September 23, 2017 was the first opening day of duck season I experienced in which a heat warning was in effect with the temperature expected to reach 40 C by the afternoon. I had mixed feelings about getting out this morning because of the unseasonably warm temperatures for this late in September. Still, I was up at 3:00 am, dressed, ready and on my way to pick up Thomas, my newest hunting buddy, at his house for 4:00 am. Shooting time started at 6:20 am. It was warm enough at that hour that I did not need layers of clothing and I was more concerned about being too hot in the field. I picked up Thomas and we made our way to the farm outside Russell, Ontario where we planned to sit on the Castor River and watch for mallard and wood ducks. It was the first time for Thomas, his first opening day of duck season, and I was hopeful we would get into birds. We arrived in good time (shortly before 5:00 am), but despite my best laid plans, we were confronted with a number of pitfalls.
The Castor River is usually shallow enough to wade across in chest waders, but I bring my inflatable kayak along on hunts on the Castor as there are stretches where it gets too deep to wade. Thomas and I unpacked my kayak and as I tried to inflate it, using the electric inflation device (it plugs into the cigarette lighter in the vehicle), I found one of the valves that is supposed to hold the air in the inflated kayak was broken. This rendered the kayak useless, as it did not stay inflated. Undaunted, Thomas and I made our way to the river’s edge only to find that the portion of the river I intended to hunt had dried up leaving a mudflat, more a quagmire, in which I got stuck. It was a struggle to free myself. Fine, we moved to another stretch of the river I hunted in seasons past, only to find the same thing.
There was water in the river still, but by then I was ready to call off the hunt. I suggested to Thomas we could head home, sleep in a bit and maybe take to the field for some upland gunning with Hera, my Brittany, later in the morning. We started back for the car, but I decided to take a look at a stretch of the river beyond where I always hunted in previous seasons. There, I found a suitable spot for us to set out the decoys. First, I tested the river bottom to see if we could wade: it had to be solid and shallow enough for us to put out the decoys and retrieve any downed ducks as the kayak was useless this morning. Thankfully, though a little rocky and uneven, we could wade in the water and there were cattails in which we could conceal ourselves. The bank leading down to the river was a bit steep and I discovered, as I took hold of a clump of weed to steady myself, that stinging nettles somehow found their way to the river bank of the Castor. Ouch!
With a hunting site selected, Thomas and I got busy setting out decoys and setting ourselves up in the cattails. I am left handed so I sat to the right of Thomas who is right handed. This works out well as we naturally hold our shotguns away from each other. I had my Browning BPS and shot 3 1/2 in. shells with #2 steel. I find this works well on waterfowl, ducks and geese alike. We were in position with 15 minutes to spare and I had time to take a cup of black coffee from my thermos bottle. A coyote howled somewhere across from us on the opposite shore in the predawn darkness. Shooting time arrived and we loaded up and waited, and waited. Nothing happened right away, but then ducks do not wear wristwatches.
A passing mourning dove made me sit up and take notice, but no ducks were seen until a lone hen wood duck came winging into the decoys and landed in the first half hour of shooting time. I spied it and pointed it out to Thomas, telling him to make a jump shot. He jumped the duck and waited longer than I expected before making a shot. He stopped his swing and saw the splash of shot on the water as he shot behind the fleeing wood duck. I asked him why he waited so long to take the shot and he said he did not want to shoot the decoys. I told him not to worry about the decoys; they can be patched or replaced if necessary. It is an occupational hazard for duck decoys. We heard shooting in the distance, either goose hunters field hunting or maybe hunters in marshes on the Ottawa River. As the sun came up, Canada geese started flying. There were not as many as I remember seeing in years gone by, so I suspect the northern migrants were not in yet.
When the sun came up we saw a trio of wood ducks fly by, high and out of range. A while later three more, possibly the same birds, flew by in the opposite direction. A high flying flock of blacks or mallards flew past in the distance. Another lone wood duck swam toward the decoys unnoticed until she spooked and flew away, well out of range. Finally, the moment I waited for came when Thomas spotted a pair of wood ducks winging over the decoys, well within range. I fired and dumped one of the birds. It was a lively cripple and I asked Thomas to finish it which he did with one well placed shot. We watched as it drifted to the shore to the left of us. Thomas got up and made the retrieve. It was a hen wood duck, a nice enough specimen.
We sat and watched for ducks until 9:00 am then picked up the decoys as the morning flight was finished.
Given the extreme weather conditions, the fact my inflatable kayak is toast and the lower than expected level of the river, I think we fared well enough. Though the morning flight was scant, Thomas got some action and I asked him to keep the wood duck I downed so he had something to bring home on his first opening day, the first of many to come. He assured me he enjoyed himself and is eager to get out duck hunting again as the season progresses. We will get out again and see what fortune brings next time.
Posted by Geoffrey