Thanksgiving is a time to reflect. This hunt and many more are filled with cherished blessings.
Unseasonably chilly air masses from Canada made early duck hunting in the Midwest better than usual. Early November flights of mallards, green wing teal, gadwalls, wigeons, ring necks and other species flooded key migration points, providing hunters with plenty of action. I could not pass up my invitation to hunt with Paul Knick and his sons, one of my favorite hunts each year.
Knick has a lot to be thankful for. He recently survived a couple of open heart surgeries, providing the chance for many more quality years with his beloved family and to pursue his favorite passion.
Knick is an accomplished hall of fame inducted waterfowl hunter and a legend to many in Ducks Unlimited. He beat the odds of life-threatening operations to enjoy additional years in duck blinds with family and friends. His sons Mark and Paul try to make the annual trip to hunt with their dad around the Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge, formerly Squaw Creek. This year’s event made it a three-generation hunt when Paul’s grandson, Luke, joined the family tradition.
Paul is an avid caller of ducks and geese, requiring a lot of air through lungs, making the heart pump even harder. Knick’s ability to continue this sometimes-strenuous sport is a testament to the heart surgeons that repaired his heart. Watching him move through water in waders proves this point. The man is going strong.
“Dad just keeps moving,” Mark said. “He has always been like that and it is serving him well now. Like to have his energy when I reach my middle 80s.”
So, would I!
The weather was windy and cold on their annual November 2017 duck hunt in Bud Burrows’ blind located by Loess Bluffs and in the Mound City river bottoms. Clear skies promised a bright sunrise and unlimited visibility for the hunters and ducks.
The hunt promised to be memorable when a couple thousand ducks lifted off the water from in front of our blind before first light. We quickly threw out about three dozen decoys, but really didn’t need more. We were exactly where the ducks wanted to be.
Shooting time finally arrived as did the ducks from all directions. Big and small flocks drifted back over the flooded soybean field, looking for a place to land. We left an opening between the decoys for a landing spot. Paul senior and Mark both sent out a variety of calls, apparently telling the ducks exactly what they wanted to hear.
The younger Paul could not shoot because of a shoulder injury and chose to photograph the hunt, so it was up to us to shoot straight. I didn’t, resulting in more misses than usual.
A greenhead mallard drake hung in space on my end of the blind, like he was frozen in time. I emptied my shotgun at the seemingly easy shot and watched the duck fly away untouched. This continued all morning to the point where I hoped the ducks would fly in front of the other hunters.
“You are in the hot seat this morning,” Mark said. “Shoot until you limit out.”
The polite Knicks did not raze me and quietly passed over more shotgun shells after I used up my box of steel No. 2 shot. Their silence spoke volumes. Bud Burrows, owner of the blind, didn’t miss a shot this day when I couldn’t have hit a bull in the backside with a scoop shovel.
We didn’t have a dog in the blind and Mark, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel made most of the retrieves. I made a couple as did Paul Sr. Walking in waders through knee-high water is taxing on the cardiovascular system. I felt this with each step.
Several of the ducks soared long distances over the pool before splashing down, generally stone dead. Mark shook his head and waded in for long walks that occasionally took at least 20 minutes and made me wish for younger days when I had his stamina.
Late in the morning we were treated to a flight of tundra swans that flew past our blind, landing a hundred yards away. You cannot legally shoot swans in Missouri or Kansas, but they put on a beautiful show with their long necks and unusual chatter. They sat for an hour before continuing on to another destination.
The ducks kept coming and I continued missing, and the Knicks kept hitting feathers. But I was with good friends on a beautiful day while pursuing waterfowl, one of my favorite moments in time. The morning ended when everyone limited out except the younger Paul, who photographed the hunt, and me. But that is duck hunting. I have enjoyed many days when my shots did not miss.
We loaded up after pictures and drove to Paula’s Café in nearby Craig, Missouri for tenderloins. They were sold out, so we all had the fish dinner, their special that day. A lady brought us plates stacked high with delicious fish fillets, slaw and potatoes, enough for three meals and the prices were very fair.
Before driving home, I took a quick trip around The Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge. I was treated to pools full of tundra swans, white geese, ducks and Canada geese, a tribute to Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl Conservation and our state conservation commissions. The birds were resting quietly in sun-splashed pools while feeding for their continuing trip south after our weather becomes cold and icy.
Thousands more migrating birds will find this refuge before the hard freeze sets in, eventually adding up to millions. This is a beautiful refuge that is accessible for shooting photos or just for a day of observing wildlife.
I, like Paul Knick, am thankful for my family, friends and wildlife that provides us with many great adventures afield.
I hope you have much to be thankful for too, and may you enjoy many blessings.
Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.