Published November 21, 2008, 12:00 AM

Woodland Trails: Duck hunting on icy pond

We never planned to drive an icebreaker in the early-morning darkness. The hard part was breaking the ice with the paddles. But with effort and determination the paddles broke through the ice enough so we could propel the small duck boat, a 13-foot Carstens Pintail, forward to the other end of the lake.

We never planned to drive an icebreaker in the early-morning darkness. The hard part was breaking the ice with the paddles. But with effort and determination the paddles broke through the ice enough so we could propel the small duck boat, a 13-foot Carstens Pintail, forward to the other end of the lake. The sound was impressive. A crushing, cracking ice breaker eruption that sounded more like an explosion than anything else.

With practically no freeboard above water due to two bags of decoys, two dogs, two guns and two large men, we sat so very low in the water. But the Pintail was so very stable. Still I would have hated to capsize 50 yards from shore in freezing water with ¼ to ½ inch of ice. The dogs seemed nervous. I know I was. Shore sure looked more friendly the closer we got to it.

But the real problem was time. It just seemed like yesterday when we opened the duck season with our 32nd annual duck camp. And now our duck season was just about over. Although the actual season won’t end until nearly the end of November, I figured this would be the last time out. With deer season coming up fast and late-season pheasant and the possibility of early ice, we have a problem with time. Where did the time go? How many shopping days are left until Christmas?

But there is something special about red-legged mallards at season end with triple curled tails. And there is something special about large flocks of Canada geese piling up all around the county. But the most special part of the hunt was when three odd looking ducks just shot out of nowhere and tried to land in our decoys. Three male wood ducks just dropped out of the sky. You are always surprised when woodies show up this late in the season. But as Josh said, “If you ever wanted to mount a woody this would have been the ducks to get stuffed.”

Wood ducks are overly beautiful anytime of year but this time of year they look as though they were painted in rich oils. The greens, golds, blues, yellows and reds stand out better than HDTV could ever try to imitate. But it was the purple flanks that impressed me.

This time of year they have more deep rich colors than at any other time of the year. But once dressed, plucked and dipped in paraffin they took on an inspiring color that was fitting for a cover of a cooking magazine. Given to the landowner, I know they will be appreciated as the main course of great meal. It was our small way of saying thank-you for allowing us to hunt their land.

One problem on this last hunt was that it was the young dogs’ first attempt at ice water retrieving. I’m amazed at how cautious the dogs were on the thin ice until they realized they could break through it by swimming and smashing through it on their way to bring to hand the ducks we shot. All the training paid off as the dogs once again earned their dog food. One young dog, Drake, his name fitting for waterfowl hunting, took charge of the ice and made sure Josh didn’t have to wade out and bring the duck back himself. And all that he required was a pat on the head for a job well done!

And then it was time to go. It would be the last time we carried decoys to the water’s edge as the season ended for us. It would be the last time we would hear the whistling of wings cutting through the air as a diving rocket shot over the decoys, fooled by decoys. Then with a fine shot Josh folded it for the dog to retrieve.

Another neat part was watching the young dogs watch the horizon as diligently as we did for ducks and hearing whistling wings. The dogs had come full circle. It was a good day but it was a sad day because once again we have reached the end of another season!

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