Adaptation Doesn’t Always Come Easy (Day 1 of 3)

Missouri. Where the beer flows like wine.  Where beautiful greenheads flock like the salmon of Capistrano.

This mythical state had been on my mind ever since the last goldeneyes had made their way through Minnesota, and all that remained in December were the hearty local mallards and geese that winter on the ever-turbulent water of the Minnesota River.

Fortunately for me my season had been extended. My brother Jase had moved to south Kansas City, and had shared new tales of unadulterated mallards filling the sky and descending into flooded timber. After convincing my very patient wife of a long weekend away, I was in like a dirty shirt.  Jase’s friend Billy Cluff from Clear the Sky Waterfowl stepped right up for the opportunity to chase greenheads with me in an unfamiliar land, and we headed off on the 6.5 hour road trip.

If you’ve never been to Kansas City, you must. The barbeque is like looking into the face of the almighty, and him telling you that you are his most wonderful creation.  Burnt ends, Susie Q potatoes, and home-style baked beans that make bush’s beans taste like regurgitated baby food.  Missouri is also a very economical trip (unguided) for a hunter with a young family.  The fuel is quite a bit cheaper and the license fees for an out of state hunter are $11 a day.  Much cheaper than the $129 license that I paid for a long weekend in North Dakota.

Gear, gear, and more gear. That is what a waterfowler loves.  The insatiable void that comes every off-season to empty your coffers on new gadgets and unscathed shiny decoys that are guaranteed to suck in more ducks.  Billy and I had brought enough to fully stock his entire F150 and seventeen foot mod-v john boat.  Without knowing what to expect, we somehow convinced my Missou-experienced brother that we needed to bring the farm. On day one we brought three mojos, two higdon pulsators, and a dozen Dakota mallards on a two mile walk-in location.  Needless to say, this was a mistake.  Hauling a 100+ pound game cart over mud ridden corn and bean stubble was not ideal in the least.  Beads of sweat were flowing off my wool laden crown like a mountain stream in the spring.

After selecting a location near a ditch that Jase had watched mallards diving into the evening before, we set out our gear in the dark and meticulously brushed out our blinds on the bank. This was definitely a new experience for me, as the landscape was much different than Minnesota. I can’t think of a single time where we even saw, let alone set up our spread around cattails during the entire trip.  Briars and thin-short grasses were the abundant vegetation, and this made setting up a little cumbersome.

As we waited in our freshly brushed blinds, my mind was continually wandering into thoughts of either going home empty-handed or proudly displaying twelve magnificent mallards on the back of Billy’s truck. When the first hews of sunlight poked through the clouds, it didn’t take long for my thoughts to turn towards the adventure at hand.  Far off to the west, the first few black silhouettes began to appear in the sky.  Jase loudly whispered that these birds were coming off of a nearby refuge and were coming to our area to feed and loaf for the day.  Excitement always fills my heart watching ducks work.  If that euphoric feeling ever gets tiresome, I would sell all of my gear, guns, and decoy carving equipment to the lowest bidder.

After the first few flights sailed off to new destinations, the main act commenced. Like rain on the mountain, wind in the meadow, new birds poured in by the hundreds.  A surreal experience for any hunter from Minnesota I’m sure.  With guns at the ready we watched and waited, waited and watched.  Flocks of twenty at a time would loosely circle just low enough that they would skirt the outside of our range of fire.  It felt like this must have occurred fifteen times in the first half hour.  This was honestly my first experience where hundreds of ducks were taking our waterfowl-loving souls, and torturing them like a wicked ex-girlfriend.  The only bounty we had received in the first hour was an unlucky green wing teal that buzzed by Billy’s dead-eye sights from the right.  Being used to hunting fairly new birds, we were at a loss.

I’d like to think of myself as a master adapter. Given my score on the  strengths finder test, being a Father of two little kids, and working in a fast paced corporate environment, I’ve got plenty of experience.  However, when it comes to luring and hunting ducks, I usually stick to my tried and true methods.  Experimentation was really not in our repertoire, but we had to give it a shot. We changed the spread, turned the mojo’s and higdons off, but to no avail. Being in ankle deep water, I decided to take a 100 yard hike to a spot where I spotted pairs of mallards settle.  Maybe the solution was as simple as location.  If so, the dreams of greenheads lining the truck bed would certainly come true.  The newly tramped site merely produced a spectacular view of a flock of 400 snow geese coasting right over the spot that I had just abdicated.  Jase and Billy took two out of the obnoxiously noisy flock, and my spirits were lifted a little.

Around eleven O’clock, we decided to try our luck at a location where we observed a half dozen mallard’s drop in to in the midst of the morning. When we approached, it seemed to be a picturesque setup. A horse shoe inlet that had a ditch running parallel (a natural safety cove for ducks).  We made no mistake on shrouding ourselves this time.  After treading through chest high waters (I ruined an iPhone in my front pocket in the process), we brushed our blinds significantly better than the morning hunt, and the waiting game was on.  We first tried a mojo-less spread, guessing that the birds had been given a college education through the Mississippi fly-away.  This tactic worked for one drake, but the larger groups were still as cautious as old swamp-buck.  The pattern continued and we put our baby mojos back in the spread, but this time they were 25 yards out and were positioned so that they appeared to be landing in the shallow flooded grass where no human could hide.  This brought the singles in a little closer, and we managed another drake by the end of the day.

Tired, hungry, and downtrodden, we slowly trudged out of the WMA at nightfall. Our legs were heavy, but our hearts were heavier still.  What else could we do to get these winged charlatans to decoy? We literally tried every decoy combination we could think of and changed locations three times. Fortunately, there was a silver lining at the end of the day.  We drowned our sorrows in cheap beer, and barbeque that will make you consider listing your house.

I will be posting the day 2 story tomorrow…..

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