Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bare ground

Each day now a bit more bare ground is revealed by the retreating snow pack. On this evening's walkabout, I took the dogs to a place where I made a sneak on a flock of ducks last November. The south facing shoreline is now mostly free of snow. Good sniffing for the dogs and good traction for me. Also a good place to sit on the grass and the softening ground to remember November.

I had stalked those ducks alone, knowing that if I had one or both dogs with me, we would have blown the deal for sure. I had glassed what looked like maybe six or eight, nine mallards at the end of a point and very near the cattail fringed shore.  They were feeding and looking comfortable, so off I went with shotgun in hand and murder on my mind.  Using the terrain to my advantage I got to where I thought the birds would be after about twenty minutes of high anxiety.  As I raised up to look, I could see two absolute shiner drake ring necked ducks about thirty yards from the shore, but................... where were the mallards.  I eased back down and waited a bit for my heart to stop pounding.

Peering through the trees and cattails, I could see nervous water between the shore and the ring necks and I figured that the mallards were right there in front of me, even though I couldn't see them.  Presently a green head appeared between the cattail leaves. Then I saw a hen and then two more green heads. The heart began pounding again.

It was time to make my play. Take a few deep breaths. Creep forward another five yards. Stand and deliver!
Up go the mallards and there are two dozen at least - not half a dozen. Confusion! Confusion! OK. OK.
In the nano-second that it takes to pull on a drake, I found the mark and the right lead and touched off the shotgun - just as a hen crossed right in front of my intended bird.  Boom! and down goes the hen! Confusion! Confusion! OK OK.  I found another drake and Boom! down it goes.  Both downed ducks are on the water and are NOT dead - heads up and boogying hard for the far shore.  I immediately covered the hen with my last shot and she dove!  I stuffed three more shells into the gun and swatted the drake three times.  Nothing!  I stood there in disbelief watching, slack jawed as those two iron clad birds both headed for the far shoreline, sinking lower and lower into the water until just the tops of their heads made little V shaped wakes behind their escape. Man, I hate it when that happens !!!

I watched for about ten minutes with the binoculars and marked each bird as to where they had disappeared into the cattails.  Both had gone to ground, as mallards often will and were about a hundred yard apart. I figured they were both mine.  Back to the house for the youngster.

It was nearly an hour before I hiked back to the other side of the pond with the dog heeling on the leash at my side. At this point in his short hunting experience he had only retrieved about six ducks and a couple of grouse, so even though my hopes were high, I still had doubts.  I sent him for the drake and he came up with the very lively bird almost immediately.  What a good boy.  The hen was a little harder to find, but it was my fault for not sending him into the right spot.  A fifty yard adjustment and he had her, too.  What a champ !

In all the confusion of the initial gunfire and poor shooting last fall, I was only able to find five of my six empties, but today the youngster hunted the last one up.  He might make something of himself yet.

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