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Outdoors with Mike Roux: Mallards, Finally

Published on Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The conditions that Friday at dawn were significantly different than they had been for quite some time. My best duck hunting buddy, John Caldwell, and I had spent more than a few mornings in the duck blind in the early part of the 2017 season. The vast majority of these were warm and windless trips that ended with a few ducks, if any.

The first few days of this year’s waterfowl season were not too bad. Teal and gadwall, along with a few woodies, splashed in our decoys. But the local ducks caught on quickly, and a passing shot at blue-winged bottle rockets was about all there had been lately. All that changed on Friday as temperatures hoveried around 30º F with north winds at 20 to 25 mph.

In the early morning hours, the three hunters in our blind had only killed two mallards in total. John’s other duck hunting buddy Ace hunts with John when I can't. As I said, teal, gadwall and some shovelers made up the bulk of the bag to that point.

Just as shooting hours began, we had a pair of small ducks fly right into our faces. “Were those teal?” John asked. “Way too fast for me to tell,” I answered as we both made better preparations for the next assault, which came only a minute later.

Two fast-moving ducks came to the decoys from the south and immediately set their wings. “There they are!” I yelled as I stood and shot. I fanned on my first shot but connected on the second, splashing the second bird. “That was too fast for me,” John said. “Great shot,” he added. He then sent Ben, his black lab, on his first retrieve of the day.

John and I both fully expected a teal. We were amazed to see a duck that should not have even been in the Midwest. I had taken an Oldsquaw hen. This is a sea duck and I have only killed one other one in my life. John too had only seen one before this. It was an usual start to what turned out to be a great duck day.

We had hardly finished our discussion on the Oldsquaw when John saw a half-dozen big ducks fighting the wind trying to get into the decoys. They passed too high and four of them kept going north. John watched the lower two ducks circle and they once again set-up and fought the high wind trying to get down in our blocks. They were virtually hovering when John called the shot. Two shots…two splashes, and Ben went to work again.

“This is starting to look promising,” John said as he took the fat gadwall from Ben’s mouth. Ben had no sooner returned to the blind with second gadwall when I saw two ducks coming from the north with a strong tailwind. These two were really moving as I shot and hit the lead duck. There was just no time to shoot at the other one. They were moving way too fast.

The other duck flew to the end of the slough and turned coming back north, this time into the stiff wind. I got it as well. A pair of shovelers were ducks four and five of the morning. “This is more like it,” John smiled as he took a duck from Ben.

 


John Caldwell and Ben show off our bag the day the mallards arrived. (Photo by Mike Roux)

The slough on which we were hunting snakes and winds through the Mississippi River bottoms. At about 8 a.m., I saw a flight of about 30 larger ducks circling the ditch to our north. I have no idea why they did not see our decoys, but they swung into the wind and landed in the slough a few hundred yards from us.

We sat for another half-hour with no action at all. “I think it’s over for this morning,” I said to John. He agreed and I asked him how long we were going to sit there before we went to find those ducks and jump-shoot them. He looked at me and said, “Let’s go.”

Jump-shooting is the method of spot-and-stalk for waterfowlers. Finding ducks or geese roosted for the day on a body of water allows hunters to sneak-up on them. It's a highly productive way to put meat in the freezer. My boys and I often finish out our limits on slow days by jump-shooting sloughs and ditches.

I had an idea of where I thought the ducks had landed, but John disagreed. I thought they were on an “S” turn in the slough. John, with his six decades of experience in this bottom, was confident that they were 150 yards south of that point. Luckily I did not argue with John’s expert opinion.

We had the wind in our favor so we knew they would not hear us coming. The water was 6 to 7 ft. below field level so we should have been able to get pretty close if John could keep Ben at heel. Ben did great, and when I spotted the flock on the water they were less than 30 yards away.

“I’ll stay here and you move down 50 yards,” Caldwell instructed. “When you are set I will stand up and we’ll get ‘em,” he ended. I backed-off and made a wide, quiet circle approaching the ditch in a tight crouch. When I peeked over the bank I was right on top of them. I gave John a “thumbs up” and he slowly stood and moved forward.

The birds flushed and John’s first shot splashed a mallard drake. I did not see what he did after that because the area in front of me filled-up with ducks immediately. Under circumstances like this it becomes very difficult to pick-out single targets and stay with them through a shot and follow through. It is much like shooting quail in a covey rise.

I had recognized the ducks as mallards when we first snuck up on them. Now I was concentrating on finding green heads for targets. My first target was one of the first birds off the water. I shot and instantly acquired a new target. As soon as I saw a green head, I swung through and shot, quickly looking for the next one.

 


I also managed to take down some long overdue greenheads. (Photo by John Caldwell)

 

I fired three shots at the rising flock and took three mallard drakes out of it. John hit another duck before his gun jammed, ending the flurry of action. Ben went to work and helped us pile up a nice mess of ducks for John’s freezer. After weeks of frustration and little ducks, the mallards were here…finally.

 

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Author: Mike Roux

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