Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
For most budding waterfowl hunters, an early season blue-winged teal is the very first duck brought to bag. I was no exception to that rule, and shot my very first blue-wing during my very first duck hunt. It was just Dad and I, and the hunt took place in Northern Iowa along a quiet backwater pond of the Winnebago River. Less than 50 yards in width, the shallow pond barely contained enough water to float a decoy. Nevertheless, Dad predicted that come morning, the place would be buzzing with teal. As it turned out, he knew what he was talking about.
Our waterfowling adventure actually began with the Friday night campout that remains a family tradition to this day. As a duck crazy, revved up 10-year-old, I don’t think I slept a wink all that night. All I could think about were the ducks. When morning finally arrived the place was indeed buzzing with teal, just like Dad had said.
As I followed Dad through the dark vegetation that led to the water, the autumn air came alive with the sharp whistle of wings and the sound of ducks splashing down. When we appeared at water’s edge, the pond exploded with alarmed ducks. Back then, everyone carried their decoys in burlap potato bags — that’s all there was. We had two bags worth that morning, and our spread consisted of an odd mismatched assortment of Saint Louis Air Ducks and Herter’s balsa wood mallards and pintails. I was beside myself with excitement, and it seemed to take Dad forever to get the decoys into the water.
Once the wooden blocks were finally in place, a freshly cut bundle of leafy willow spears provided our blind and the hunt was on. Like most youngsters of the day, I was packing a full-choke .410 single-shot. I had no more than settled into the blind when the first ducks appeared. They were blue-winged teal, on the deck and traveling at warp speed. The passing flock suddenly spotted the decoys and, upon executing a banking right turn, came scorching back toward the spread. Within seconds, the ducks — all 15 or 20 of them — were noisily splashing in among our wooden counterfeits.
Completely mesmerized by the sight, I remained frozen in time. Snapping back to reality, I suddenly realized that here was an easy opportunity to collect my very first duck dinner. I made my move at about the same instant the surprised teal made theirs. By the time I managed to shoulder the .410, the birds were long gone. All that remained of my dream were several sets of converging ripples on the pond’s surface.
I was devastated and felt like crying. Dad laughed – out loud. That only made things worse, until I finally laughed too. Although I felt crushed, there was no time to dwell on current failures. Within the minute, more ducks appeared and then more after that. The flocks kept coming and, in spite of being a complete duck hunting greenhorn, I did eventually manage to get plenty of shooting. My fourth blue-winged teal finally hit the water as I was mowing through my second box of ammo.
Forget the lousy shooting. I was totally elated. On my very first duck hunt I had bagged my very first limit of wild ducks. I continued the celebration by watching Dad bag his limit of four blue-wings with four shells.
The year was 1959, and a lot of duck seasons have come and gone since that memorable morning on the Winnebago. Anticipation for a brand new  duck season is currently building; maybe even more so than usual. For the first time since the mid-1960s, Iowa has been granted a bonus, 16-dayTeal Only Hunting Season. The season opener is now so close that the time can almost be measured in hours. Although we’re planning the traditional family campout, I don’t anticipate getting much rest. I still can’t seem to sleep on the Friday night before Duck Season. All I can think about are the ducks!