Duck hunting time againBy JEFF NORTH,
The drive home from Oklahoma was wonderful. Of course it doesn’t hurt when you can see the tips of antlers in your rear view mirror from the buck in the bed of your truck. The rut was wide open last week on the Cimarron and the North Canadian just below the Kansas line. All day sits weren’t as taxing even in 15 degree weather as bucks cruised up and down the willow and cottonwood choked river bottoms in search of does. It didn’t take long to punch tags on this hunt.
Of course we all know that many times this isn’t the norm. Tag sandwiches are all too common when you’re looking for those special bucks. There is just something about the return home after being successful in your endeavors. For me, I slow down and take in the sights that otherwise I may miss by being pre-occupied with the thoughts of failure. Now I know there is more to a hunt than wrapping a tag around the antlers of a buck, but it’s always just a bit sweeter when success from a harvest comes our way.
I was amazed at the number of acres of un-harvested cotton in the mid-west. Several snows have fallen on this cotton and it still looked as if the leaves had just fallen and the pickers were just about to roll. I suppose the lower humidity and the abundance of wind keeps their crop in better shape in the field than if we encounter the same conditions on ours. Moisture and warm temperatures make our cotton look like a worn out mop if harvest is delayed any length of time. Pardon the pun when I say, their cotton still looked “white as snow” even after the melt.
I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of waterfowl as I made my way back to the magnolia state. Every pond, creek, and pothole had numerous species of ducks resting and loafing as I cruised southeast. Even more surprising was the number of mallards that covered these bodies of waters. I began to reflect on my younger days when I would revel at the thought of being able to slip over the dams of these impoundments with a shotgun and a pocket full of sixes. The unsuspecting mallards would be quite the gift to a boy of 16 back in the day. Of course watching these beautiful birds cup and land among the others already sitting stirred my memory bank of some memorable hunts of my own as a youth.
I vividly remember a December morning years ago that began as a squirrel hunt. One of my friends, Lee Kennedy, had a wonderful dog that was all-world when it came to treeing bushy-tails. We could hunt anywhere we liked back in the day. As we unloaded our gear, a duck began circling the small pond we had parked our car by. Barely was there enough time to shuck shells in the chambers of our shotguns as the bluebill prepared to land. This was a bonus and as we didn’t get many opportunities at ducks in Rankin County. I stayed behind to wait for the duck to float to the shore as Lee and company headed for the squirrel woods. I would catch up to them after I retrieved our prize. As I lifted the bird from the cold water, I noticed a silver band attached to its leg. Wow, this morning was starting out better than I could have dreamed as I placed the duck in my game bag.
I couldn’t wait to show my friends what we had collected. I quickened my step as I heard the dog barking and shotgun reports, for I was missing out on the squirrel hunt. As I tracked them by sound, I knew they were close to the landowner’s home. I took a short cut through the woods around the back side of a pond. Either recent rains or beavers had backed water up into the woods and a pair of wood ducks flushed as I disturbed their breakfast of acorns. A shot from my twenty gauge neatly folded one of the ducks into the ankle deep water. Imagine my surprise when the drake wood duck I lifted also sported a bit of jewelry on one of its legs.
I met my hunting party on the dam and we admired our bounty. If I remember correctly, the bluebill was banded in Manitoba and the wood duck was banded somewhere in Tennessee, just a few days before. I wonder what the odds are of collecting two banded ducks on the same morning on a squirrel hunt in Rankin County. I still have the bands from that memorable morning in my collection of other bands taken over the past 40 years. We stopped by the feed mill to show Mr. Jake, the landowner, our ducks and squirrels after our hunt. We were the talk of the coffee shop for a few days.
I wonder if there are opportunities for youngsters in Oklahoma to hunt ducks now as we did years ago. Permission may not be as easy to obtain, but then again those ranchers and farmers may care less about those big greenheads out there. On second thought, I wonder how easy it would be for anyone to gain access to those meccas of waterfowl. If there were a few more Mr. Jake’s around, anyone could hunt. Then again if it were that easy the ducks probably wouldn’t be there.
Maybe those college students I met from Auburn had good luck last week for they were doing exactly that. Cruising the roads and asking permission was their approach. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and it only takes one to say yes and they too may have found the opportunity for two bands in one day. Who knows, I too may head back soon to see if I can repeat what I did years ago. Maybe you should too.
Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.