A second long weekend in a row. Another four-day stretch of chasing feathers. This long holiday weekend would see us pass from not only one calendar year to the next, but also from a final shot at ducks (well, at least until the late split segment on in January) and our move towards focusing on geese for the next 6 weeks.
In an effort to make the most of this, we decided to go all-in on chasing a few greenheads on the River. Based on some excellent scouting on behalf of one of the KS Outdoorsmen’s closest and most trusted sources, this was sure to be a layup. Done deal. Sure thing. Seems a lot of my stories have been starting out that way this season, but there it was. And with ice locking up a lot of water around these parts, it wasn’t unrealistic to think this one could be good.
The cold morning led us down the steep bank to solid ice on the backwater we came to hunt. While the channel was moving just fine, the rest of the river was locked up. Fortunately for us, we set to work and had a very decent, huntable hole in place as legal shooting time snuck up on us. As we finished setting the spread and clearing ice, ducks, maneuvering in the dark, had clearly identified our hole as a very decent spot, and attempted to assist us in finishing up our spread. Haste was applied as we raced LST.
Nearly ready – and nearly legal – it was discovered that in all of the rush, Nick had one more trip to make to the truck. As the skies only got busier, Nick started the 10-15 minute climb-and-hike while daylight sprinted forward. Twelve guages spoke back to the sounds of wings as the clock said “Go”. Nick returned not 15 minutes later, and the three of us were done. I repeat, 3 limits, 18 birds down, in 15 minutes.
We loaded our guns for geese, I got my camera out, and JJ called to check the ETA of the other two guys meeting us down here while we witnessed one of the grandest displays of ducks I have seen – and watched Nick carefully select greenheads as he counted down his own share.
We added a few geese to the count before JJ’s boys arrived, and they finished out limits in short order as well.
In hindsight, I think we all got caught up in the madness of first light, and wished we’d of waited a bit and picked out greenheads over the course of a couple hours, but there IS something to be said for a 15 minute limit. As we discussed and contemplated over an adult beverage or two at a local establishment, it was determined we would execute with more precision the next morning. We laid out a strategy that would work with the less-than-friendly-wind that would come with a turn of the sphere, and parted ways to appease significant others, even if our minds were all still on the incredible sights, the perfect mix of elements, resulting in the incredible hunt that morning had brought us.
The next morning woke, shook its head in disgust at the shoes it knew it had to fill, and tried to roll over and go back to sleep. There were seven waterfowlers, where the previous day there were only six, who were not about to let that transpire.
This morning’s plan took into account the expected shift in wind – one that was not quite optimal for this stretch of river, but something that we’d considered and planned to work around. A long island 100 yards down from where we were the previous day would serve as a break, allowing us to tuck in behind it, with hopes that birds would have just enough room to skirt behind us and come in over the top/tip of the island into our spread, giving us a nice shot without being too out in the open.
Men were set to task, deploying decoys, moving ice as Nick worked the chainsaw, and generally preparing for what this sunrise may bring along with it.
And “bring” it did. Similar to yesterday, these winged marauders bombed our spread early, zigzagging in and out with reckless abandon, making for tough shots early against the dark background of the opposite bank. Shotguns spoke often, dogs working at each volley, playing their distinct role in the harvest.
This day felt more mapped out, almost too planned, too calculated, compared to the charm of yesterday’s early morning flurry and patient and intense observation. I was excited to take more pics today, but even that role seemed a bit lacking.
Seven hunters, seven limits, and another couple of bonus Canucks, not bad day by any standards… but really, this day was lacking a bit of the magic, surprise, and intensity that the day before had. Two days and 13 limits of ducks on the river – tough to beat that in a year when water is down and many have had a tough time getting to the birds. And an absolutely perfect, fairy-tale ending to our 2012 Duck Season. So nice, in fact, that a friend of the Kansas Outdoorsmen Marc Murrell even wrote about our adventure in the Topeka Capital-Journal.
And… In with the NEW.
The rest of our weekend – New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day – would be spent chasing geese, locally. Unfortunately, these critters have been somewhat tough to pattern, and so we set out knowing we’d have our work cut out for us. On top of that, we had a gorgeous snow storm join us an hour into our morning’s hunt. While we had some nice finishes by the no-longer-shootable ducks, we never heard a honk in the air. Had a great morning of catching up with old friends, enjoying a beautiful snow storm, making fun of Dave sweep the decoys every 10 minutes, and decoying cows right into the zone.
With a less than stellar performance on the Canucks, New Year’s Day was called off in favor of a bit of much needed sleep. However, it came as no surprise to my wife when I caved to a couple of texts from Nick with regards to seeing what the afternoon may have to offer on the pond. With J.J. willing to drive in from Lawrence, I felt semi-obligated (an excuse!) – the three of us hit the pond, excited to get the snow covers out for the layouts, and set up for some afternoon fun.
The birds were not incredibly active, but we managed a few geese down, and enjoyed a nice show by the ducks that we would have shot had we been a few miles south in the SE zone. But the most entertaining of them all went out to a single suzie shoveler…
Four shovelers came in, mulled about, and after a few minutes, three left, with a hen deciding to stick around. This happened at about 2:00 pm. She just swam around the decoys, occasionally hopping up on the ice to fraternize with the full-body geese we had on the ice, and then back down into the hole, where she swam in circles with her head down – left turns only, a-la NASCAR, only occasionally tipping up like a proper lady duck should. She would do this for 5, 10 minutes at a time. The dog couldn’t chase her off; she’d just fly to the other side of the hole and continue. Then back again. We shot geese; she didn’t budge. We got up, walked out into the decoys; still, she stayed. We shot more. The dog worked dead geese around her. She stayed, and was there when we left after 5 pm. Perhaps the strangest of all ducks I’ve encountered. Entertaining, at least, if nothing else.
The January goose season would not kick off with the same flair and success that the duck season would go out on, but they were nice, relaxing hunts that were close to home and easy to manage and execute. And there were sure to be some excellent goose days ahead of us in the coming weeks. Today was about watching the sun set on an awesome weekend – two awesome, long weekends – of doing what we love to do most.