Kenneth Kieser: Pick your waterfowl hunting days carefully

Kenneth Kieser
Going Outdoors
Waterfowlers have to dress for the most severe weather conditions.

Dreary days are dreaded by sane people. Heavy rain or snow shuts down civilization and many use their sick days to stay home and eat hot soup. Dark clouds can be ominous – unless you hunt ducks or geese. 

The phone call from my friend Danny Guyer was simple: “Snow tomorrow, possibly a couple inches and I’m hunting with two veteran waterfowl hunters from North Carolina. Want to enjoy a great day of duck hunting with a flock or two of geese thrown in?” 

I think the laws of common sense defines that as a no-brainer for most people –the weather is terrible, so stay home. I quickly answered, “Oh yeah!” 

The following morning, I walked into Guyer’s camp and stepped into a day of hunting in snow squalls and brisk, bone-chilling winds. This type of weather has always made waterfowling a sporting endeavor, the kind artists paint and photographers publish in magazines that makes us chance bad roads and freezing temperatures. Ice freezes on our mustaches and expensive waterfowl parkas become worth every dollar. 

Guyer’s breakfast of bacon, potatoes, eggs, waffles and biscuits started the morning right, providing energy for the short walk to a sturdy blind surrounded by lake water and dozens of decoys. The blind covered by conifers smelled like a Christmas tree. We quickly settled in and waited as the stories started.  

“Do you remember that hunt in Canada?” Jason Williams of Rolla, North Carolina, asked his partner. “Those geese were flying over a low wall and straight into the refuge. That was one heck of a hunt.” 

“Yeah, but what about that swan hunt we did back east, those birds were huge,” answered Dave Gilbert, William’s hunting partner from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, answered. “Sure, took a heavy load of steel shot to bring those birds down.” 

That was how the day went as story after story was told. The four of us easily had over 100 years of waterfowl hunting experience and that means constant stories. Then the ducks came. 

Guyer is well noted as an expert with a duck call and the southern hunters were darned good, too. I made a couple of quacks to fit in.  

Soon a greater goldeneye, a beautiful diving duck, swung past, turned and started to make a final pass into the decoys when a load of No. 2 steel shot dropped it into the decoys. Williams examined the beautiful bird with black and white feathers, a deep green head and its famed golden eyes. 

“He will look good mounted in my office,” he said. “What a beautiful duck.” 

The morning was tough by a meat hunter’s standards. Most birds were tucked away in row crop fields, stuffing themselves for a long night of snow and freezing temperatures. Occasionally a duck would pass by, including three mallards that turned back to a rude welcome of steel shot and were soon retrieved by Guyer’s prized Mam J, a beautiful Labrador retriever.  

“Danny, do you remember the big snow storm last year when I had to leave, and you and Luke Rhoads limited out minutes later?” I asked. 

“Yeah, you left and the big, dark clouds rolled in,” Danny reminisced. “The snow started falling, big flakes and the decoys were quickly covered up on the water. Waves washed off the snow and then more would settle on. The mallards started dropping on us like bombs in a war zone. We limited out and stayed to watch the ducks and snow.” 

“Yeah, rub it in,” I said. “I barely beat that storm home and I knew you would get ducks.” 

“Yeah, one of our best hunts ever,” he said with an evil grin. 

Some memories are more painful than others.  

Later a lone mallard drake swung past at full speed with a brisk wind at its tail. Gilbert swung on the duck and fired twice. The duck kept on going and was soon a dot on the horizon. 

“That duck may have been slightly out of range,” he said with a weak smile. 

“When did that ever stop you from shooting?” Williams chided his hunting partner. 

But that is duck and goose hunting when friends needle each other over missed shots. The mallard really was in range. He just missed as we all occasionally do. Both are professional hunters who occasionally trade good-natured digs.  

A couple of years ago a mallard drake hung over my end of the blind. My shotgun of three shells emptied and the duck flew away to muffled laughing from the other hunters. One handed me a box of shotgun shells with the kind words, “Looks like you’re going to need a lot of shells today.” 

That is part of waterfowl hunting fun, a sport in which experienced hunters love to aggravate each other. 

Soon coffee and tea with chocolate were enjoyed as the temperature continued to drop. The thickly covered blind held heat well with two heaters as each man took turns watching for incoming waterfowl that might be called in and harvested. The stories continued and the hunt ended all too soon. 

We didn’t shoot a big brace of ducks on this cold day, but no one really cared. We did well with the birds willing to work our decoys, but most were in distant fields where a farmer’s lost wages in crop loss meant their very survival on a cold night. Yet the hunt could not have been more enjoyable. Just ask any serious waterfowler. 

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 kieserkenneth@gmail.com.

Kenneth L. Kieser