All I Want for Christmas is a Duck
By Chris Hustad
Christmas season has come and gone yet again, with plenty of memories to crown the year. By now you’ve more than likely returned some of your gifts; the pants that were too short, the sleeves on that sweater were too long, that pair of boots one size too small. All too often Christmas is surrounded by the material things that we give or receive that somehow makes the day special. What I truly wanted for Christmas this year didn’t come in a box, there’s no need to wrap, and you can’t find it on Ebay. What I wanted was one, only one, plump greenhead.
So we set out on our journey bright and early. My hunting partner, Scott Terning (Delta Waterfowl) was just getting over the stomach flu. The night before he wasn’t even sure if he’d make it, so I figured we’d start at 7 am and go from there. When I dialed that morning he picked up on the first ring, he was ready.
The goose season had just closed the days prior, so at this time of year I can get my B-52 friends off my mind. Ice fishing season had just gotten started, but I couldn’t get into that mode until my Christmas wish was fulfilled.
We shoved off around 20 minutes to sunup. I had an area scouted that was holding just enough mallards to make the morning interesting, if they decided to move. At this time of year the birds typically only move once a day, whether that’s the morning, afternoon or evening is the real question. This morning was very serene. There was barely a breath of wind, there was low clouds overhead, and there were scattered flurries about. With the exception of the wind, the morning felt “ducky”, so we were pretty excited.
We pulled up to our spot around daybreak, or so it seemed through the clouds. We intended to get to our spot by foot. But since we brought a canoe to handle any cripples, we made full use of it to haul our gear. We threw in our guns, our ammo bags and 2 full decoy bags. I walked along shore with my video camera and tripod, I didn’t want to miss this morning on film. As we were in route to our spot, we startled some small pockets of mallards holding along shore. They way they flushed with the white background looked incredibly beautiful.
Finally, we got to our familiar shoreline, the natural cover we intended to use. We began to toss out our first decoys into the water. Even though it was 15 degrees out and the water looked about a few degrees from freezing, I felt unusually warm in my waders this morning. About a dozen decoys out I looked up and saw a few dozen mallards flying overhead. A few of them even locked up and headed towards us only to flare from the idiots tossing out plastic ducks from shore on Christmas.
After we finished, we gathered the remaining gear, hid the canoe and got nestled in the surrounding driftwood. I can’t reiterate enough how beautiful the morning was. There wasn’t a sound to be heard except for the occasional honk from the few hundred geese ½ mile down or the constant bald eagles screeching overhead. I really could care less at that point when the birds came, I was thoroughly enjoying the day.
For awhile, things were pretty slow with the exception of a few divers buzzing up and down the water. Then, a couple mallards dropped down off the decoys. Scott looked over and said he was going to get a little closer for a shot. A few minutes and a couple shots later a giant greenhead hit the water with a splash. Scott wasted no time and grabbed the canoe and headed out to retrieve the bird. “There’s no way I’m losing the last duck of the year.” Scott replied. I couldn’t agree more.
Scott got on the duck about 10 minutes later as it had drifted way down the line. In the effort, he managed to spook a few hundred geese which weren’t ready to feed yet and settled back down on the other side. Well we’ve got one down…still mine to go. I layed back in the sand and snow and closed my eyes. The screeching eagles circling overhead was very relaxing. I just took it all in. Immediately following a high shriek, I was startled to hear the sound of whistling wings.
I looked up and sure enough, there were 5 mallards passing by. I had just enough time to find my Winglock in my slough of calls around my neck and put out one single quack. That was all that was needed as a drake and a hen dropped out of the 5 and swung over me. As they flew out about 30 yards they quartered, then locked up and came right at me, wings just scraping the water. With an easy 20 yard shot I folded the drake…yes! No canoe was needed for this retrieve, 15 steps later I had a giant mallard in full plumage in my hands. This was my limit that morning, this was what I came for.
We put the guns down, and casually picked up the decoys. The birds were starting to fly, but there was no need to shoot more. Santa (or you may call Benelli) had already folded and wrapped my present along the shore that morning. The scenery and surroundings were almost too pretty to leave, but with an amazingly understanding family waiting by the tree back home, it was time to go. I won’t forget my Christmas of 2004 any time soon.