No, this isn’t a story about crawling thru the mud in the middle of the night to illegally stake out a spot in the closed zone of a favorite refuge but once or twice in a hunting career, if you are lucky, conditions transpire so that you get to experience the hunt of a lifetime. On this particular hunt day in early January many years ago, my dad and I arrived at the refuge pretty close to shoot time. Rarely did we have any issues of getting right on and this day was no exception. I have never been a big fan of getting up a 2 am and driving bleary eyed thru the night for the priveledge of sitting in a freezing cold pond waiting 2 hours for legal shoot time. So we did it the lazy way, arriving at first light and leizuely driving to our preferred parking lot. We would usually make a day of it so missing out on the first hour or so of shooting wasn’t that big of a deal. I also refer to this time of my life as bw&k(before wife and kids!!) or as William Wallace cried out in one of the final scenes of Braveheart: ” FREEEDOOOOMMMM”!. Another reason we were in no hurry is that a big storm was forecast to barrel thru sometime in the afternoon. We just wanted to make sure we were set up by the time the wind started to blow.
As we got out of the car to get on our on our gear, I took a long look up into the sky. Boy, it did not feel like a big storm was coming. Yes, it was cloudy but the air was very still. Maybe the forecasters got it wrong (Because that has never happened…) or maybe the storm was falling apart as it came over the coastal mountains. In any case, our prospects for an epic storm hunt was looking iffy at best.
Walking out to our “spot” that we had been hunting most of the season, we came to an unfortunate realization–our “spot” wasn’t our spot as much as we thought it was:( Well, as any experienced public refuge hunter knows, you better have plan B, C and D ready for just such a circumstance. So we moved on to another pond, but not too far away in case our Plan A spot opened back up.
Halfheartedly, we tossed out a few decoys and settled in to wait for something to fly over, and maybe for a few hunters to get hungry and head in. After sitting for awhile looking at empty skies, a wigeon came bombing in that my dad made good shot on!! Well, at least there would be no skunk on this day! I am not superstitious or anything but most hunters will tell you getting that 1st duck is BIG!! Not too long after that another duck came from behind us and my dad stood up and made a “I think his eye were closed” snap shot sending the duck crashing into our decoys. It turned out to be a big, bull, fully plumaged, beautiful….drake spoonie. Now, normally we don’t shoot spoonies but stuff happens and maybe on this day, we were going to need every duck we could get or so we thought!!
About midmorning, I decided to check back on our original spot, and lo and behold it was vacated. It did not take long for us to pick up our 4 decoys and head over. By then the breeze had picked up to the point that we got our first hint that something might be brewing. By the time we were set up at Plan A, the breeze had become a wind and it looked like the ducks were starting to move about. Over the next 2 hours the wind continued to increase until we had a full fledged wind whipping, whitecap producing storm. A duck hunters dream.
At the height if the storm, the birds were lifting off the closed zone in droves–bucking the wind–they seemed to be flying in slow motion as they fought the gale. But as luck would have it, our pond was directly upwind of the great lift-off!. At one point, I looked around and could see dozens and dozens of flocks all heading in our direction about 25 yards off the deck. It seemed like every duck in the closed zone was trying to fly over our pond. it was just a matter of waiting until a group of sprig flew over and picking out a drake. They were everywhere–to our left, to our right, downwind. The thought popped into my head as I waited for the next bunch of birds to fly directly over us–is this how it feels to hunt the closed zone?? I had never seen so many ducks flying that low in my life. It was one of those hunts that you had better savor because it would probably never happen like that ever again!! By the time the storm had subsided late in the afternoon, the damage had been done… we had limited out in drake sprig…except the for wigeon and spoonie my dad shot earlier in the morning. When we got back to the car I could not help myself–I had to say something–“hey dad,nice shot on that spoonie”!! With a smile on his face I think he muttered something about “hindsight is 20/20…”