Opening Weekend, 2011

duck hunting, waterfowling, labrador retriever, ducks, kansas outdoorsmanSo much anticipation surrounds this very weekend for we brethren of the feathered chase. Seeds of anticipation that were planted the moment the last season ended, are carefully nurtured from that point on in an effort to reach this weekend, where the cycle starts anew. Months of planning and preparing, with momentum snowballing its way towards that climatic final weekend in October, find us eager to step on stage and play our role in the Autumnal miracle we call migration.

This year was no different than any other in terms of eagerness and anticipation. Excellent duck reports have only served to fuel that excitement. Unfortunately for us, we have one “small” obstacle – drought. Blinds that once kissed the waters edge are now separated by 30 yards of barren mud flat. While this only describes one particular scenario for us, the lack of rain has affected all of our ponds and marshes to varying degrees, and has left us among the many scratching their heads and scrambling for alternative solutions to effectively hunt these low water conditions, while we hope and pray for precipitation.

goose hunting, duck hunting, ducks, canada goose, decoy, waterfowlOur opening day would find us on our “main” pond – one that measures 8+ acres at normal pool, but would probably be generous to claim 5 of it under current conditions. Our blind would be a cedar-clad pvc and chicken-wire job constructed to be mobile, so that we might move it around the mud flats, chasing optimal wind as conditions dictate. Our fear of a big cedar box looking out of place on an empty mud flat were dissolved as the first several groups worked our spread, none wanting to fully commit, but at least not flaring from our setup.  Our post-hunt analysis led us towards a lack of wind being our greatest enemy, as once the breeze picked up a bit we were able to knock down a pair of Green Wings who finished without a care in the world.

We found ourselves in mud that literally swallowed me up to my knees, nearly trapping me at one point. Makes for a rather dismal setup and pickup, and left us all wishing for that rain to come along and put us a bit closer to the full pool we take for granted most years.

We saw a nice number of birds – in fact, I think we all agreed that the number of birds we saw, for our spot, exceeded our expectations for the opener, and for such a short spell.  We hunted only briefly, as the better-educated two-thirds of these Outdoorsmen bleed Kansas State Wildcat purple and had tickets to a certain top 10 showdown that we’d prefer not to discuss any further in hindsight.

We were less fortunate with our harvest count, but we are not necessarily among those that measure our success in such strict manner. And today we chose to measure it by how muddy the dogs were hunting such a murky mess, thereby declaring this one of the best, most successful hunts ever.  It’s all about the standards you set-reasonable, attainable expectations, yes? 🙂

Muddy Labs For The Win.

Day two of Opening Weekend led us in another direction entirely. The Outdoorsman make it a point to always be on the lookout for new opportunities to further diversify our hunting experiences. One such acquisition on the part of Nick last year garnered opening weekend honors based on the “it actually has enough water to comfortably hunt” factor, and thus we ended up making the hour+ journey up to Atchison, KS for day two of our season.

A small, 2-3 acre pond hidden down in a draw between cornfields would be today’s stage.  Surrounded by all of the right reeds, small trees, brush, it provided all of the natural cover necessary to kick back and enjoy a nice, easy morning from the bank without standard hassles of blinds and such. Toss decoys, sit back, wait for the whoosh of wings to interrupt our coffee. And hear them we did; it was too dark yet to see them.

We had a couple different groups on the water prior to shooting time. They came and went, and as the sun moved us towards legal light, familiar rockets shot across the pond, the sounds of teal flying their maneuvers over guarded airspace. The heavier wings of big ducks soon joined the circus above, with Mallards, and another group of Gadwall joined the party. An exciting show to start the morning on a small pond. And we enjoyed every moment of it.

At some point the Mallards and Gaddies came together and gave us an opportunity to drop a pair of drakes and a Gaddie. Not too much further into the morning a pair of Green Wings attempted to slide in unannounced and were collected with precision. A dive-bombing Mallard drake would later descend from somewhere far up in the stratosphere, and I won’t even try and explain Adam’s “find” (is that a coot he is holding up in the picture below?) but after a fairly exciting kick-off, the mid-morning died off and found us simply enjoying a gorgeous day afield, watching a perfect sunrise unfold into a whole new season.

It was a great way to kick-off the new waterfowl season. Not even something like… oh, getting a tire puncture out in a cornfield while scouting a couple other ponds could take away from the excitement of a new season.

I am glad it’s finally here.

~ benton

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