As the days approached his anticipation grew, I could see it in his eyes and I just knew this was going to be a hunt he would always remember! Then came the word that where we were going we would have to be on the water at midnight! Yes I said, MIDNIGHT! This spot that Chico picked for us to go was a hot spot that always filled up early, so we had to be first at the launch to get the prime spot or even a spot at all. I explained to Jake that we would have to sleep in the boat and that it would be near freezing conditions, he was still game for the trip, although I knew he didn't fully understand. I made sure that he had plenty of layered clothing along with the Mr. Buddy propane heater to keep him warm.
Randy Duncan a friend of the UNJ team got to the house around 10pm and we loaded the boat and truck, then we made the trip north! We got to Chico's house and had to wait on Dave Hagen to get out of work, we made it away from Chico's house by 11:45pm or so. As we arrived at the boat launch we saw only one other truck putting a boat in, so we were second in line to put our boats in. This was going to be an all new experience for us! I followed Chico, Dave, and Mikey who were all in Chico's boat to the spot we were going to set up at. It took about 10 minutes to get to the area Chico said would put on a good show for us all.
As we sat and Chico told us just how we would be setting up that morning. We took my boat first and pushed it into the cattail reeds parallel to the water's edge. Next was Chico's boat, we slipped it right in behind mine to form a line for all six of us to get some safe shooting at ducks we would be targeting. We were about 2 feet deep in the reeds looking out over the water so we took the reeds in front of us and bent them over so they formed a wall about two feet high in front of us as we sat looking out from the boats. Then we pulled the reeds behind us towards the boat so they would provide cover from the back just in case any waterfowl came in from the backside. These reeds were about 12 feet tall and provided excellent cover as you can see from the photos. Mikey is in the water in front of my boat with Chico standing next to my video camera, then Jake is to the left of him standing up. Imagine sitting behind the wall in front of them, there was no way anything in front was going to see us!
Our Set Up In The Cattail Reeds, Can You See Us?
We got the boats into place by around 1:30am, then Chico had a surprise for us! He broke out the grill! Yes I said, GRILL! He made hotdogs for all six of us, I brought the pop and chips, so we had a nice little feast to tide us over till the shooting started some 5 hours away!
The Offical Snack and Drink Of Team UNJ!
After the midnight snack, breakfast, or whatever you want to call it we settled in for the long wait till 7:10am legal shooting time! The jokes started flying and Jake joined right in the fun. For a 10 year old he can be pretty funny! Dave took the brunt of most of Jake's potshots! I think he was repaying him for flagging away his first goose a month ago. Around 3:30am the boys fell silent and the cold started to settle in, it was around 35 degrees! Jake climbed up on the casting deck of the boat and I fired up the propane heater for him to stay warm. It didn't take long for him to fall asleep. Randy and I small talked back and forth for the next couple of hours or so. Mikey tried to take a sharpie marker to Dave's face as he slept, but Dave had a camo face mask on so Mikey couldn't deliver any damage to Dave's mug! Chico began to cut about 2 cords of wood with his snoring, I could hear him from the opposite end of my boat some 25 feet away!
Everyone woke up around 5:30am to the sound of hundreds of geese flying overhead, all you could see was stars and the moon, but you could hear the geese and their wing beats on the silent predawn sky! Jake told me that he had never heard anything quite like that and that it was pretty cool! As the morning light began to break you could start to see the flights of geese silhouetted against the purple sky and smaller dots which were ducks making their way to the marsh. By 6:30am we were all wide awake and in position to start pouring the steel to the unsuspecting fowl in front of us. We had ducks flying in and dumping into our spread before legal shooting time, Jake told me that he couldn't believe that they were that close to us! I told him if you think this is good, just wait until the shooting starts!
Jake In The Marsh!
7:10am was signaled by the first shot of the morning from someone across the marsh! The shooting was non-stop and I mean NON-STOP for the next 45 minutes! It sounded like a war zone, and the ducks and geese were coming from all directions! Just as the shooting started we had a lone duck land just outside edge of the decoys, so we let Jake take his first bird. He drew down and took it clean! Everyone on the boat give him an ataboy! After that I told him that we needed to take them on the wing. When we got his bird back to the boat we realized that it was a Merganser, we all wished it would have been another species, but Jake was happy and that is all that mattered!
Jake Posing With His First Bird!
Another Pose With His Bird!
The shooting was hot for the first half hour or so, with all of us getting some shooting in. Most of the birds were Blue and Green Wing Teal. Randy Duncan took a nice hen Gadwall, which we didn't know at the time was his first duck!
Mikey Fetching Ducks!
We had birds coming from all directions and a lot of them came from behind overhead which caught us all by surprise! After about the first 15 minutes of shooting Jake turned to me and said, "Man my shoulder is getting sore, but this sure is fun" as he smiled at me and loaded another shell into his gun after shooting at a passing bird! That made my morning! He was using a Youth Remington 870 20ga with 3" magnum #4 steel loads. You cannot find much variety in 20ga steel shot around our area.
Looking Down Shooter's Row!
After the first hour or so, things started to settle down and the shooting became sparse. With all the shooting going on we only took about 10 ducks that morning, but we had a blast! By 12 noon the birds had pretty much quit flying, so we loaded up our decoys and headed back to the truck. When we got back to the launch, I went to the truck to put a few items in and move to the water to get my boat. Something caught my eye and I wondered why my back window was frosted over, that is when I realized it was BROKE! I went to the rear of the truck and saw three distinct hits from bird shot! Someone shot my truck! Looking everything over, we only found three hits on the truck, two on the rear window and one just above the window on the cab of the truck which left a dent and chipped the paint. Someone lobbed a shot towards the parking area and my truck took the hit. Thank goodness no one else's truck got hit. I called the police and filed a report, now I have to get the window replaced this week before I head north for bow hunting.
My Shot Up Rear Window
With the window incident putting a damper on the day, I still consider it a success since we got Jake out for his first "Big Boy Hunt"! He had fun, we had fun, and no one got hurt, so in my eyes the window was just something that shouldn't have happened and I won't let that ruin my first "Big Boy Hunt" with my son!
This Is What Hunting Is All About People!
I can't wait till the next one! A BIG thank you for Chico and Dave for inviting us up for opening day, breakfast, and a great time! That was the UNJ crew's opening day Big Boy Hunt!