Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
Celebrating the birth of our nation, the Fourth of July represents one of our country’s most significant holidays. But once the parades, picnics, and fireworks have ended, summer seems to go fast. Sometimes, it almost goes too fast when, although I know they’re coming, the opening of the fall hunting seasons takes me by surprise. Nothing makes you feel more unprepared than scrambling to collect equipment on the Friday afternoon before a Saturday duck opener – which in my case is the September 1st beginning of the annual teal season.
Every year I tell myself that it’s going to be different — that this is the year I’m going to be completely prepared well in advance of the big day. Never happens, of course. Every year finds me in a last-minute panic to locate, sort, and load decoys, ammo, duck calls, food, firewood, etc. etc. before heading out for duck camp. The same thing has been happening for decades. I’m a slow learner.
This year, however, it appears as if things really may be different. On the very day following our Fourth of July celebrations, I actually began to inspect, select, and bag my Opening Day spread of decoys. The end result was a large over-the-shoulder canvas bag filled with just over two and a half dozen teal decoys supplemented by a single drake pintail. Most of the teal are tiny water keel decoys held in place by equally tiny half ounce anchors.
The weight of my spread – or rather the lack thereof – is a critical consideration. As always, a lot of where I will go depends on future rainfall. But if the water holds, I plan to pack back into some small and isolated natural pothole. Surrounded by waving green cattails and interspersed with arrowhead and duckweed, blue-winged teal are attracted to such habitats and so am I.
The season’s first frosts will still be a month away, and there is always plenty to see in the marsh. As you enter the wetland, legions of leopard frogs announce your arrival by pattering the water ahead of your steps. As you toss out the decoys, vocally anxious marsh wrens come to within hand shaking distance as they try to determine who or what in the world you are. As the day progresses, you might see a mink swim by or spot a painted turtle basking atop a floating cattail root while huge darner dragonflies buzz overhead. The September marsh is beautiful and there’s no place I’d rather be.
We’re also here to hunt ducks, of course, and early season blue-wings are one of my favorite pursuits. No duck travels further or faster down the flyways than this incredible feathered voyager. Within weeks of being banded in Northern Iowa, individually marked teal have been bagged by hunters in such far-flung places as Jamaica, Guatemala, and Columbia. If that doesn’t spark a waterfowler’s imagination, I don’t know what will.
Once bagged, blue-wings make incredible table fare. And although my tiny pothole won’t attract as many teal as the larger public areas, enough usually fly in for me to collect a meal or two. Sometimes I even manage to bag a six-bird limit. I could continue, but I think I’ll end the conversation here. As I’ve already mentioned, Open Day has a way of sneaking up on a guy. And although I may have the decoys bagged, there are plenty of other uncompleted tasks. As usual, many of my equipment items have mysteriously relocated themselves since being carefully stored at the end of last year’s season. They need to be found. September 1st will be here before we know it.