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

The Last Hurrah.

The morning of day three started much like the other mornings. Billy’s boot, gear check, and kwik trip donuts and coffee. The only exception to the day’s excursion was the steady rain that we would face throughout the morning.  While approaching the registration station at the pool, it appeared that we were the only blockheads to venture out for waterfowl that day.

Strolling down the level quarter mile path to the walk in pool where we had spotted the mallards the evening before, my recovering muscles seemed to be thankful for not submitting them to the same death march that they had endured on the first day. Picking a site on the slightly sloped bank where we were somewhat concealed, we gathered as many short weeds, sticks, and brambles as we could muster. Billy later referred to our blinds as “mini forts”, as they appeared to vanish from our sight when we were busy tossing out the decoy assortment for the day.  We tried to mimic what we had seen the day before with a dozen field mallards lining the bank, and eight floaters 10-15 yards beyond.

A gloomy light poked through the clouds 20 minutes before legal shooting time as we reclined in our drenched blinds. Water that had slowly trickled down our back at first became a consistent frigid menace well before our triggers could be pulled.  The rapid fluttering of silhouettes began right before legal shooting time, and the game was afoot.  Within the first 15 minutes, a flock of 25 mallards came barreling straight in front, and swiftly peeled off as Billy and Jase started their barrage.  Billy managed to procure one of the greenheads, and the survivors moved on to the next destination.  The bothersome rain turned into a pour, and what seemed like a solid start turned sharply miserable.  The mallards working our spread had little interest in what we had to offer, and adapting was unavoidable in the first 45 minutes.

The breaking point. The realization that all may be lost and the journey home would be long, wet, and ominous. However, the hard-working northern stock of my counterparts would not give in so easily.  Billy decided that he was weary of decoy shy birds (his words were a little different), and devised a plan to stalk a pocket of 50 mallards nestled on the far east corner of the second pool.  Jase and I observed from our over-saturated blinds, as he edged ever so carefully along the dike. While skirting the blind-side of the unsuspecting targets, he soon disappeared into the mist and gloom of the marsh as it engulfed the rest his faint silhouette.

Bang! Bang! Two distinctive gun-shots sent the flock soaring and winging just outside of Jase and I’s range of fire. We looked at each other in amazement, as we never thought Billy would get close enough to these wary pros to fire a volley.  A few minutes passed, and Jase decided to leave our wet abodes to try his fortune pursuing the same method that Billy had chosen.  We had elected that I would stay near the decoys in case freshly stirred mallards were desperate for an inviting place to land.  Soon more shots rang out in both directions.  Jase’s figure appeared to my left, and I quickly went out to meet him.  Jase had spoken to Billy, and I was shocked to learn that he had harvested two more mallards and a green wing teal without the use of decoys or a blind. Billy’s stern message was to come quick and bring lots of ammunition.  What transpired in the following hour is difficult to convey in words.

As Jase and I walked briskly down the dike to meet our partner in crime, we observed a camo clad figure down on a knee. The sky around him was filled with flocks of teal and mallards zipping through the brush lined corner of the pool.  I couldn’t believe my eyes, it was if these professional decoy detectives were now oblivious to his presence.  Decoy-less, blind-less, we were on the X.  An astounding X.  Then, paralyzed with awe, my eyes drifted toward the east horizon.  I don’t want to sound over-dramatic, but something spiritual washed over me like a dam that had just given way.  In waves of hundreds, thousands of ducks and geese began to fly directly over our position.  Mallards, pintails, teal, gadwall, they were all channeling through in overwhelming abundance. The majesty of God’s creation was on full display at that place in Missouri, and I wish I had a front row seat every day.

Completely removing me from the moment, a group of 40 teal flew directly over my head, and the wing-shooter in me took charge. With one pull of the trigger, my first drake green wing teal was sent spiraling to the ground.  I ecstatically retrieved my prize, and gathered with Jase and Billy to discuss the chaos that had ensued.  Billy retreated back to the blinds to grab his blind bag and ammunition, and Jase and I stayed to take our chance in this duck-infused gauntlet.

Watching the patterning of the birds, we picked an area next to the brush line to lay low. Ducks appeared to be dropping lower to apparently land on the pool directly behind us.  We each took a knee twenty yards apart and crouched down in the sparse brush for cover.  A group of twelve lesser geese quietly approached from the left at 25 yards, and I pulled up to shoot.  “No, save your shots for the ducks” Jase said to me in a hushed voice.  It was the first time anyone had ever directed me not to take a great shot at a goose.  I was taken aback, but he turned out to be right on point. The mallards above were descending lower and lower, making this a prime opportunity to select the best specimens.  Against the gray sky the dark green of the drake’s heads were easy to spot, and before I realized it, I had three lying next to me.

Teal, those magnificent flying bastards. With every twirling close pass they seemed to dare and ridicule me at the same time.  Ignoring Jase’s sage wisdom to save my ammunition, I took every close shot that I could muster towards those tricksters. Almost immediately I filled my daily limit, and stood stunned with one extra shell in my hand that was quickly transferred back to Billy.  I watched my counterparts follow suit and promptly fill their quota by kneeling in the brush and taking prideful shots.  We were on a time crunch to get back to Minnesota, so the majority of the latter harvested birds were the sporty green-wing teal drakes that we had sworn off in the beginning of the sortie.  With hundreds of ducks yet cascading over the sacred point, we packed up our gear in a champion esc fashion and took in the glorious scene one last time.

The takeaway:

Adaptation is hard, very hard.  In my experience in the show-me state, I discovered that stubbornness can be the key to going home empty handed. On the other hand, if you’re willing to go outside your comfort zone and put in some hard work, the journey can be exhilarating.

-Jake

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