Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Hunt of Unintended Outcomes

For the last week I have had the fortune of duck hunting the Shiawassee Wildlife Area with my son and a few friends. We haven't had much luck in the last three trips out, as a matter of fact there was only one duck shot and that was when we took UNJ Pro Staffer Kevin Hutchings out for his first duck hunt. What a trip that was for him, you should check out his post about that experience! Other than that lone duck, we haven't had any luck what so ever! I don't know if it has to do with the warm weather or the lack of duck movement or what, but we haven't had any luck yet.

The only ducks we are seeing are the locals that have been around all season long and they are extremely wise to what is going on. We need some migration ducks to come down for a visit if you know what I mean! These locals are decoy and call shy, it doesn't matter what you throw at them they are leery of anything that might bring a volley of steel at their tail feathers. I have been out with Chico Lopez one of our UNJ Pro Staffers every time I have been to Shiawassee this fall and have seen him try every trick in the book, so I thought. I have only been hunting waterfowl for three years now and I am still new to this game and try to take every ounce of info thrown my way to learn anything new that I can. When we hit the water for Wednesday morning's hunt, I was in for something new!

It all started with a friend of mine who wanted to start hunting. Keep in mind he is in his 30's, people of that age just don't pick up and start hunting so I jumped at the chance to bring a new hunter in the fold! He wanted to start with duck hunting and I was eager to help with what little I knew. I told Chico we needed to get Jeff out for a hunt since he had only been on one other duck hunt and didn't see anything at all. We set it up for Wednesday morning!

Now I hadn't had the video camera or still camera out for the last two hunts and I wasn't planning on taking it this time either. I've had the whole week off work and I just wanted to hunt. I didn't want to have the added pressure of videoing anything at all! I got all of my gear loaded up the night before and then awoke to the alarm at 2:45 am! Another short night of sleep! I met Jeff at a local parking spot and he looked to be bright eyed and bushy tailed! I thought to myself that, that was entirely way too much enthusiasm for 3:15 am! I really had high hopes of Jeff seeing something this morning to keep his hunting enthusiasm high, nothing worse than to try to get someone interested in hunting and then them not seeing anything their first two times out!

As we headed north for the hour drive to Chico's house, Jeff asked me what he should expect when we got there, I told him it really depended on how many people showed up for the draw and what area we got to pick. Finally getting to Chico's place we loaded everything into his truck and the boat, we then headed to the Dept. of Natural Resources station in St. Charles Michigan. We got there just before the 5am draw, we got our party ticket filled out but there were 23 other groups there also! That meant if we didn't get one of the first couple of draws we would be in trouble! Sure enough we drew 12th, right in the middle! The previous morning we had to take an area where we had to pull our boat over a dike to get to our area. Some places had two dikes you had to pull over! Not my idea of a way to begin a morning with a new hunter.

Sure enough all the easy spots got taken early so we once again took area 13 which we hunted the day before. Not that I mind pulling a dike, but with a new guy you don't know what to expect since he doesn't know what to do. We made our way to the boat launch and put in the canal to head out. Still very much dark we navigated our way down to the dike. There it was in all its high and steep slender. The banks were slick with mud from the nights rain, oh yeah I forgot to mention it was raining that morning also! I knew that this was going to be tougher than yesterday morning's pull. It didn't take long before Jeff had slipped and fallen twice before we got started. I heard what sounded like either his head or arm hit the side of the boat! Ouch!!!! We managed to get the boat over the dike and down the other side. Time to get to our standing flooded corn! Jeff was in amazement of how the area was laid out.

We got to area 13 and I helped Chico put decoys out. Jeff tended the boat while Chico laid out his game plan. After we put out two bags of decoys I asked him did he want the other bag put out since it looked like he was finished with his spread. He told me that "I've got something new for you to learn today" I was immediately intrigued. He took the remainder of the decoys and put them on the opposite side of the strip of corn where we were hunting. Neat idea I thought to myself, this just might work this morning, something just a little different than what the ducks were used to seeing.

