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Duck Camp 2022

The geese came in low over the water, a perfect opportunity as they took off from the other side of the lake flying over our decoys. Whether they intended on landing in our little bay or were planning on leaving the five of them, at least from my perspective had perfect timing. I stood, stock still, head down waiting for the moment, unfortunately I was without my shotgun. As they turned to arc away Ryan’s shot rang out, the goose on the far right flinched with the impact of a successful shot. Murphy’s law was in full effect, a slow morning improved when my hunting partner was out of the blind and I connected with the first duck of our trip, a half hour later as I was going to get the boat, sans shotgun the five Canada geese we had been planning on trying to jump took the opportunity to take off, leaving one fella with a gun sitting over the decoys. While it was a great shot, the 2¾ inch load of steel wasn’t quite enough. Hopping on the oars I rowed to within shooting distance, this time handing over my old pump stuffed with 3½ inch loads, Ryan finished off what he had started.

Our geese decoys sitting still in the morning mist.

Shortly after midnight I woke up, the air mattress I was relying on to keep me off the ground had failed. Feeling the cold earth beneath me I slept fitfully the rest of the night. It took the old joints a few extra minutes to limber up and by the time I emerged from the tent two hours before sunrise Ryan already had the Jetboil fired up and water bubbling. There is absolutely nothing like a steaming mug of hot coffee on a frosty morning, especially after too little sleep. The previous evening after setting up camp and plucking a couple of grouse we had perched ourselves on a beaver run tucked back in the reeds. The ducks flew, singles, doubles, small flocks of mallards came in, landing on the far side of the lake instead of in our decoys. Little did we know this was to be a pattern for the whole weekend.

Ryan gets a hands on appreciation for the size of a Canada goose.

The hunting turned out to be difficult, the spent wads and casings we’d seen on shore and skittish birds made me think there’d been a lot of early season shooting. The mallards would circle just out of range, coming back over and over again to our calling, they just wouldn’t commit. We tried moving our decoys around, smaller spread, setting up a jerk string to give off some signs of life with the dead calm conditions; nothing worked. It had been years since I seriously duck hunted, most of that being done on flooded beaver ponds. We would find the tiny pothole the ducks wanted to be on, get in there before daylight, set up some decoys and that was about it. Most of the time the ducks would drop over the treetops and all of a sudden be cupping their wings in front of you. This larger open space where we could watch the greenheads approach from a distance, where they repeatedly flew away and returned was all new to me and I quickly ran out of techniques and ideas to coax them in those final yards.

Setting up the jerk string on the final morning in camp.

Every morning and evening we moved to where the ducks had chosen to land the hunt before. Knowing we weren’t the best at blowing on a duck call we did what we could to increase our odds of attracting these gun-shy birds. The beauty of the duck blind is that even when you can’t pull the birds in you will engage with them, you will have moments of anticipation, head down hoping for them too light in your decoys. Ryan and I spend much of our season hunting blacktail deer, a pursuit that doesn’t often result in seeing your prey, especially early in the season. Even on a mediocre duck hunt you will see birds and probably get off a few shots. We didn’t burn through a box of shells in three days but we did make our scatterguns bark, by the end of the weekend there was a Canada goose and a few ducks in the cooler with the grouse. There had been a few beers and food around the campfire and for two guys who spend much of their time afield solo, there’d been the sociable enjoyment of being able to shoot the shit in the blind when nothing was flying. The trip took me back to the days I’d spent with family and friends at our hunting camp in Ontario, a connection with hunting that I have been missing.

See you on the water or the mountain.

-Matthew Mallory

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