Be prepared

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Posing  with a hen ringbill taken over the decoys in the background.

“Be prepared,” is the motto of the Girl Guides. It is good advice, in my opinion, particularly when I set out on a duck hunting expedition with one or more of my hunting buddies. This morning, I set out with Akber, Omer and Ehtisham for some duck hunting on the Rideau River. I prepared for the hunt the night before, knowing from experience that there is always something waiting to go wrong. I learned the hard way that waiting till the morning of your planned duck hunt to prepare typically ends in frustration when things go wrong or crucial pieces of kit are left behind. Despite my foresight and determination to see that I was prepared well in advance of my departure for the marsh, no amount of preparation (at least in my experience) will stave off all that is waiting to go wrong. This time, however, it took the cake!

To date, this season, I took my new boat blind out on local waters twice. Each time, I learned using the new boat blind poses challenges I did not foresee. Notably, this new vessel is longer and heavier than my old boat. I discovered right away that I cannot hitch the trailer to my vehicle by myself, neither can I move it in and out of my driveway on my own. It is just too heavy and unwieldy to move. I share the driveway with my neighbour and there is little space to maneuver when his car is in the driveway. Foolishly, yesterday evening, I thought I could hitch the trailer to my SUV on my own. I struggled  to connect the trailer to the hitch, only to have the boat trailer tongue land on the ground. Mika and I tried to lift the trailer, but the weight of the boat, plus the extra weight of the rain that accumulated in the bottom of the boat was too much. We tried using the trolley jack from the car to raise the trailer tongue. We raised it a bit, but when we tried to connect the trailer to the hitch, the jack slipped out from under the trailer tongue and the full weight of the trailer and boat landed on Mika’s left foot. I found the strength to lift the trailer to free Mika’s foot; thankfully, while his foot is sore, he was not seriously injured.

At this point, I called Ehtisham, asking for help. He graciously came at once and with his help we used the jack a second time, under his supervision, and finally got the trailer hitched. “Fine,” I thought, “something always has to go wrong when I go hunting. Hopefully, this is it.” Unfortunately, this was just for openers. I thanked Ehtisham for his help and filled him in on the plan for the hunt next morning. I told him the outlook was hopeful in that the wind storm that blew through the region and the cold front moving in should push some ducks our way. In addition, the forecast for the morning was cold weather and a brisk northwest wind. This is generally good weather for waterfowling. I thought we might get into some ringbills on the marsh we planned to hunt. Our destination was a marsh on the Rideau River between Merrickville and Kilmarnock.

The next morning, everything got off to a good start. I was on the road on time and arrived at Akber’s house at 4:00 am as planned. He quickly loaded his gear and we were on our way to meet up with Omer and Ehtisham who brought my old boat. Akber and I arrived at the launch site at 5:00 am, a little ahead of Omer and Ehtisham, loaded our gear into the boat and made it ready for launch. We had time to drain the accumulated rain water while we waited for Omer and Ehtisham. With the water drained, I inserted the plug to seal the drain–or so I thought. We launched the boat only to find the plug failed and water came pouring in. We had to put the boat back on the trailer and use up precious time waiting while the water drained. Ah, but I was prepared: I keep a spare plug in my kit for just such an occasion. I quickly retrieved the spare and this time the seal held. By the time we launched the boats it was approaching 6:00 am. Legal shooting time started at 7:00, so we still had time to reach our spot–so I hoped.

We motored across the river toward our spot only to find someone got there ahead of us. Fair enough, the rule is first come, first served, so we moved on to a secondary spot. My plan was to put out two strings of 12 bluebill decoys and 12 mallard and black decoys, but we were too near legal shooting time to bother with the bluebill decoys. Omer and Ehtisham had 12 mallard decoys on board and took the mallard and black decoys to set for Akber and me. This was to free me to set out the strings of bluebill decoys. We set up on an inlet, on the lee side, well away from our competitors. We had two sets of decoys set about 50 yards apart and set up the boat blinds in the cattails. We were set up and ready just as shooting time started.

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View of the decoy spread from my boat blind.

I had an opportunity on a decoying mallard early on, but missed cleanly. As I rooted for my GoPro, a flock of green-wing teal came streaming in over the decoys and Akber downed a nice drake. A short time later I downed an hen ringbill out of a decoying flock. Both Akber and I missed spectacularly on a flock of decoying mallards. We had a few opportunities on passing ringbills and missed. Most of the ducks we saw during the hunt stayed out of range and many landed in view, but well away from the decoy spread. I rounded out the morning, bagging a single hen ringbill that decoyed. I pointed out the many pied billed grebes we saw to Akber, stressing how they look like ducks, teal in particular, but are not ducks. They are not game and not to be shot. This point hit home when Omer and Ehtisham mistakenly shot at a grebe that passed our decoy spread. Thankfully, they missed it. Unfortunately, Omer and Ehtisham had few opportunities this morning. Our competitors insisted on sky busting on several occasions, driving away birds that might have come the decoy spread Omer and Ehtisham put out.

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Remains of a blind built in seasons past.

We sat until 11:00 am, by then the morning flight was over. As Akber and I set out to pickup the decoys, the hook on the end of my new decoy retrieving pole got snagged in weeds, bent and broke off as I tried to free it. “Sighs, when it rains, it pours.” We used the landing net I keep for retrieving downed ducks to retrieve the decoys. We made it safely back to shore and got the boats back on the trailers. To round out a morning fraught with mishaps, I found one of the ratchet tie-down straps I use to secure the boat to trailer was broken. I got the boat back to Ottawa in one piece, in spite of it. Omer and I will check over the blinds and I will see to replacing the broken tie-down ratchet and decoy retrieving pole in short order. Rest assured, my hunting buddies and I will be back for some more duck hunting before the season is out. As ever, we will be prepared for whatever fortune brings.

Posted by Geoffrey

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