Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
Perfect weather. Lots of ducks. Happy hunters. That’s the general assessment for this year’s Opening Day of the early segment of the 2013 Iowa Duck Season — or at least that’s how it shaped up in the North Central region of the state.
As always, our party began the opening weekend with a family campout; staged this year at a prairie wetland in northern Cerro Gordo County. A Friday afternoon highlight occurred when my nephew Justin arrived in camp with a full load of baked beans and a cooler of T-bone steaks the shape and size of Texas. After enjoying a cookout and very colorful sunset, we were treated to yet another celestial event as a spectacular, hot orange full moon rose from the eastern horizon.
The wonders didn’t stop yet and, an hour or so later, an incredible meteor shower began in the southern sky. By 10pm, the moon was high and its icy white light effectively illuminated the night landscape. The sound of calling shorebirds, Canada geese, and others told us that a nocturnal autumn migration was in full swing. Sitting around the fire, we desperately hoped that at least a few blue-winged teal would still be around come sunrise. As usual on the Friday before the Duck Opener; there was lots of excitement, lots of talk, lots of food and strong coffee, but precious little sleep. I love it, and I hope that as the years pass that special “Opening Weekend Feeling” never subsides.
At the stroke of Midnight, we trudged down to the water and threw out our spread which, in September, consists mainly of teal decoys. As far as we’re concerned, Iowa’s early duck season is all about teal. Although we always have flocks of mallards, wood ducks, and maybe some pintails work the blocks; September is the only time we get a serious crack at blue-wings. It was a long night of intense anticipation, and when shooting time finally arrived on Saturday we were pleasantly surprised as pairs, singles, and flocks of teal come blasting across the marshlands to conduct scorching flybys of our decoys. When the shooting started, the teal kept coming. We managed to hit a few and missed a lot. At times, the action was so fast and furious that it was hard to keep the shotguns loaded as “new birds” arrived from all directions. With the exception of two mallards that decoyed one too many times, our group ended up shooting all blue-winged teal — an especially pleasing development considering that, in North Central Iowa, we had lost at least 75 percent of our blue-wings during the past week. In addition to having the opportunity to harvest some migrating teal, my Opening Day bag was further sweetened with the tasty addition of one incidental snipe and three mourning doves. We also encountered numerous other migrants including various shorebird species, and a large number of yellowlegs.
The yellowlegs is one of my favorite birds and, at one point, we had a flock of at least 150 of these incredible northern travelers nosily passing within yards of our blind. Soon after that, a trio of trumpeter swans passed overhead and provided a resonate vocal reminder of how incredibly wonderful it is to spend a day on the wetland.
Saturday ended with savory Asian duck prepared at sunset over red hot coals. Taken up while still very rare, the sweet basted entrees were served with Saigon hot sauce on the side. The spicy roast duck was a perfect conclusion to an incredible opener.