Brainerd, Minn. – "My coffee is getting weaker by the minute," Rolf Moen of Nisswa uttered. Indeed, it was. Large rain drops driven by a gusty south wind pelted us, and splashed noticeably in his cup of coffee.
This was predawn Saturday on the 2019 Minnesota duck hunting opener. Rolf and I cowered under our hooded rain gear while seated in my duck boat, awaiting legal shooting time, which is a half-hour before sunrise. Thunder rumbled in the distance, and flashes of lightning illuminated the horizon.
An hour earlier, at a remote boat landing, we had sat in my truck, waiting out the impact of a storm we deemed dangerous to anyone on the water. When the risky part of the storm had passed, we launched my boat and navigated in darkness. Other hunters were on the marsh, too, evident only by the flashlights they waved back and forth, a duck hunter's visual version of saying "stay away, this spot is taken."
A day earlier another friend and I had scouted this sprawling wild rice marsh. We had found few ducks. When I was 14 I shot my very first duck here, a drake redhead, and I have hunted here each year since. I don't recall ever seeing so few ducks.
So, when legal shooting time arrived, Rolf and I weren't surprised at how few ducks were in the air. Not only did we not see many birds, distant shooting was very limited, suggesting other hunters, too, were gazing at mostly empty skies.
By 9 a.m. we had only one duck in the bag, a drake wood duck, that had fallen in the trees behind us. Sally found the duck and made the retrieve.
At that point we motored to a new spot. Along the way, long grains of wild rice bounced into and off the boat, duck food, yes, but few ducks were in the marsh to enjoy the feast.
At 11 a.m. we unloaded our guns, zipped them into waterlogged cases and steered toward the landing. We had added one blue-winged teal to our take and had dodged another round of thunder and lightning.
This opening day, Rolf and I agreed, will hopefully be remembered for its warm, humid weather and two dangerous storms, and not by the scarcity of ducks on the wing.