that most of the potholes (that we saw) had some ducks on them.
*Note of Clarification*- it was the best vacation I ever had that Wifey was not present for. That is a very important note, so that I don’t wake up with the imprint of some cast iron cookware on the old noggin. Actually it was HORRIBLE to be there without Wifey.
So, now getting back to the duck hunting…Everywhere we looked, it seemed, if there was some water and some cattails, there were ducks. So we started to stop, and walk into the little potholes. Ideally, we would approach a smallish pond from the downwind direction, and the duck would fly out and away. The hunters would then walk along both sides of the pond, always looking back over the shoulder, and as the duck would return…BANG. The secret was to never get further than 3 steps from cover. (Note; by *cover* I do not mean cover in the traditional military sense, which would be stuff that STOPS bullets, but rather cover as concealment. More like cover=cattails)
Recall, dear reader that we are walking in wetlands, water that could be anywhere from inches up to and deeper than the top of one’s chest high waders. Water that sits on top of a layer of muck. Muck that could be anywhere between a couple of inches up to and deeper than the top of one’s chest high waders. The walking can be difficult. And one IS trying to be stealthy on top of it all, so it is easier to wade where the cattails are not.
The problem with wading where the cattails are not, is that there is a reason why the cattails ain’t there, and sometimes that nice easy walking is DEEP water and PAH-LUNK!!! under you go.
Wading in Ducky Ducky Land
Imagine for a moment that you are with me, in the cattails, alongside of a duck pond, and oodles of duck are bursting skyward and exiting stage left. And stage right. And for the most part, (unless they are really, really close) we don’t shoot at them as they exit. We are wading knee-deep, heading into the wind. Ducks usually take off and land going into the wind as this gives them the best control. The muck is 4 to 6 inches thick, and our boots stick just a little bit, with every step, and bubbles are released from the bottom. The most fertile aroma makes its way to the surface, with those bubbles. Black ooze, what may one day be mined as peat moss, or sphagnum, mixes into the pond water.
This mini-ecosystem teems with life. There are insects, larvae, seeds and plants galore. Looking back over your shoulder, you notice ducks approaching- coming into the wind, attracted to the sound of us splashing through their living room. We watch under the brims of our hats as they fly by just outside of shooting range. We watch for the color patterns on their wings- ducks can be identified by the wing alone, and we observe a speculum with a pattern of white-black-blue-black-white and recognize these immediately as mallards. We hold still in the cover of the cattails as these birds fly past us, and over to the other side of the pond.
Usually,from the time we spot incoming ducks, if one moves 3 steps or less, they will be hidden well enough. That will allow one to orient the direction they are facing to where the birds will be when they get within shotgun range. And if one plans this out right, when they shoot, they drop a nice duck, stone cold dead right within view only a short distance away.
And that is where having a good duck dog helps out immensely. Because when things do not go as *usual*, the dog makes things one heck of a lot easier. The dogs absolutely LOVE fetching up these downed ducks, and it is a thing of beauty in and of itself to see a happy dog, bringing a nice duck back. Not only that, but YOU don’t have to rush over there your own self. IF you have a dog. Or your hunting buddy does AND he is on the same side of the pond as you.
Jump Shooting -Ultimate Fun
Just so you know, Old (I emphasize old) Uncle Milton had no dog with him most of the time as the dog was with his master on the other side of the pond, so this required a bit of extra planning and care. Care to only shoot ducks that are well within range. And planning to have them fall relatively close, and NOT in the thickets but rather in open water. And for the most part that is how it worked out.
I did wade out over the top of my waders twice to retrieve dead birds. One was a fine drake canvasback. The other a blue winged teal. Getting a soaker was no big deal as the temperature was mild. And this jump shooting is an active sort of sport, where you sweat your butt off anyway, so the soaker ended up being, aaah-um, refreshing.
We shot gadwalls. Blue winged teal. Mallards. Canvasback. Redheads. Shovellers. Ring necked ducks. Bluebills. We saw pintails and black ducks, but didn’t shoot any. We got Canada Geese-in a variety of sizes; the smallest geese were what they called “squeakers”- they were barely much bigger than a mallard, but feathered exactly like a Canada Goose. Cool. But, the most unusual bird that we harvested, the most memorable and one that you just aren’t allowed to shoot in Indiana or Michigan, was a Sandhill Crane.
Ayup, we had paid an extra 5 bucks for a Sandhill Crane tag, and while we were jumpshooting ponds, one sandhill decided to fly right over our truck, parked right in the middle of a prairie road, and then within gun range of Old Uncle Milton. And then he crash-landed and ultimately became the main course of a dinner here in the Greater Bippus Area.
Rib-Eye-of-the-Sky. That is what Sandhill Cranes are referred to on the TV hunting shows. And they make for one great dinner too.
Who would have ever thought one could harvest a Rib-Eye-of-the-Sky while jump shooting?