Adjusting For Ducks
My dad has always had a significant influence on my life. As a child, I can remember accompanying dad on hunting trips for deer, grouse, and waterfowl. I was always keen and could never sleep the night before the big event. Little has changed.
I can recall being along when my dad and uncle pushed a big white-tailed buck out of slough bottom. The crack of the rifle was so exciting that I can still remember every detail of the moment. Grouse hunting was always a thrill. Being able to spot the boreal forest’s chameleon is still a challenge I would accept any day the season is open. The waterfowl hunts were equally as memorable, and I recall one Halloween day when we were sitting on the edge of a marsh. Dad told me to stand guard while he had a little snooze. Not only was I beaming with pride, but I felt like a soldier that had just been promoted to captain. I stood vigil for half an hour until a lone mallard winged along the edge of our cattail hide. The shotgun roared, and the duck kept flying, but I wouldn’t change the moment for the world.
Life marches by quickly. Growing up in a hunting family significantly influenced my career, how I spend my free time, and what my family eats for dinner. There have been hundreds of deer hunts. The ruffed grouse have winged away as many times as they have hit the ground, and I still have trouble sleeping through the night when we have a big duck and goose hunt lined up for the next morning.
Life also changes as we get older, and we find challenges that restrict our ability to enjoy our pastimes. Mom and dad retired and moved west, where there weren’t the same opportunities to hunt. Part of it might have been that that family and friends that were more active in the outdoors were far away. Dad did make it back for some special hunts when we managed to draw a license, but overall, he could not get out as much as he once did.
Life challenges also took a twist for mom in the form of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, better known as ALS. The disease affects the nervous system and shuts down communication to muscles. In mom’s case, it has been a slow process, for which we give thanks. However, the inevitable creeps up, and mom has not used her arms and hands for many years. Now creeping into her legs and back, ALS is stealing her mobility. Marriage was not a commitment my folks took lightly, and my dad has been a full-time caregiver to ensure my mom has a quality of life. Moreover, like everything else dad has done in life, he has embraced the role wholeheartedly.
Life’s challenges mean that dad rarely gets out to hunt or fish. A nurse or family member needs to be lined up to stay with mom. When help is secured, it is often only for a few hours and not for a day. We still take advantage of any opportunity, and dad gets out to fish walleye, and we always try to fit in a grouse hunt in the fall. This year was no different, and my sister Wendy offered to come down for a few days to spend time with mom while her husband Ken and I took dad hunting.
The first day was set aside for grouse hunting. The weather was not ideal, and the backroads were the worst I have ever seen. It tried to snow and rain, and the wind made the birds spooky when we did find them. We hunted all day and managed to see 15 ruffed grouse, but we did not take even close to that many home. The day was a success but the weather the next day was even worse for more backwoods hunting.
Ralph and Josh Luedtke, long-time family friends, had shared a duck hunt with me a few days earlier, and the birds were back in the same field. I asked dad if he would like to hunt ducks. His preference was grouse, but he was willing to give it a try. It had been approximately 30 years since dad shot at a quacker. We secured the appropriate licenses and made plans for an afternoon hunt.
Alberta’s weather can be as fickle as a dating teenager. Too much rain one day, a blast of severe cold the next, with old man winter threatening to encapsulate the landscape with snow and ice. The weather’s unpredictable nature can be good and bad. However, the above-average temperatures in early November meant an extension of the waterfowl season. I should have been thinking about deer hunting but found myself fixated on the hoards of fat mallards lingering in the area. The well-feathered ducks had enough open water and food to keep them content, and I wanted dad to see it again with modern blinds and decoys.
We arrived at the field at 1:30 pm, and the ducks were lined up in the barley stubble. We drove to the spot where we wanted to set up, and the birds lifted in waves and headed back to local wetlands. I was trying out a new Alps OutdoorZ Alpha Alpha stand-up blind. With adjustable panels, we made the appropriate modifications for dad to see out clearly. We lowered the rear head panel to provide the overhead coverage to stay concealed. I used an Alps OutdoorZ Stealth Hunter blind chair with adjustable legs and raised as high as it would go so dad could remain seated and still shoot over the top of the blind.
