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I always get a kick out of Columbus Day. Wouldn’t it be great if, once a year, we could all just stick a flag in someone else’s land and claim it for our own? Funny how some “traditions” don’t last!
The persistent rains this last week have put a serious “damper” on many folks’ hunting plans, but there is one group of sportsmen who welcome inclement weather in October – duck hunters, of course! It’s no fun to be outdoors when it’s raining, especially when catching up on long-neglected chores, but experienced hunters know how to dress for the weather. Today’s modern rain gear makes it a pleasure to challenge the elements, and other than a thorough cleaning of the gun or bow of choice at the end of the day to eliminate rust, there’s no need to sit it out just because it’s wet and gloomy out there.
Duck hunting is about on par with deer hunting in most respects. You put out a few decoys in a sheltered lake cove or at a convenient bend in the river, duck into a blind (they make portable blinds now that are as comfortable and roomy as the average living room) and sit on a folding chair drinking coffee and telling lies till the ducks show up.
Even on the rainiest, windiest of days being in a duck blind is preferable to just about any other responsible pursuit. I know some folks who take advantage of rainy days to clean out the attic, garage or basement but who does that in October? I’ll huddle under a tarp by the water any day and call it good whether I get a shot or not. Most days, fortunately, ducks and geese will move throughout the day. If you keep an eye on the sky and are ready for action at short notice you should end up with enough wood ducks, mallards or black ducks to make a meal at the end of the day.
A duck blind can be as elaborate as you choose to make it, and some are so comfortable it’s like hunting from the kitchen table. Over the years I’ve been in blinds that had rolling roofs, reclining chairs, heaters and coffee pots, with built-in windows to make it easier to spot incoming ducks and little shelves where I could put my extra shells, calls, lunch and a Thermos.
Then, of course, there are blinds that are half full of water, leak like sieves and offer no protection from the weather, but a little creativity using tarps, Space Blankets or trash bags can make even the worst hand-made brush blind bearable for a day in the mud.
If nothing else, it’s possible to dress in chest waders and Gore-Tex and just stand in the wet cattails. I’ve enjoyed some great October duck hunting while standing waist deep in the mucky shallows surrounded by wet reeds and brush. The ducks don’t seem to care how bad the weather is, and in fact seem to be more active the worse that it gets!
If I had to choose my favorite method for duck hunting I’d have to go with paddling downriver in a canoe or kayak. Dressed for the occasion in high boots and waterproof clothing it is actually quite pleasant to drift along, enjoy the scenery and take potshots at ducks that flush suddenly out of the grass and brush along shore. Every so often I’ll turn a tight corner and paddle right up on a flock of loafing mallards or Canada geese, an exciting moment in time that can’t be duplicated if you are sitting by the wood stove in the living room or den.
If nothing else, steady rain gives the hunter a bit of an edge because the sound of the torrent minimizes the thumps and bumps caused by the paddle hitting the side of the canoe, and visibility is also reduced so that even an unpainted aluminum canoe can gain a few extra yards on dozing waterfowl that doesn’t quite believe what they see.
The only real issue with rainy-day river drifting is that, depending on the strength of the storm, the canoe is likely to start filling up with water. It’s no trouble to pull ashore from time to time, empty the canoe, have a hot beverage and get the kinks out of the back and shoulders before shoving off again.
What’s good about October river duck hunting is that there is likely to be few participants so you have the entire flow to yourself for as long as you want to be out there. Plus, there are usually several species of ducks on the water. The daily bag limit is six ducks but can only include one black duck, three wood ducks or two hen mallards, redheads or pintails. There are all sorts of little tweaks and pinch points in the waterfowl hunting regulations (which should be studied and memorized before heading out for a day on the water), but in our area you’re safe with three wood ducks and three drake mallards. Any one of the six can be a black duck. Plus, five mergansers (only two may be hooded mergansers) may be taken in addition to the six “regular” ducks, and two Canada geese may be added to the daily limit, which brings us to 13 birds total each day! The possession limit on waterfowl is generally two daily bag limits, so by the third hunt you are going to have to start eating some ducks!
Rain or not, October is a great time to be in a blind or paddling in search of waterfowl. After all it’s just rain, and if you’re dressed for it the worst that can happen is you’ll have a bunch of wet clothes to deal with at the end of the trip.
On a good day you may see blue herons, ospreys, otters, mink, muskrats, beavers, moose, deer, bears and a wide variety of song birds. To me all this is worth the price of admission whether I shoot a duck or not!
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