Contributed by Cameron Simot
One fall day while making my rounds at local sporting goods stores to pick up some fishing gear, I saw a big sign with some mallard decoys on display. I knew little to nothing about water fowling, so I went to investigate, and see that they are on sale. For $25 I was able to get a dozen mallard decoys, and for about $15 I added some weights. After looking at my local hunting guide, I found the season opened the next weekend, and started planning my opening day hunt. This quick trip to the store is where the addiction began. The first season came with many difficulties, missed shots, bad weather, and torn up gear; but nothing as bad as this one outing.
Everything that could go wrong in a duck hunt did. Everyone has had days where it feels like everything is against you, no matter what you do. This was one of those days. It started normal. I planned my game plan the night before, set my alarm, and went to sleep. I knew this spot was a little higher pressure than where I normally hunt, so I’d have to get there extra early to get to the spot I wanted.
It began as many other hunts, I woke up, looked at the window, and it’s pouring rain. Good, ducks like crappy weather. I loaded my stuff into the Jeep, grabbed some food to eat on the way, and left the house at about 4:15am. It continued raining all the way to the lake. When I got to the parking area, all I could hear was the pattering of rain. I got all my gear packed into my kayak, and started paddling to the island I was planning on hunting. The whole paddle went smooth, and I never could see any other boats or hunters around. Once I got about 30 yards from the island, I saw the telltale sign of other hunters: LED headlamps in the darkness. Now I had to move onto my backup plan, another island several hundred yards away. Once I got to the island, I know I have to start moving quick so I can be setup with some time to spare before legal shooting hours. I hopped out of my kayak to start setting up decoys, and I realized the water was deep, and nearly to the top of my waders. I had to get back into my kayak, and set decoys from the kayak, which takes much longer, and is very difficult with the rising winds. 45 minutes later, I have three to four dozen decoys out, and could get back to land and start hiding the kayak. When I hop out into a foot or two of water, I tripped over a stick underwater and fell to my knees. Again, water is just inches from the top of my waders. Another close call that would have made this trip even more unenjoyable.
As legal shooting time approached, I am soaked from the rain, have almost taken water into my waders twice, haven’t seen any ducks, and the wind was gusting about 30mph. I could see the city from my spot, and snapped a couple of pictures for social media, put my phone away, and sat down. While sitting waiting for the ducks to show up, I saw two of my decoys floating away because the weights weren’t heavy enough to hold in the strong wind. I had to get back into the kayak and go chase after them. When I got back to shore, I waited, and waited, and waited.
The next hour was very uneventful. One group of three ducks was flying really high, but even with the call, I was unable to get them to even take a second look. I had yet to hear a single shot on the whole lake, and I knew there were at least four other groups out hunting. I decided to walk further down the bank to see what was around the corner when my gun slips off my shoulder and falls into the shallow water. I quickly grabbed it from the lake, without taking my glove off. Now my glove was soaked as well. I unloaded the gun and pumped it several times, making sure everything still functioned. (This is a huge advantage to having a pump shotgun; they are virtually indestructible.) I walked around for a few minutes, and returned to my sitting spot.
Later I heard one barrage of shots from the north side of the lake, and thought that maybe that would spook some ducks my way. Just like the rest of the morning, nothing. As the winds picked up I decided I should start to pick up. Picking up decoys, in the wind, from the kayak, took at least an hour. My hands were numb from the cold water. I got all but three decoys that were right by shore from the kayak, and paddled back to shore to finish picking up all my stuff. When I got out to grab the last few decoys, a pair of mallards started to commit to the three decoy spread. I went to grab my gun off my shoulder, and realized it’s back on the bank. When I sneak back over and grab it, the pair flared, and started to head south. I let out a series of calls, and to my dismay, they came back to the three decoys. They looked very committed, and then the group that is on the island I originally wanted belts out a few calls and the ducks left me, and headed over to their spread. At this point I gave up, picked up my last few decoys, and hopped back into the kayak to head back to the launch in the howling wind.
It was a tough paddle back, and took a good amount of time. Once I got everything loaded, got my soaked clothes off, and the heat blasting, I ate some food and felt much better, even though it was easily my worst hunt ever.