Veteran hunter finds ducks are creatures of habit

While Missouri deer hunters were busy taking more than 2000,000 deer during the firearms deer season that closed Tuesday, other hunters were after waterfowl.
Ben Hastings, Lexington, has a plan each fall, usually around Thanksgiving, that mallards usually return to a special oxbow lake near the Grand Pass Area, and he is waiting for their return.
At present there were 70,000 ducks with most of them mallards on the Grand Pass Area.
“Ducks are odd creatures, but I have observed that they have one habit that hunters can take advantage of each season,” he said. “They will usually return to the same pot holes or ponds season after season. For some reason they have formed the habit of dropping in when the fall season is open. For years, I have hunted ducks with this idea in mind, that my old flocks of mallards, teal and other species would be back at some particular time to revisit a certain sheltered pond or lake in the spot where I hunt around this cottonwood oxbow lake.”
Hastings went on to say,” This fall I have heard talk of ducks being plentiful and of ducks being scarce just as there has always been and there will always be. I have heard it ever since I first started to hunt, and yet I am still able to find a fairly good days shooting now and then in the same old oxbow where ducks are expected to disappear 30 years ago. The reason I find ducks is because I hunt on the theory that ducks are essentially a bird of strong and inborn habits.
“Once a flock of mallards drops down and finds something to their liking in a brush-sheltered body of water where they can rest and feed to a reasonable extent and are not completely gunned out of existence, it is a safe guess to make that the following year, at about the same time, that flock of ducks, or their progeny will return to rest up at the same period of another’s flight.”
The veteran successful duck hunter said he’s taking a younger generation with him to show how much he knows.
“Just to prove I am right, on this assumption, I took my young grandson to the oxbow last week,” Hastings said. “We traveled the old road where I have gone a hundred or more times to the cottonwoods surrounding the lake. As we approached, my grandson asked what kind of ducks we might find. I told him that would depend. If the mallards moved in ahead of the cold front, we will see plenty of greenheads. They are the ones we are after. The youngster’s eyes sparkled.”
Foe more than 40 years, long before the Grand Pass wildlife area was developed, Hastings had been hunting this area with success. Often he would head for his blind both before and after school.
He remembers the day he took his grandson with him vividly.
“On this morning the mist was very heavy,” he said. “It was still a little early in the fall for dependable mallard flights but as we huddled in the rude shore-built blind, a dark spot that swam brazenly into the center of the two dozen decoys we had set out.
“It was a lone mallard that had stolen in and dropped through the fog.  We were both so intrigued with the lone mallard that we failed to hear the whiff of wings, but we looked up in time to see a flock of mallards sailing with their wings set. We just had time to rise and shove the guns safety off when they banked and fanned out over the water in front of us.”
Hastings said at that point, things started happening very quickly.
“I had already chosen my first bird. a big greenhead, and fired,” he said. “The shot sent it into a spiraling plunge. A second drake came too close and another shot was followed by another splash.
“Meanwhile, I saw another duck floating on the water and realized it was my grandson’s first duck and that was the one that commended the most attention. I have never seen a prettier sight than that flock floating on set wings over those cottonwood trees right into our gun barrels.”
Before the morning turned into afternoon, the two hunters had their limit of ducks and started gathering up the decoys. Richard, the 12-year-old grandson ask his grandfather, “How did you know there would be a lot of ducks here this morning? It happened just like you said it might.”
Hastings pointed out the cottonwood trees with their faint foliage that is mostly gone and the green shoreline.
“When the oxbow looks like this, you know the ducks will not be far behind,” he said. “ I can’t tell you why it is, but that’s the way it has always been with the ducks. They seem to fly on schedules, and the schedules are usually written on the timber and the fields that surround their feed and resting places. Its just that way.”