It was still drizzling a little when we had finished so I was glad that I had my waterproof coat on, I was going to be really glad later but I didn't know it just yet. Chico and I hid the boat in the corn just down from where we were hunting and as we were walking back to the decoy spread where Jeff was now sitting I managed to catch my foot on something down in the water! SPLASH! Down I went! I immediately put my left hand out to stop myself from completely going under. The water was cold and about thigh deep. I wished I had cinched down my wrist straps before I began my walk but I didn't. I hadn't intended on taking a bath that morning but I did! Luckily only my arms got wet. My coat kept my waders from filling up with water. The only reason my arms got wet was the water rushed up my sleeves and that wouldn't have happened if my wrist straps would have been tightened. Chico didn't laugh, but I knew that he was inside! He asked me if I was ok and did I want to leave? Leave? Hell no! I wasn't going to let this be ruined by some wet arms! I didn't care how cold it was.

I got my sleeves wrung out somewhat and I managed to find two hand warmer packs that I immediately put into my sleeves to keep my arms from getting too cold. This would test my endurance to see how much I could stand and just how hard core I could manage to muster from within myself. Nothing like a good challenge to see what your made of, I say! Once I got all situated we still had about 10 minutes to shooting light. At about 4 minutes to shooting light I heard the amazing sound of whistling wings overhead and I saw about 50 ducks flying just above us! What an amazing sight to see! Finally what looked to be flight ducks coming in! Nothing like new birds to start the morning, this just might turn out to be a great day after all!

As shooting light came, we noticed more flight birds coming in, groups of 20, 30 and sometimes even more. The cold front that had swung through the north had started to push some new birds down to our area finally. Then it happened! Something I have never seen in my life! I was looking in the early morning light to the North West and noticed a huge black ribbon moving across the sky, it was a wave of around 3000 flight ducks coming into the refuge! Wow can you believe that I told Jeff! He said yeah, but they are not here where we are. What I thought to myself! That is something you don't see every day! Then I had to check myself and remember that this was only his second hunt of any kind and that he couldn't put that into perspective. Chico tried to explain to him that some people hunt for years and never see anything like that! He still couldn't grasp the beauty of it, he will one day though.

A Few Flying Over

As the morning light grew we began to have ducks work our spread only to have two different groups of hunters across from us call to every bird that came near. With the season being so far in now, every bird that heard those calls just flared away as soon as the first note was blown. These guys just don't get it! They weren't reading the birds to see that they were scaring them away! We did manage to have two birds come in close enough to shoot, but by the time we noticed them and swung on them they had started to catch the wind and bug out. I unloaded any ways since I hadn't shot at anything in the last three trips out, man did it feel good!

Cold Front Moving In

After about an hour into the hunt we looked on the horizon to see the front coming in! Maybe this is just what we needed to get the birds moving. The cold rain came with the wind right in our faces! Yeah Baby! This was what we have been waiting for all season! I never thought I would stand in thigh deep water in 45 degree weather with it pouring down rain and blowing directly in my face! But this was fun! I couldn't believe I was actually having fun doing this, even with my arms soaked from the morning dunk in the water. It rained like that for about an hour or so and the birds began to fly a little more. The only problem was the two groups of idiots across from us, but it was still a great morning to be alive in the field! I took it all in and relished every moment of it! I looked over at Jeff at one point and asked him if he was having fun yet and is this what he expected duck hunting to be like? He was cool with it, but I think he thought he would rather be home where it was warm and dry. Chico on the other hand was as happy as a lark! I was half expecting him to be doing back strokes in the water and singing a song of joy all the while!

We stayed out until around 10 or 10:30 then pulled everything in and headed back to the truck. When we got to the dike everything seemed much easier to pull even though the uphill side going back wasn't as steep. I had a renewed since of energy and ambition. This hunt is exactly what I needed to get my blood flowing again. I can't explain what it was or what it did to me, but it was something that showed me I still had it in me to do something hard and still have fun while working hard to accomplish it. When I saw that weather forecast for the morning I thought I was going to be miserable out there but just the opposite happened.

Don't ever anticipate what your hunt is going to be like or expect something out of it. You might just be surprised at what the outcome actually is! It felt good to not have to worry about a camera, it was good to work hard, it was good to test my endurance, it was good to take a new guy out, it was good to experience nature's beauty of birds and weather, but most importantly it was just damn good to get out! Thanks Chico for a great week of hunting and I can't wait until our steelhead fishing trip in the morning! I don't know what to expect but I know it will be worth it!

Thanks for taking the time to read this story of mine, but now go and get outside so you can experience and enjoy what God and nature have to offer!