Great story, Ecat. It epitomizes what "hard-core" means.
I had a similar experience this week: on Tuesday I went to a spot that had been very productive in the years past, including last year late season. It involved a 3/4 mile walk in then out, in water ranging from 3" to waist deep, pulling a sled loaded with gear. Turned out the spot had been completely changed by the July rains, but I set up anyway...and I saw two ducks, both 100 yards away, all morning.
The next day was going to be cold, windy, and freezing rain, so I thought most sane duck hunters would not be out, particularly since it's a Wednesday. So, I went to a different area (still public, but 20 miles away from the first area). Saw no lights going in, no trucks in the normal spots, and I'm thinking "I got it all to myself!" Then I pulled into the parking lot; three other trucks already there.
Walked the half mile to where I could see the body of water I planned to hunt, only to see three sets of headlamps flashing around. Rats! Only option is to go the opposite direction, to a small spot where I've had a few good hunts, just not consistently good.
Set up and hide really good. 10 minutes later, which is after shoot time, a guy comes walking in from the south, wanders around the area (I show myself and holler at him to let him know where I am), then sets up 80 yards downwind of me.
Not much I can do but fume.
I am seeing very few ducks in the air; not counting a small flock of buffleheads that I let pass, less than 25 total. But, a few birds work beautifully to my setup. At 10AM, I have four mallards and a bull sprig. All were taken hovering over the decoys. What a great day!!! Ice is forming on the decoys, and I'm satisfied....time to pick up and head home for a hot cup of cocoa.
Oh, and the guy that set up just downwind of me? Nothing came into him, period. He shot at a flock of 80 yard specks, sailing one back into the roost, and shot at a 50 yard flock of pintail from which one bird finally collapsed and fell no less than 500 yards away. To the guy's credit, he walked that 500 yards and looked for the bird for at least 30 minutes.
As Ecat said, we pay our dues for the great days by putting in the time and effort on days that yield nothing more than sweaty Thermax.