Impatience is why deer hunting and ice-fishing will never make my personal “Top Five” of outdoor pursuits. So why does waterfowl hunting, also a relatively sedentary sport, qualify? Sleep-deprived, you sit on a bucket in the duck blind through hours of inactivity and try to stay awake. Bored, you shiver in the goose pit and hope the feeding flight comes early. After all, the day is long and not much is happening.
Or so it seems. Motion insists something is always happening during a waterfowl hunt. Merging to form new patterns, mile-high clouds are never still. Even when the sky is a gauze of gray and there are no clouds to be seen, the slightest breeze moves bulrushes, makes ripples and stirs waterfowl to move. Consider Saginaw Bay, the first—and still favorite—of the many places I have hunted ducks and geese.
On the best of all days the wind will come hard, ushering in migrant skeins of ducks and geese. On big water like Saginaw Bay the ducks gather in enormous rafts and come and go when they please. What seems chaotic is prescribed order beginning with teal in September and closing with goldeneyes by the new year. That said, my favorite month to hunt waterfowl is November. The days are cold, meaning another layer of clothing, but not so cold that one must break ice to reach the blind. Local mallards and other dabblers are gone, having been replaced by migrant swarms of diving ducks and geese reared somewhere else.
Can you see them? A phalanx of Canadas rides the wind, sees the shorn cropfield, circles the decoy spread and banks hard into the breeze. The retriever, unmoving, watches with expectant eyes. “Up and at ’em!” the guide commands, and the prone hunters rally to life with guns blazing. Etched forever in my mind, that scene always unfolds against the backdrop of a gray, wind-driven November day.
And if you hunt rivers, you know how motion is constant, because rivers are the lifeblood of wild places. Float a river in a camouflaged canoe and see what lives around the next bend. Set decoys at the island’s end and see what flies over, what drifts by. You cannot watch moving water and not wonder where it came from and where it is going. Such is the magnet when water passes this way once.
And so it is with the unseen wind, providing motion to the imagination of any waterfowl hunter on a wild November day. It’s what we hope for. It’s why we go.
Tom Huggler’s Grouse of North America and A Fall of Woodcock won national acclaim and are now collectible. His Quail Hunting in America (Stackpole) is still in print. A Fall of Woodcock was reprinted recently by Skyhorse Publishing.