When a twenty-two degree night time low snapped an icy cover onto the smaller duck sloughs last Friday it made for an earlier alarm clock and an extra half hour of chilly labor Saturday morning. But breaking open just enough water for decoys (and live ducks) also paid dividends as the plump bluebill in my Labrador's mouth proves.
My son Jon and I were hunting west of Alexandria and heard about the predicted Fahrenheit plunge. But, sitting around a roaring campfire Friday night, toasty warm, we didn't believe we'd be fighting ice in the morning. We got up early just in case. And at 5:30 a.m. I noted a passing car's headlights sent a glare off the slough. Liquid water doesn't do that. Sure enough there was a quarter inch of ice shore to shore.
We used a duck boat to crunch open enough water for 24 duck and goose decoys and settled into the blind with two minutes left before the legal 7:22 a.m. opening. Plenty of ducks were circling the slough and seemed as surprised as we were about the ice blocking their fresh water shrimp breakfast.
Most of the ducks were bufflehead which we passed on because of their questionable table fare. But the odd small flock of bluebills, and they were the greater scaup variety, made for a brief but productive shoot. Mallards that actually decoyed told us they weren't locally raised. And we'll be confirming that because one carried a U.S. Fish and Wildlife band. The downside of the hunt was the ice made dog work impossible thereby precluding a major pleasurefor me. But Doc took great joy in posing with a boat-retrieved duck.
We did see a minor migration going on overhead. Ten or twelve flocks at about 3,000 feet, in the classic bullet-shaped skeins, heading south. I'd love to know if they had flown all night from Manitoba or originated that morning on Minnesota lakes.
In all it was a cold-weather-gear-tester morning but with enough ducks to make you forget frozen fingers and think about coming back.