High water erased the wild rice crop, and a longtime companion was missing. Still, it turned into a good day of duck hunting.
BRAINERD - It was 5:30 a.m. when Rolf Moen of Nisswa and I arrived at our hunting spot after a short boat ride in the inky black of predawn. With about an hour to kill until legal shooting time we each poured a cup of coffee and kicked back.
Together we had hunted this marsh for many years. Different this season was the lack of wild rice. High water during spring all but decimated the rice crop in central Minnesota, especially on this marsh. Nary a stem of the wild grain could be found.
But, a duck scouting foray a few days earlier had confirmed a nice mix of blue-winged teal, wood ducks and mallards were using the marsh, rice or not.
Also dissimilar on this hunt: I was without a dog for the first time in nearly three decades. Axel, a Deutsch Drahthaar, my canine comrade for the past dozen years, died about a month ago. Retrieving duties were up to Rolf's 9-year-old pudelpointer, Annie, and she was a bit gimpy, still recovering from major surgery performed only three weeks ago.
Different too, than in years past was that packed deeply within the safe confines of our waders were smartphones.
"That bright star must be a planet," Rolf said as he pointed skyward.
At that we both dug into our waders, ultimately retrieving our phones. With a touch of a few icons, up popped a celestial app. We pointed our phones toward the brilliant star.
"It's Venus," Rolf announced.
More time passed. Eventually we tossed out about a dozen decoys and took our hunting positions roughly 40 yards apart along the dank shoreline.
About 6:30 we heard gunfire in the distance. Then more shots sounded, closer, and finally volleys echoed from all directions.
At a half-hour before sunrise, ducks flying below the tree tops are difficult to see until they nearly upon you. I sat on a log, gun ready. Suddenly I heard the sound of wings and then spotted the white bellies of two woods ducks flaring wildly over the decoys.
I swung my gun, touched the trigger, and watched as one of the birds folded and splashed into the water. Being dogless, I paid particular attention to the downed duck, marking carefully its whereabouts and watching for any signs of life.
For the first half-hour, a fairly steady parade of ducks, mostly blue-winged teal and wood ducks, but a few mallards, too, flew past. Some winged within shotgun range, others ignored our decoys and continued on.
About 9 o'clock Rolf and Annie walked the muddy shoreline in my direction. By then I had my limit of six ducks. Rolf was two birds short.
Minutes later, a lone wood duck rocketed in our direction. When Rolf stood to shoot, the duck flared steeply upward like only a duck can. It fell from the sky at Rolf's shot. Annie swam out and retrieved the bird.
After a long lull in the action, we picked up our decoys and moved to a different location. Rolf had barely loaded his gun when a wood duck appeared, wings cupped, diving nearly vertically out of the blue sky.
Earlier, Rolf had mentioned he was disappointed in his shooting, having missed a few easy shots. He redeemed himself by killing the speedy wood duck with one shot.
"That woodie had its wings more than cupped," I said.
"Super-cupped," Rolf replied.
|NY Mets - LP: J. Hefner||2||FINAL|
|Chicago Cubs - WP: S. Feldman||8|
|Seattle - LP: O. Perez||4||FINAL|
|Cleveland - WP: C. Perez||5|
|Toronto - LP: B. Morrow||2||FINAL|
|NY Yankees - WP: D. Phelps||7|
|Cincinnati - WP: B. Arroyo||10||FINAL|
|Philadelphia - LP: K. Kendrick||0|
|Chicago WSox - LP: N. Jones||9||FINAL|
|LA Angels - WP: R. Coello||12|
|Tampa Bay - WP: A. Torres||10||FINAL|
|Baltimore - LP: J. Johnson||6|
|Houston - WP: J. Cisnero||4||FINAL|
|Pittsburgh - LP: B. Morris||2|
|Los Angeles - LP: K. Jansen||1||FINAL|
|Atlanta - WP: C. Gearrin||3|
|Boston - WP: C. Breslow||12||FINAL|
|Minnesota - LP: S. Diamond||5|
|Arizona - WP: B. McCarthy||1||FINAL|
|Miami - LP: T. Koehler||0|
|Milwaukee - WP: J. Axford||6||FINAL|
|St. Louis - LP: J. Kelly||4|
|Detroit - LP: A. Sanchez||2||FINAL|
|Texas - WP: J. Grimm||7|
|San Francisco - LP: T. Lincecum||2||FINAL|
|Colorado - WP: T. Chatwood||10|
|Washington - LP: J. Zimmermann||1||FINAL|
|San Diego - WP: E. Stults||2|
|Kansas City - LP: E. Santana||1||FINAL|
|Oakland - WP: T. Milone||2|