Duck hunting in Minnesota – thankful for the scenery

To be completely honest, duck hunting really isn’t my thing. I wish it was, but it’s just not. To take the honesty to another level, I think the main thing that stands between me and the marsh is the specific gear and the time, neither of which I have much of at this point in my life.

Luckily, I have friends who have the gear and somehow carve out the time. So every year I join them for a duck hunt.

This hunt coincides with our annual wood-cutting excursion to the deer shack. Though few people believe it, we actually do cut wood – a lot of it – that gets burned during the deer season, ice-fishing trips, and the fishing opener. It’s a work weekend, yes, but nobody wants to cut wood before breakfast, so there’s plenty of time to hunt for ducks.

This year, we decided to try a new spot that, presumably, would be popular among other hunters. So the decision was made to wake up at 3:45 a.m. (As I said, I’m just along for the ride. The former decision was fine with me, but I griped a little about waking up before 4. Nobody cared what I thought, so 3:45 it was.)

We arrived to the spot roughly 150 minutes before we could shoot. There were five of us split between two boats, so, in noble fashion, I offered to wait on shore while the others paddled across the lake, selected a spot, and set the decoys. It still wasn’t 4:30 a.m. when I watched the others set out. I climbed in the truck and shut my eyes, knowing it would be a while before anyone paddled back to get me. 

But shortly thereafter, a set of headlights lit the access and I climbed out of the truck to talk with another set of hunters. I tried to explain to them where we’d be hunting – “See those headlights over there on the other shore?” – and it wasn’t long before another member of my hunting party came to pick me up.

It was maybe 5:15 when we reached our hunting spot. I could tell the wild rice was thick even in the dark, but I was amazed to see how thick it was when the rays of a flashlight were cast upon it. We pulled the boat ashore and turned it over and then basically stood around for 90 minutes. Luckily, someone was smart enough to bring coffee.

There are two islands on this particular lake, and we set up shop on the larger of the two. The other one was perhaps 100 yards away (wild rice covered the entirety of the distance) and perhaps 100 yards away from the smaller island was the shoreline opposite that of the access at which we’d parked.

As the minutes ticked away and shooting light drew ever closer, the five of us spread out some and sat down to wait. I loaded my gun and started to scan the sky. As I do each year when I hunt ducks, I had high hopes of birds flying here and there and shotgun blasts ringing in my ears.

The first few flocks of ducks that came by were on the periphery of shooting range, and nobody fired a shot. As 7 a.m. came and went, and then 7:15 and 7:20, we watched as the birds flew farther and farther away. They were hugging the opposite shoreline, and showed no interest in our decoys or calls (which is not to mock the calling of anyone in the group – I thought they sounded quite good).

By 8 a.m., we were standing together again, and I listened as hunters more knowledgeable than me talked about what we could have done differently. Soon after that, I sent a text message back to camp, asking when breakfast would be served.

“It won’t be for a while,” came the response. 

Still, we decided not to risk missing pancakes and bacon, so we loaded the decoys (actually, I watched as the others gathered them – I was on guard in case any ducks flew within range) and paddled back across the lake.

As we crossed, I remarked that despite shooting no ducks, it was still a beautiful morning for hunting, what with the sun rising over a small lake in the forest. The words sounded like a horrible cliche – doesn’t everyone say that when they don’t shoot any ducks or deer or whatever they’re hunting? – but they were absolutely true.

And that’s why, ducks or no ducks, I always cherish that one duck hunt of the year.

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