Technically, this was an easy hunt. Two dozen Final Approach honker silhouettes and two dozen full-bodied duck decoys were deployed. We scrubbed the blind with straw, placed our decoys, two spinners where the birds had been feeding, and sat back to start the show.
I brought a Stevens model 555 20-gauge over-and-under for dad and a box of Kent Bismuth. The reduced recoil and massive hitting power would be ideal. The ducks returned within minutes, and dad was so excited that I could see a slight tremor in his hands. Fat drakes with emerald green heads and orange feet soared into the decoys with reckless abandon. We knew the ducks would be flying for the rest of the day, so Ralph, Ken, and I watched and encouraged dad to do the shooting until he got some birds on the ground. The first seven shots were clean misses, but with a little coaching, dad swung the shotgun a little more and started to find his groove.
A drake drifted in over the spinners, and I pointed it out in the sky. Dad zeroed in on the bird, followed it with his shotgun, and hit the switch. The bird crumpled mid-flight and careened into the stubble. A chorus of cheers erupted, and dad had a grin on his face that stretched from ear to ear.
Ducks came in pairs, tens, twenties, and never stopped. The 20-gauge continued to bark, and the rest of us would pick on the flaring birds as a follow-up. Once dad figured out the lead, he was deadly. A flock would line up, and dad would pick out a bird, and another late-season mallard would be added to his bag. Ralph and Ken slowly filled their limits while they enjoyed the show, and in less than an hour, we had shot all but one bird to fill our limits.
A drake and hen headed straight for the decoys. Dad gripped the shotgun tight, and when he lifted it off the edge of the blind, I knew our hunt was almost over. The diminutive 20-gauge barked one more time, and the hunt was over. There were 32 fat mallards lined up in front of our blind for photos, and everyone had huge smiles.
We should always make time to share outdoor adventures with the people who acted as our mentors. Being able to share the passion with the person that created the desire is the ultimate compliment and way to say thanks. I will continue to find ways to get dad into the field with the help of amazing family and friends. Of course, mom gets to feast on the bounty of our success with someone else on kitchen duty.
We all have an expiry date. Do something special for yourself and your family and continue to fulfill dreams and make memories whenever possible.
Alps Alpha Blind
An afternoon, late-season hunt was successful because we could stay completely hidden and blended into the field. The Alpha blind is large enough to accommodate a wheelchair, and four of us, with all our gear, fitting comfortably for the hunt. The Alpha Waterfowl Blind, designed is quick to assemble, provides full concealment, and is comfortable in any weather. The lightweight blind base is a square-tube aluminum frame that is powder-coated to stand up to the environment. This stand-up blind offers set-up options for overhead concealment. The side doors open wide for easy access. There is extra room for gear and ammo bags, mesh pockets, and it will comfortably accommodate four large shooters and two dogs. Stakes provided ensure stability in the wind. The outer material is 600D polyester. Three mesh windows allow shooters to watch incoming birds under full concealment. Rows of brush pockets let moisture drain but hold bundles of grass, corn stalks, or brush to blend into the surroundings. There are two dog ports to collect birds without opening a door—the 39-pound blind and components rollup in a tight package held together by convenient shoulder carry straps. MSRP: $399.99; alpsoutdoorz.com
Alps Stealth Hunter Blind Chair
The Stealth Hunter 360 Blind Chair from ALPS OutdoorZ favors waterfowl or any other hunts out of a blind. The four legs are individually adjustable for height. They are supported with a large pad to keep the chair from sinking into the ground. The chair can be adjusted to use on uneven ground. The chair comes apart for transport, folds up neatly, and comes with a shoulder strap. MSRP: $129.99; alpsoutdoorz.com
By Brad Fenson