“If we say ‘duck’, don’t move. Just stay perfectly still.”
I was sitting with my husband and a friend in a wood blind as they hunted ducks, and my goal for the morning was to behave better and complain less than my friend’s eight-year-old son does when he tags along on hunts. And I didn’t have the benefit of legos or other things to keep me entertained.
I’ve tagged along duck hunting a half of a dozen times or so. First with my dad when I was about seven or eight. He’d put two decoys in close to the blind for me, and when there wasn’t any action (I don’t remember there ever being any), I’d plink away at the decoys with my bb gun.
Now, I go along with my husband to try to better understand why he likes it so much.
We started out the morning by waking up at 5 am, getting dressed, and drinking coffee with a few friends. Then they packed up the boats with the decoys, guns, and other gear. I jumped in the front of one duck boat and maneuvered our dog into place in the small space in front of me. My husband got in and we paddled across the lake, following our friend in his boat, in almost complete darkness and with a strong side wind.
And then we sat for a few hours. This is the part that I’m not good so good at. I can happily sit on the couch and read for a long time, but if we’re outside and hunting, I can only take it for so long. Between the brief periods of activity when ducks are around (and there were some), are seemingly immense periods of time where not a lot is happening. I took pictures. We talked and tried to figure out whether the thunder we heard was coming our way. I ate most of the Halloween candy that my friend had brought along. And then I almost fell asleep. After a few hours, and with two ducks, we packed up and paddled in for the day.
It’s still not my thing. The next morning I stayed back at the camp while the guys left, read for a while inside, and then went outside to take pictures as the morning broke. It was crisper out the second morning, and more birds of all sorts were moving including ducks and geese, as well as cranes– my absolute favorite. I love cranes. I adore cranes. I hope to write several posts about cranes in the future.
My Life and Ducks
If I were to create a work of art that somehow represented my entire life, it seems appropriate that ducks would appear there somewhere, small and in the background. Unapparent to those that are not likely to take in the details (like me!), but always there nonetheless.
I’ve never given them much thought until recently, but now I realize that ducks are part of the background of my life. They are part of the landscape, along with trees and farms and the big things that I always notice. My dad is a duck hunter and decoy carver, which is why I was out hunting at such a young age. I was apparently even born in the summer because there was a week of no-duck-hunting the previous fall. I learned how to cut meat out of a duck before I learned to clean a fish. (Confession: I still only conceptually know how to fillet a fish; I’ve never actually done it.)
And now that my husband duck hunts, my life is shaped even more around the birds. He points them out as we drive down the road or when we paddle. Once, in the early spring when weather was finally nice and needed to get out of the house, we stopped at the drive-in for custard and then drove around the waste treatment ponds looking at the first ducks of the year and eating our cones. In fall, the rhythm of my weekends is based around his being gone in the mornings and arriving home midday. When he comes home, I take pictures of him, the ducks he’s shot, and our retriever, and this is pretty much the entire content of his Facebook page this time of year. Also, we slowly learn how to cook them so that the are edible. It’s not at all like Duck Dynasty, except that he’s the bearded guy in camo (although not that bearded) and get to be the glamorous wife. 🙂
I feel like it’s only appropriate now that I spend some more time learning about ducks: so that I better understand how they fit into the local ecosystems, so that I have a better understanding of what my husband is talking about, so that I might be able to be useful when we get the decoy-making equipment that my dad is planning to lend us.
According to most maps, I’m located in the Mississippi Flyway, although our location south of Lake Superior and far from both the tallgrass prairie and eastern seaboard means that we’re off the major migration pathways for waterfowl. This means that we get a good variety of ducks, but not many of them. Ducks are often categorized into two groups, which reflects different genera and different foraging patterns; I am mortified (as a Ducks Unlimited member to boot) to admit that I don’t know which ducks belong to which groups, so here they are:
- Divers propel themselves under the water to find food. They generally have larger feet that are farther back on their body, and they generally run across the water before getting enough lift to fly. Divers found around here include: blue bills (lesser scaup), redheads, canvasbacks, ringbills (ring-necked duck), and buffleheads.
- Dabblers skim the waters surface or dip their bodies to get food. They have smaller feet that are located forward on their bodies, and they can spring into the air directly. Many of the species have a shiny speculum on their wings as well. Dabblers found around here include: mallards, teal, wood ducks, pintails, and shovelers.
Thanks for reading this far!
Answer: At the quack of dawn!