Duck hunting with good friends in the wild

Perfect combination of late season wood ducks, black duck and mallards. Pictured is Stephen GeorgeÕs friend, Harvey, at a local pond. (Photo courtesy of Stephen George)

It’s all waterfowler’s dream to look at the extended forecast in late November and see a massive cold front bearing down and the thermometer bottoming out.

Why would anyone want that you say?

Well, riding that wave of cold air brings big flocks of migrating ducks and geese heading south to their wintering grounds. Even though deer season is still going full throttle, it’s not unusual for duck enthusiasts to step out of the woods, throw on some waders in anticipation of big bull mallard drakes, black ducks, wood ducks and geese dropping in.

This year, not like all of them, I have been fortunate enough to  fill an archery and gun tag and have the freezer full of venison. The pressure is off, as we say.

With the drought this summer, our backwater duck hot spots were dry as a bone earlier in the season and that is a blessing and also a curse.

The blessing is that the vegetation that has grown in them provides a virtual smorgasbord of grasses and seeds for ducks once they fill up with water. The curse, no ducks, but we know that is temporary.

One of my favorite spots was completely dry in the early season so we were forced to hunt the bigger lakes such as Great Sacandaga and the Mohawk River.

However, mid-November rains have filled the shallow puddle, inundated the grasses and creating a Holy Grail of duck hunting spots. It’s away from the beaten path and secluded, a safe haven from strong winds for birds and full of food, and the ducks can’t resist it.

In preparation, the boat is loaded with decoys, waders, life jackets, throw cushions and blind materials the night before because in the early morning, the brain just isn’t firing on all cylinder and nothing can be left to chance.

The late November day started out as all other early morning hunts with the alarm going off at 3:30 a.m.

Thermoses are filled with hot coffee and the guns are loaded into the boat. The sky is clear and temperature crisp on the unguarded skin at the boat launch. Fingers are crossed as the boat motor is started in the cold and with the familiar purr of the outboard confirmed, we are off.

Arriving an hour before legal shooting time, a half hour before sunrise, allows the decoys and blind to be set prior to the early morning flights of birds. As the first decoy splashes on the water, the tell tale burst of wings reveals that ducks have been roosting on the pond at night — no worries as they will return.

The decoys are placed in a shape that allows for incoming birds to land in an open pocket within the decoy spread right in front of the blind. A few Canada goose decoys are placed in the center of the pond as confidence decoys.

The blind is erected concealing our position and we settle in with a hot coffee to let the pond rest prior to shooting time. This is the time we reflect and reminisce about prior outings and future hunts, question why we got up so danged early, discuss how our wives feel about us getting up so danged early and why it’s so good to be sitting in the cold and dark with close friends.

Within minutes we hear the slight chuckle of mallards and the whistles of wood ducks high over head.

Soon, their wing beats and splashes on the water are heard as birds drop into the spread in the pitch dark. More and more birds pile in and flush out as they embark on their normal morning routine.

As the eastern horizon starts to glow orange and yellow we load the guns and ready ourselves. For close quarter hunting over decoys, I have selected an improved-cylinder choke tube and 12 gauge 2 3/4″ high velocity Remington No. 2 steel. These loads have plenty of knockdown power and punch to drop any duck or goose within 40 yards.

Once shooting time arrives, its “game on” and targets are selected out of the air; the report of the guns echo across the valley and ducks fall to the water.

The first minutes are fast and furious as birds land and take off as shots are fired.

Once the first volley is over, our birds are recovered.

Since waterfowl regulations are specific with the number of each species and sex of birds that can be taken, we become selective on which birds are taken with focus on taking big bull drakes and passing on hens of all species.

After a few hours, the birds have found locations to sit for the day and the bird activity ceases. With that, the decoys are picked up, our morning’s take is admired for their beauty, and the boat is loaded for departure on another day of hunting late season puddle ducks.