Early-bird hunters get the ducks

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 25, 2011 - 2:05 AM

A predawn start to the duck season explains the racket at 2:30 a.m. What explains the fabulous shooting? Who cares.

view larger photos


IN WEST-CENTRAL MINNESOTA - The answer is: 2:30 a.m.

And the question:

Just how early would Minnesota waterfowlers take to the state's public waters if the duck season opened a half-hour before sunrise, as it did Saturday, as opposed to 9 a.m., as it has in recent years?

Two-thirty was the time Saturday morning when I was awoken from an otherwise comfortable sleep at a federal Waterfowl Production Area (WPA) in this part of the state.

My son Cole and I had arrived at the empty parking lot of the marshy complex the night before and slept in our pickup camper, setting our alarm for 4 a.m. Legal shooting was about 6:40, and we figured the difference between the two times would be sufficient to gain us an early foothold on a good hunting spot.

We were right, we were wrong.

Right in that, paddling into the dark at 4 a.m., we found a great spot to set our decoys and wait for sunup and, with it, good shooting.

Wrong in that we were far from the first hunters on the marsh.

Among those on the water ahead of us were Josh and Brian Van Abel. Proving their mettle, the brothers hadn't passed the night restfully nodding off in a pickup camper, either.

Or, really, anywhere.

Instead they arrived at the WPA having departed directly from their homes in the Twin Cities -- pulling an all-nighter, as it were, for perhaps the most important subject they've studied: duck hunting.

In this part of the state Saturday, thanks to bountiful numbers of teal and sufficient flights of mallards and wood ducks, nearly everyone aced that class.

"We did have one problem,'' Josh said. "Shooting time came and Brian's gun wouldn't work.''

Cole, 15, seems able to handle most surprises. But had his 12 gauge not engaged when the first blue-winged teal arrowed over our spread of blocks Saturday -- given all we had done to position ourselves correctly on the season's first day -- mayhem might have ensued.

But discharge his scattergun did, and the speedy teal, banking into the bruise of crimson, orange and yellow that bled across the early eastern sky, somersaulted in a broad arc before splashing to its demise.

"Ben,'' I said, and our aging black Labrador, hunkered in the camouflage-painted canoe we had folded into the bulrushes behind us, vaulted into the chilled water.

Cole and I were weren't first on the marsh to shoot. Maybe third, fourth or fifth. Regardless, only minutes into the season, barrels heated up in all directions.

Among them was a 12 gauge shouldered by Fred Meyer. Sixty-nine-years-young and in the marsh alone, Meyer, of Bloomington, is originally from Mankato, near where many hunting seasons ago he bought a waterfowling shack for $60 on Swan Lake, once one of the world's duck-hunting Meccas.

"I later sold it for $360,'' he said.

Saturday, Meyer's return on investment was higher still. Hardly an hour into the season, he exited the marsh with his six-bird limit, standing in his canoe as he did, push-poling the craft smoothly in the morning's gathering light.

By then, the gunless Brian Van Able had struck a deal with his brother, Josh: You shoot a limit of birds first. Then I'll use your gun to do the same.

In some parts of Minnesota, where ducks have been scarce in recent years, that agreement might have relegated Brian to observer status the entire day.

But soon enough Saturday, Josh was handing over his semi-auto to his brother, and by midmorning the brothers' 12-duck combined limit had been attained, with three Canada geese added for good measure.

Perhaps opening the season earlier by a week, as the Department of Natural Resources did this year, accounted for the good numbers of ducks we saw Saturday, because blue-winged teal and wood ducks -- early migrators each -- were fairly abundant.

Perhaps also allowing hunting to begin a half-hour before sunrise, rather than at 9 a.m., also helped.

Either way, early Saturday, after deploying our decoys and pulling our canoe into the tall rushes, Cole and I for about an hour sprawled on our backs in the canoe, together with Ben the dog, and counted shooting stars.

Absolutely black save for a sliver of moon, and festooned with brilliant stars, the mesmerizing sky posed a dark riddle.

Four shooting stars. Then five. And six.

This was just before another waterfowl season opened.

When it did, we locked and loaded the old meat-getters, as my dad used to say.

And put ducks on the table.


  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.


San Diego 21 FINAL
Denver 35
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
Indiana 88 FINAL
Charlotte 79
Philadelphia 103 FINAL
Detroit 109
Dallas 85 FINAL
New Orleans 88
NY Islanders 3 FINAL
Boston 2
Pittsburgh 3 FINAL(OT)
Detroit 4
Vancouver 4 FINAL
St. Louis 1
Chicago 2 FINAL
Nashville 3
Arizona 0 FINAL
Minnesota 2
Carolina 0 FINAL
Calgary 5
Buffalo 0 FINAL
Los Angeles 2
Columbus 5 FINAL
San Jose 4
Connecticut 21 FINAL
(18) East Carolina 31
Miami-Florida 30 FINAL
Virginia Tech 6
So Florida 6:00 PM
Troy 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 9:00 PM
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
(2) Florida State 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Troy 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
Montreal 5:30 PM
Saskatchewan 8:30 PM
Hamilton 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Brt Columbia 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton 10/31/14 6:30 PM
Winnipeg 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Brt Columbia 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Toronto 11/2/14 11:00 AM
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question