By Chris Schultz Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal & Howard Lake Herald, Minn. October 12, 1998
It's the waterfowl opener
For us and thousands of other hunters across the state, it was definitely a ducky day. Low, stormy clouds covered the sky, drizzle and mist filled the air at times, and a strong wind came from the east. The conditions for a ducky opening waterfowl day were near perfect. However, the ducks weren't very ducky.
Saturday, Oct. 3 marked the opening of the 1998 Minnesota waterfowl hunting season. Myself, along with Brad Danielson, Gregg Machemehl, and Gregg's nine-year-old son Ben, all of Lester Prairie, headed to the Willmar area for an opening day of duck and goose hunting. I had scouted the area several times prior to the opener and the plan was to hunt one of a few larger, shallow waterfowl lakes or, depending on competition from other hunters, hop on to one of the many Waterfowl Production Areas in the Willmar area.
The scouting I had done revealed a good number of ducks in the area and a large number of geese. In fact, many more than I had seen while scouting in our area.
The plan was a good one. But, we knew we would be in the midst of a ton of other hunters because we would be hunting all public land.
For the most part, the day of hunting was a good one. Other hunters were in the area in good numbers as we expected and so were the ducks and geese.
We were on the lake early and had chosen a good location out of the strong east wind and many other hunters who showed up on the lake after us were cordial and gave us plenty of room. The problem was, most of the ducks stayed just as far away from us as the other hunters.
Like most openers, there was a barrage of shooting at the opening bell and then constant bursts until about 2 p.m. After that, and although there were still quite a few ducks in the air, the shooting really slowed down on the big lake we were hunting. The four of us, along with my dog Tucker, hunting out of two boats, ended up with two dandy honkers and one redhead.
Several other opportunities were missed, but the ducks that seemed to be in the air for a good chunk of the four hour hunt were more than decoy shy. A few birds, including the redhead and two geese we bagged, along with a couple of teal and woodducks that avoided our steel shot, set right into the decoys. But that was it, most of the ducks that were in the air stayed shy of our decoys and other spreads that were within our site.
Brad and I also faced some stiff competition to our decoy spread. We were set up on a big point with most of our decoys off the west side of the point in calm water. To our right, further down a channel, Ben and Gregg were set up. To our left was a large chunk of open water that carried small to large flocks of ducks all afternoon.
Our decoys just couldn't compete with those live birds out in the open water. A bird would look at our spread and then look at the live birds out in the open water and head to the open water just about every time.
When shooting hours came to a close, we found out at the landing that we did just about the same as most hunters on the lake - a few birds taken, a few missed and a fair day of hunting.
Hunters in our area reported about the same results, with several hunters saying bird numbers and hunting were slow to very poor. Our area was plagued by poor water conditions for much of the late summer. When the small potholes dried up the ducks moved on.
A few hunters on the Crow River reported good numbers of woodducks and teal on the river, but stiff opening day pressure with many hunters set up, walking or floating the river.
The evening shoot for Minnesota waterfowl hunters began on Sunday. Hunters can now take waterfowl until sunset. The regular waterfowl season in Minnesota closes on Dec. 1.
At about six months old, Angus's mind is starting to catch up to his body. He has grown to a gangly, clumsy and hefty 60 or so pounds, with every pound of flesh containing about two pounds of pure energy and endless curiosity.
Now, he understands his commands, sit, stay, kennel, give, hunt, stick and come. He doesn't have any of them fine-tuned yet, but he's got the general idea.
In a big announcement and proud moment for me, Angus retrieved his first duck on the Sunday morning of Minnesota's waterfowl opening weekend. The bird was a beautiful drake woodduck. I was hunting a small pothole on a Waterfowl Production Area and dropped the bird right in the decoys at about sunrise. He saw the bird the whole way and made a nice retrieve, bringing back the bird to the blind and leaving all the decoys behind him.
In training sessions, Angus had an obsession for retrieving and chewing on decoys. On that morning of hunting, he followed up his first retrieve with three more including tracking down a winged mallard in heavy cover.
Angus didn't surprise me with the retrieves, that came built in. He did surprise me with his attention to the hunt and to the birds that were in the air.
At about six months, he knows what's going on and what he's supposed to do in the duck slough. I just wish he'd figure out the same in my back yard. He still likes to dig. Currently, I have a nice nine-hole course back there with Angus working hard on 18. He must know the ground is going to freeze very soon, because he has picked up the pace on his construction schedule.
Maybe his first endeavor at pheasant hunting will burn off some energy.
- Outdoor notes
- Vote yes for Amendment 2 on Nov. 3.
- Minnesota's pheasant hunting season opened on Sat. Oct. 10. Look for a report on the opener in next week's column.
- During the hunting season, pay special attention to the health of your dog. Check ears, eyes, and feet on a consistent basis.
- When pheasant hunting, remember to walk slow and be thorough. Give your dog time to work and hit all the corners and edges.
- I was very pleased with how courteous other hunters were during the opening day of waterfowl hunting. Please be cautious and courteous and not competitive while hunting this fall.
- The wearing of blaze orange is required while small game hunting in Minnesota.
- The firearms deer hunting season in Minnesota opens on Saturday Nov. 7.
- Always keep firearms and ammunition properly stored.
- Look for fall colors peaking in our area. Pay special attention to the color, it will be gone before you know it.
- The days are getting shorter at a fast pace.
- The best time of the year to fish for lunker walleyes and northerns is now through freeze up.
- Take a kid hunting this fall, you'll have fun and so will they.