How North is North for those Northern Ducks?
I’ve spent a disproportionate part of my life staring into the chill of a north wind, searching for a glimpse of wings, spots in the sky. The belief is that somewhere, sometime, the northern ducks would make it to Mobile Bay. It kept me searching the horizon.
Like my father before me and now my son and my grandsons, and hopefully my great-grandson Chapman, we all share the great expectation of fresh ducks to hunt, ducks driven from their summer potholes and sloughs.
These are ducks driven by north winds from snow-covered food lying in harvested fields and ice-choked lakes and streams but mostly driven by the cycle of nature that pushes them to migrate south.
Waiting for the Northern Ducks
So I have stood in cold murky waters on many duckless days looking north and hoping that the northern ducks would soon come.
I have found that I’m not alone in my vigil. Duck hunters, I believe, are true optimists, always believing that tomorrow the northern ducks will arrive and the shooting will be great.
As we stood admiring our bag after the hunt, our guide said while waving his arm toward the north, “It was good, but just wait till the northern ducks get here!”
I stood my watch as a boy and then as a young man along the shores of Mobile Bay, often longing for better hunts. In time, as I grew older and accumulated the means, I began to travel. I discovered the previous-mentioned fact that duck hunters everywhere are optimists.
In Louisiana, standing with like-minded men with strange accents, we were all looking north when one of them blurted, “Man, just you wait till ‘dem northern ducks get here, then y’all will see something!”
Later, I hunted rice fields and flooded timber with men who yelled “sooie pigs” when discussing college football. They told me, “You think this is good hunting, just wait till the northern ducks get here.”
Time passed and I found myself hunting near Lake City, South Dakota with a local but famous guide. He led us to some fine shooting on potholes. As we stood on the bank of a reedy glacier lake, he said, “You are here a little early. The northern ducks haven’t got here yet. When they do, the hunting will be fantastic.”
I moved farther north and hired a guide near Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, right in the middle of the duck factory, the prairie pothole region. We had a couple of fine shoots of mallards, teal, and gadwalls. As we stood admiring our bag after the hunt, our guide said while waving his arm toward the north, “It was good, but just wait till the northern ducks get here!”
Great adventurers and explorers have sought treasure, riches, fame, and fortune, ever clinging to the hope that what they sought was just over the next hill, up the next river, across the next lake, or even north over the horizon. Born too late to be an explorer, I’ve become an adventurer of sorts, a mundane one if compared to the likes of Lewis & Clarke, or Admiral Perry, or Shackleton. But a seeker nonetheless.
How North is North?
With the adventurer’s heart, I told my hunting buddies, “We’re going north to hunt ducks!” And we did. My son, my four hunting buddies and I flew way up north to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Once at our duck camp a little north of Edmonton, we were treated to three days of the finest duck and goose hunting a waterfowler could want. From our layout blinds in a harvested barley field, we took specks, Canada geese and many snows.
The ducks on those two days came to the decoys by the hundreds. With mallards zooming in close and landing within a few feet of our blinds, I knew the ultimate duck hunt was finally being realized.
Group pictures were taken. Wide grins abounded everywhere I looked. Not one hunter frowned. That’s when our guide said, “Well you fellas came here at a good time and had lots of luck.” He hesitated. “But, it’s nothing compared to when the northern ducks get here!”
“Hold it!” I said. “We thought these were the northern ducks. How far north do we have to go to find the northern ducks?”
Like I said, duck hunters are eternal optimists. From the Gulf Coast to Northern Canada, some dang fool is standing in belly-deep, freezing water, and staring into the north wind, all the while believing that soon—real soon—the northern ducks will arrive. And it will be really something!
Let there always be northern ducks.