We often find ourselves a little more thankful this time of year as we pause to reflect on what is truly important in our lives. I, for one, count my blessings a little harder, a little more intensely, and a bit more often as the Christmas Season brings all of the joys of faith, family, and friends together. Traditions are carried out, memories are celebrated, while new ones are created. Faith and its role in my Christmas, along with spending quality time with family, is what the the pinnacle of what the season brings for me.
However, spending quality time with the dawn as it breaks over decoys, North winds toying with steely gray skies, or feathers ripping and tearing against cold December air, materializing out of clear and endless bright blue skies… These, too, are traditions that beckon this wildfowler, that accompany the Holidays for me.Yes, among those many blessings to be accounted for at Christmas, I find my ability to observe and participate in the unveiling of a new day afield, to play my role in the mysterious gift of migration, to be among those most cherished. And so, as such traditions dictate, I began each day of my Christmas Holiday with time afield. The first of my four-day run would find me out on the Missouri side with some folks I am fairly new to hunting with, but have found make excellent company in a blind. A friend of a friend situation, involving an incredible piece of land situated directly across the street from Swan Lake in Sumner, MO, the “Goose Capital of the World” being the claim to fame. As if that is not enough of a draw, the owner has been shooting limits of green here – AND it is within a mile or so of Habitat Flats – arguably one of the finest and most respected waterfowl outfitters out there. To further sweeten the pot, the day before brought us a significant snow storm, coming from the upper Midwest driving more birds our way. The stage was surely set for limits all around, a sure thing, a can’t miss. All we had to do was show up. Right? Well, as was somewhat expected, a bit of ice greeted our sure-to-be-epic morning. In fact, we battled a bit of it on the roads as we trekked through what seemed to be several hours of back roads counting cars in ditches from the previous days conditions to remind us that getting there in one piece should take priority over a rush to make first light. About a thermos of coffee later, we found ourselves deploying the always-formidable tag-team-duo of ice-eater/generator to create a hole worthy of our fine feathered friends – where only a day prior mallards surely loafed… Unfortunately, the real excitement of the hunt ended there. The ice had either moved birds out of the area, or, more likely, the weather had the birds holding off until late in the day to start moving about in search of groceries. We saw very little in the way of birds, and what did work the area was high and distant. Aside from a trio of gadwall that buzzed in and caught us unprepared, this was about as close as I would get to a bird on this day. The long drive home was what made this day most memorable. Meeting new friends, listening to stories from “Ed” that reminded me a LOT of my grandfather and father, and laughing as we explored what was all new country for me really made for its own unique experience. The next day would surely make up for that. Two “gimmes” in a row, not bad! While I played across the state line, the Kansas crew was busy scouting and working the Kansas River. Mallards, by the swarm, were using an open area that was accessible – if you didn’t mind a bit of a walk. Another early start, and this one without the aid of a four-wheeler pulling a sled was tempered by my hunger for some action after the previous day’s “skunk” – and so the workout began. By my estimates, we walked a mile each way. Give or take what you will, it was one of those walks that required numerous stops and a strip down to remove layers once there. When you are working with temps in the teens and low twenties, that is saying something. Decoys were deployed, and we had an excellent vantage point, as we set up on the top of the bank, putting our shots level or above birds, making for a unique and interesting perspective. Bald Eagles punctuated the morning – as they often do on the river – as we were able to work a few groups in to finish. But they simply were not there in the numbers seen on the previous day, and the wind made it tough for what we did see to get in just right. And with the hard freeze-up of the previous two days, our battle to keep the ice chunks from taking our decoys down the river was not one that we were going to win easily. Not a skunk, with a half dozen mallards or so, but certainly a bit slower than we had anticipated, and not indicative of the scouting report. A nice morning out on the river, but the hot shower and nap felt extra nice after this one. Day three would be a bit of a write-off; not meant to be a “serious” hunt, but more of a work day to open up a hole on my pond so that we could hunt it hard the morning of Christmas Eve. We did set a few decoys out, and even had a pair of geese finish while we were working on the generator/ice eater. Of course, our guns were nowhere near us at this point. Work was done, a nice hole was created, and plans were laid for the next morning.
Christmas Eve would give us the action we looked for all weekend. We watched a couple different mobs of 50 or so mourning dove work the rocky bank between our layout blinds and the ice. Of course, I’ve never seen them here in such numbers during their season. Strange. They should have left Dodge by now. When we could see through the cloud of dove, we were able to have an excellent shoot. My old friend, Mr. Gadwall, was there to ensure that my weekend harvest would be a fruitful one. We watched an icey pup work her tail off while we added a few mallards – always a nice bonus on the ponds – and a few geese that finished perfectly, and nearly pulled limits as we closed our long weekend of hunting and looked forward to celebrating Christmas.
Good fortune has, indeed, smiled upon me, In having a wife supportive of, and encouraging my need to be a part of what the cold, bitter morning of late season has to offer the wildfowler. And for having friends that are more like family, eager and appreciative as I of these things we cherish as tradition. Or in simply having had a father to instill such passions in me from the very beginning of it all.
All of these are thoughts that occupy the mind of this fellow as The Christmas Season, and all that it inspires in us and our lives, intermingles with the passions of a wildfowler, reminding me that I am among those most blessed for so many reasons.
More photos from this weekend can be found HERE at BentonBoyd.com