Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
The second segment of this year’s Duck Season
began Saturday, October 12. It’s something we always look forward to
although during most years, the Second Duck Openers are nothing to brag
about. As a rule,the season restart occurs during something of a
void. Early ducks have left the country and northern migrants have yet to
arrive. Unless you happen to find something like an active wood duck
roost, the second season kickoff can be a real yawner. You’ll
likely see some birds and maybe even bag a duck or two, but it’s certainly
nothing you’ll be remembering for years to come. At least that’s the way
it was until the 2nd Duck Opener of 2013 came along. This year, the duck
season reopener proved to be anything but a yawner. Instead, it
became a signature waterfowling moment that when entered into the official Log
Book, can only be regarded as a “Lifetime Event”. I realize, of
course, that giving the second opener a ten-star rating sounds plenty far
fetched — But at least give me a chance to tell you the story.
As always, the Duck Opener began with the traditional Friday night campout at
one of our favorite watery haunts. Weather was ideal and about the only
thing missing from this year’s party, were ALL of the friends and relatives who
normally make these outings so much fun. That’s right. As
circumstances would have it, I was the only person who wasn’t obligated to a
Saturday morning time clock or similar responsibilities. Oh well, my
Chesapeake Bay retriever, Benelli and I agreed to make the best of it and ended
up having a good time enjoying late night star gazing and meteor showers.
The night moved along, and once the decoys were in place, our anticipation
began to mount. But when daylight arrived, ducks were depressingly scarce
— A real Second Opener Yawner in the making. The lull
continued. By eight o’clock, I had only accounted for one mallard duck
and a single Canada goose. I wasn’t about to complain about the lack of
shooting, however. Following a week of hot weather and relentless south
winds, Saturday’s temperatures were significantly cooler and a rising breeze
had switched to the west. My lunch and coffee were holding up well
and, even though the ducks weren’t flying, a good hawk and shorebird
migration appeared to be getting up a pretty good head of steam. All in
all, there was no place I’d rather be than sitting by the marsh watching
a mid-October bird show. I decided to stick around, at least until the
food and beverage played out.
The wait paid off when, around mid-morning, things took a dramatic turn for the
better. I spotted some flashes of glitter way way up in the deep blue
sky. The glitter turned out to be the sparkling white undersides of duck
wings. Although the birds were still just tiny specks when they arrived
over the marsh, they liked what they saw and hit the brakes. Locking
their wings, the ducks rapidly scaled down and were soon conducting a low
level reconnaissance of the wetland. The birds turned out to be a mixed
flock of mallards and pintails and although the ducks readily responded to the
call, they weren’t quite ready to commit to the decoys. The scenario
improved when one of the drake pintails suddenly peeled off and came sailing
across the spread in a low arcing glide. Shouldering the Red Label, I
pulled ahead of the duck and fired. The drake folded at the sound of the
shot and splashed down at the edge of the decoys. The duck had no
sooner been retrieved than I spotted another big flock of high flyers coming in
from the north. The second flock mimicked the first and I soon collected
a fat mallard from the group. Another high flock appeared, and then
another. From then on it was Katy Bar The Door as more and more ducks
arrived from the north. The spectacle included mallards, pintails,
gadwall, wigeon, green-winged teal, and endless flocks of low level high speed
blue-winged teal. The flight continued to intensify until, during the
course of the next two hours, I was able to witness the arrival of literally
thousands of ducks — all coming in from the north and all arriving from
somewhere up in the stratosphere. The shooting was fast and furious and I
had soon collected a mixed bag limit of 3 blue-winged teal, 2 mallards,
and one pintail. Although it was now almost noon, the ducks continued to
pour in from high in the sky. By now I had become acutely aware that I
was standing directly beneath a full fledged, mega waterfowl migration
the likes of which is rarely witnessed. I soon lost count of how many
more ducks could have been easily added to the bag. Blue-winged teal were
flying like gnats; at times I could see multiple large flocks [probably
amounting to a combined total of 300 to 400 ducks] flying so low that
they nearly brushed the tops of the rushes as they zipped back and forth across
the marsh. Pintails were everywhere — more than I’ve seen during any
single day since the late 1970s. Marveling at the sight, it seemed as
if I was witnessing the ultimate duck hunter’s fantasy.
The cell phone rang. It was my friend, Doug Duesenberg who, along with a
group of other hunters, was at a wetland located about ten miles away.
“Are you seeing these ducks?”, Doug asked. I replied that I
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he added excitedly.
“This is really incredible, just incredible, absolutely amazing.
This is the most ducks I’ve ever seen for a second season opener — in my
life. Just incredible!” I agreed.
I talked to another [middle aged] waterfowler who echoed Doug’s comments; the
most ducks he’d ever seen on a second opener as well as one of the best large
scale duck migrations he’d ever witnessed. The hunter was carrying a
limit of three mallards, two blue-wings, and one drake pintail. The
flight of pintails was especially exciting, he noted — more ‘pinnies’ than
he’d ever seen on any single hunt in his lifetime. Back at the parking
lot, I later talked to four equally satisfied hunters from Minnesota who had
bagged their combined limits of 24 ducks. Same story; one of the biggest
duck migrations — including late season — they’d seen in their lifetimes.
It was now early afternoon and ducks continued to pour into the marsh.
There was no gunfire anywhere now. Everyone had apparently headed home
with their ducks.
Final Thought: Skies remained clear and by sunset [Saturday] the
west wind was diminishing. Conditions were ideal for the migration to
continue, and it came as no surprise when the blue-wings and pintails staged a
mass exodus from North Iowa. Darkness arrived and with it came another
beautifully starry night. The predawn temperature dropped to 30 degrees
and by sunrise the marsh grass had turned white with the season’s first
frost. The wind had ceased entirely; the water was dead calm.
Although only a tiny fraction of the ducks remained from the day before, there
were still enough birds to keep busy on the duck call. I ended up with an
evenly divided mixed bag of three mallards and three teal. As I headed
for home, I pondered how to accurately describe what I’d witnessed this
weekend. I concluded that there was no way. It was just one of
those unique outdoor events where you really needed to be there to
understand. One fact remains certain. Those who were in the North
Iowa wetlands to witness the migration first hand will defaniately be talking
about the Second Opener of the 2013 Duck Season for years to come.