By Jon Swaby
The sun slowly makes its approach from below the eastern horizon, as four eager hunters busy themselves with the final adjustments to their chosen hide. The forecast called for rain, but the weather front had yet to arrive. The wind was still pushing from the southwest but was soon to be changing to a more northerly direction.
The immediate question was whether to set the decoys for current conditions and move when the wind changed or set up for what was coming. Never being the kind to balk at extra work they decided to set up for now and adjust as needed.
No more had they covered themselves inside of the blinds when the unmistakable rush of wings overhead signaled the mornings first flight of ducks. Followed soon after by more.
The time came to shoot and they dropped two fast approaching greenwing teal. Moments later a greenhead cupped into the decoys and joined the teal on the gamestrap. As the sun continued its vertical march up the skyline, the flights of ducks slowed to a mere trickle.
The early rush was over and they resorted to drinking coffee and telling lies to pass the time. Minutes turned into hours and before they were aware it was noon. Three ducks on the ground was short of what they had anticipated in the pre-dawn haze, yet still far from unsuccessful.
Debating whether to stick it out for the day or pack it in, the hunters felt an unfamiliar chill sweeping across the backs of their necks. The wind had started to shift more westerly. Agreeing to re-arrange the decoys and see if this new development would change their fortunes they mustered up the will to hunt for a little longer.
More and more the wind speed picked up and blew from the north. Going from gentle breeze to full on gusts of 20 MPH the decoys moved and bobbed in the constant chop, nearby the full-body goose decoys along the shore swayed this way and that like a ravenous honker.
With the turning of the winds, came a turning of morale. As surely as the earth revolves around the sun, a waterfowler looks forward to a fresh cold front, bearing on its winds the beat of fresh migrating wings looking for shelter and food.
A distant honk-honk-honk faintly carried over the sounds of swaying fescue and prairie grass. The hunters, hearing this sound, pulled their calls from inside their jackets and greeted the new arrivals with a cacophony of clucks and moans that would have melted the heart of the most seasoned migrant. Over the horizon, a fresh flock of canada geese appeared, ragged weary from their northern descent. Seeing the impostors on the ground was all it took and the geese bowed up and slid in without hesitation. Never realizing the mistake until it was too late and the call was given to “take them.”
Six geese lay scattered on the ground as the hunters came out of their blinds to revel in the sudden turn of fortunes. As had happened so many times in the past, patience turned a mediocre day into full faced grins. One that would be talked about for days to come.
This story largely captures the appeal of waterfowling. The camaraderie, the work, the worry and the reward all play part and parcel. Without the work then the reward wouldn’t seem so sweet. In line with the old adage, the reward of a job well done is to have done it.
Hauling a load of decoys, a quarter of a mile back, into a muddy field can be back breaking and at times miserable. However, all of the effort and sweat is quickly forgotten by the sight of birds cupped and sailing in from across a field or marsh.
More than anything else, waterfowling offers a chance to share a day with unique friends. The camaraderie to be found in a duck hunter’s blind is an environment difficult to reproduce. A place where like-minded individuals can bond over a shared experience. A brotherhood of sorts, built on a base of crusted mud, wet dogs and gun powder.
From remembering a hunter’s first time taking a particular specie, to the enjoyment that comes with each passing day spent hunting together. The ribbing that follows missing an easy shot to the inevitable hard time given to the guy that calls the shot, waterfowling gives a unique ability to share experiences afield. Accomplishments are shared as well as failures.
Waterfowling has something for everyone. The socialite has the chance to spend time with friends, conversely the loner can have the experience on his own. Gearheads that relish the next, greatest product can indulge in the seemingly never ending innovation that waterfowling in the 21st century has become. From the multitude of public access possibilities to the solitary private property expanses, one can find whatever they are searching for.
From fields to lakes, rivers to pastures, beaver ponds to seasonal wetlands, waterfowling offers so many different ways to enjoy it. Therein lies the appeal of waterfowling, variety. Waterfowling offers something for everyone, no two experiences are ever alike.
Those who have experienced the thrill know what it is that keeps coming back. Those who are just starting to hunt waterfowl may still be figuring it out, but one thing remains ubiquitous… The appeal of waterfowling is in the sports ability to offer something for everyone.
Jon Swaby resides in southwest Indiana and has been an avid waterfowler for 20 years. In an attempt to share his outdoor enthusiasm with others he has been writing of his outdoor adventures for the past two years.