Ain’t Nothing but a “G” Thing: A Gadwall Exposé

So, I have been struggling to get a recap of the first half of the season posted, but as my previous post indicated, “life” has, as usual, got in the way just a bit, impairing my ability to deliver in anything resembling a timely fashion. So as I attempt to summarize the first seven weeks of the 2012 KS waterfowl season, really, one word – or rather, a theme – comes to mind.

No, if you read from my posts last year… it’s not “drought”. Although that has certainly played its role this year as well. The theme of my duck season so far has pretty much been all about the Anas strepera – known by many as the Gadwall. The Gray Duck. I have recently coined the term “Blackbills” – because (and I’d love to convince you it’s my skill, and intentional) I only shoot the drakes…
Yes, this article could have been about a number of things, but if you summed up the season with one defining  generalization,  it would be something to do with Mr. Gadwall.

Now, let me give you a bit of necessary background to help you understand the irony of this story. If you have spent any time with me in a blind, you are probably smiling at this point, because you already know that Mr. Gaddie and I are not exactly the best of friends. I have used every excuse in the book in my discrimination of said fowl.

The culinary snob in me has held his diet of algae, pondweed, and whatever else he can scoop out of the pond in the way of mollusks, insects and animal matter against him, preferring instead to dine on the  tastier puddlers. Even I’ll admit quietly to this audience that I’d not likely know the difference in a gumbo, or jerky…

And then there’s the commonality of this bird. It’s just so… not… sexy? The Grey Duck has always been our most common bird on the pasture ponds we hunt, and maybe it’s a simple fact that I’d rather shoot the more exotic, colorful birds. After all, who wouldn’t rather hang  bag of Mallards, Pintail, Teal, Widgeon, etc… Not to mention that these birds just seem to taunt me, year-in and year-out, always seeming to sit just outside of the spread. Really, what’s to like like about this most boring, least spectacular of our puddle ducks?

Anyway you slice it, from whatever angle, anyone who has hunted with me regularly will acknowledge my long-standing grudge against the Gray Duck. But this season, Mr. Blackbill has fought hard for – and slowly gained – the affections of this wildfowler.

Indeed, my disdain, my just “settling” for the Gadwall because it’s all that might be flying, has come into question this season.

He still maintains his propensity for the middle of the pond, but even with the middle of the pond being a bit less than adequate due to our little drought situation, this fine feathered fellow has single-handedly saved – or made – the 2012 Duck season for me.

While most species still loaf on open waters to the north where seasons have ended, and hunting pressure ceases to aid the weather in driving migration, Mr. Blackbill has been gracing my waters in record numbers.

Where last year we were shooting very little of anything at this point due to drought conditions, this season has found that the sheer volume of Gadwall, coupled with a little creativity in getting to them, has brought  brother Anas strepera and I much, much closer.

You see, without the abundant Gadwall population, we’d not have a lot going on right now. For fun, here are the ratios of Gadwall to total birds for this, and recent seasons (this is all waterfowl, and skewed a bit as we’ve not had our January goose season, but it’s still VERY high)

To date this season, Gadwall are making up 49% of our total harvest.

2011-12: 18%
2010-11: 12%
2009-10: 22%
2008-09: 18%
2007-08: 25%

And so on.. you get the idea – and the numbers stay within that range for years going back from there.

Based on past goose seasons, I expect once these numbers are evened out after goose, we’ll likely still be in a 35-40% range for Gadwall-of-total-harvest.

So this year, I have come to be more appreciative of what I have been blessed with in terms of waterfowl. In fact, I might go as far as to say, I have enjoyed my time with old Blackbill this season. This season he seems to taste a bit better in that stir fry, or tucked into those snack sticks. This year, those sharp black bills and the rich, deep chestnut, and contrasting black & white on the speculums and coverts, all stand out a bit stronger to me.

Perhaps I’ve been a bit too hard on Mr. Gadwall. Maybe it’s a couple of tough seasons that makes a fellow appreciate what he’s got, getting over that “grass is always greener” thing. Maybe it’s the challenge of having to “get creative” – taking on both the wary Gray Duck AND the drought, by getting outside of my comfort zone, thinking outside of the box – or outside of the blind, applying ghillie suits and face paint, playing in mud and rocks to get close. Who knows. But I think it’s time that I deliver a long overdue apology to the Anas strepera.

Mr. Blackbill, Thank you. You have, officially – and finally – earned my respect.

~ benton

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