Memories On The Marsh: Duck hunting reigns supreme among fall hunts

By: Brennan Kohls

It was 6:44 a.m. Opening morning duck season. The sun barely peeked over a hill overlooking the small pond we were sitting on. The sky was made up of orange, pink and blue. Steam rose off of the weed-covered surface of the water. The smell of mud and marsh water filled the air.

Our spread of a dozen duck decoys sat still. My five-month-old Brittany Spaniel named Jake, sat in the grassy mud, his teeth chattering, not because of the 30-degree temperatures, but because of anticipation for what lay ahead.

Suddenly, a shot rang out from a pond over. Adrenaline and excitement kicked in. “If someone is getting shooting, then that means we’ll start getting shots here soon,” I thought.

Out of nowhere a teal screamed like an F-18 fighter jet into our spread, wings cupped, ready to land. We shouldered our guns and fired. I felt the recoil of my inertia driven Stoeger shotgun hit my shoulder. The duck kept flying straight out of our decoys and straight out of our line of sight. If only we could have that shot over.

Duck hunting is the most unique hunting of all. There is absolutely nothing in the entire world like watching the sunrise over a small pond and smelling the marsh air. Nothing compares to watching ducks respond to your hail call or seeing a mallard cup its wings flying into your spread. Unless you have hunted ducks before, you won’t understand why it’s worth carrying pounds of heavy gear, wearing heavy rubber chest waders, carrying dozens of decoys, sitting through rain and snow just for a chance to maybe down a bird or two. Doing all the work is worth it when you down a duck and see it splash into the water and then see your dog swim through cold and sometimes even frozen water to retrieve the bird.

The next closest thing to duck hunting is dove hunting. Most dove hunters like dove hunting because it’s cheap, easy and there’s more shooting. Don’t get me wrong, I love dove hunting, but shooting a dove that you maybe only had to walk half a mile, while carrying your stool and shotgun isn’t as meaningful as shooting a duck after you walked half a mile wearing heavy chest waders, carrying your decoys and shotgun, and having to sit through the cold for a few hours. Most of my fondest memories were duck hunting out in a muddy marsh with my dad and my dog.

So why does the duck hunter do all that work when he could just grab a stool, a box of shells and his shotgun and shoot doves? Because the duck hunter is a unique breed of hunter. He can sit all day in one spot and not take a single shot but still think he had an amazing hunt. He would rather be in a marsh, sitting in mud than be anywhere else. To the duck hunter, the marsh smell is rich in memories.

The duck hunter will wake up at 3 a.m., then take a short rest in the vehicle in the parking lot on public land. Then at 5 a.m., he slings his shotgun, grabs his decoy bag and heads out to his spot. He then waits until a half hour before sunrise to start shooting. He watches the sunrise, smells the marsh and hears the shore birds while most people are either still sleeping or making their first cup of coffee. The duck hunter will eat beef jerky and drink coffee in his set up while waiting for that “greenhead” or “woody” to fly in.

He will do whatever it takes to get the bird he downed. The duck hunter sometimes will even swim out to the middle of the pond to retrieve a duck if he does not have a dog. The duck hunter’s best friend is his faithful, furred companion, his dog. Whether it’s a Labrador Retriever, a Brittany Spaniel or sometimes even a Poodle, the duck hunter will love that dog and respect that dog as a member of his own family. The duck hunter is probably the only dog owner who will welcome a muddy, wet, stinky dog to sleep in his sleeping bag with him.

Duck hunting is the best type of hunting because to understand it, you have to be a true hunter, not the kind of guy who only hunts because he gets to kill things. After all the work that you have to put into it, it will pay off, whether you shoot a duck or not. Only a true hunter will know what I mean by that last sentence.  I would just rather be in a marsh with my faithful companion/s than anywhere else in the world.

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