Frost on the windshield of my truck makes me giddy. It means those first few rushes of cold Canadian air are making their way south. In my mind, I see gloomy storm fronts pushing hundreds of ducks right into my decoys. It’s the stuff duck hunters’ dreams are made of. Excited at the idea of breaking out of my 2010 duck slump I called my buddy Chad who lives around Saginaw. We set our sights on a spot I’ve had on my “to try” list for 5 years. The Shiawassee SGA (the Flats) was about to show us the best hunt of my sluggish season.
We were the 8th party to register in the drawing on Saturday morning. We stared at the wooden map discussing wind direction and sleepily devising how we were going to pull the 16 foot Lowe over those dikes without a winch. The anticipation kept building as the guy behind the counter started reading through the familiar rules and regulations that I’ve heard at Harsen’s Island at least 100 times. We didn’t have to wait long for our spot in the draw. Out of 40 parties we got picked second. We selected a flooded corn field North of Prior Rd right next to the refuge. I was so excited I was shaking when we pulled up to the boat launch.
We set about 70 decoys in the dark; nearly 40 puddle ducks, 30 divers and 2 geese. A steady wind was at our backs so we created two big landing spots about 10 yards in front of us at the center of a crooked horseshoe. One side of the spread had a bunch of redheads and buffies guiding the birds right into the grindhouse. The other side featured mallards, widgeon, a few scaup and my lucky drake Pintail. We loaded up on a few cups of coffee and hunkered down just as the wind started picking up. The only thing that could make this morning better was to have Zeus with us. He’s on the IR until the weekend thanks to a minor surgery. I didn’t anticipate exactly how much we would need my trusted bird dog.
Within the first 5 minutes of shooting light two big divers buzzed the spread passing over our heads about 60 yards up. We could hear the wind ripping through their wings as they wheeled around in the darkness to make the final pass. They dissapeared for just a second as they dipped beneath the tree line. I whispered to Chad to get ready to bust these Redheads. I blew that short, raspy, rolling diver sound on my mallard call. Suddenly they came tearing out the darkness with their feet down completely committed to land right in front of us. We opened fire and Chad rolled one right in the decoys. I shot and missed as that other bird took off at the speed of sound. The closer I got to the downed duck it slowly dawned on me. That’s no Red. It was a bull Canvasback. Chad’s first Can and the first one I’ve ever seen killed in Michigan. It was quickly decided that this was going to be one hell of a hunt.
Within the next hour we downed a pair of Ringnecks and watched a constant flow of ducks into and out of the refuge. The geese were still on the water in the safe-zone but were chattering like they wanted to get up for breakfast. I was calling at some mallards when the guys behind us starting hammering the goose call. I looked over my right shoulder and just about wet my waders. Two big Canada geese, wings locked, heads down looking to land were cutting over the corn we were standing in. They passed within 20 yards of us, made a wide circle and locked on to the pair of goose blocks in the landing zone. When their feet came down the Benelli came up. I hit the closer goose with two shots, dropping it with the second. My third round slowed down the other goose and Chad brought him down with a wing-smashing shot. Both birds were trying to get away as soon as the hit the water. Without Zeus, we had no choice but to hit them again. I finished off my goose and put two more in the head of Chad’s bird.
I approached my goose and heard Chad shout “should I hit it again?” turning to see his goose with its head up and swimming away! I nodded and he fired twice more rolling that big bird into the water. I hauled my prize back to my marsh seat but Chad’s adventure was just beginning. The closer he got to that goose the faster it started swimming. He trudged through 14″ of water and sticky mud chasing that bird through the rest of our zone, through the entire adjacent zone and all the way into the canal. With ducks working the spread I was quickly distracted. By the time I turned around Chad was out of sight. After about 20 mins, and four unanswered phone calls, I was starting to think that something awful happened to my buddy. I unloaded my gun and started prepping the boat to go look for him. I was relieved when my phone rang. The conversation was hilarious. Me: “Dude. Are you alright?” Chad: “Yeah (panting) I’m alright.” Me: “Did you get that goose?” Chad: “F*** YEAH I GOT THAT GOOSE.” He also got a standing ovation from the hunters in the next field when he finally was able to reach down and ring that birds neck. His grit is without equal. He wasn’t about to let his first Canada Goose swim away without a fight. But I think both of them got their asses kicked.
As we sat there estimating the price of all of the ammo we just pumped into that goose (just over $7 for the record) we crushed three singles that landed in the spread. With our stringer half-full and noon quickly approaching we starting packing-up. We met some other hunters who needed a tow on the way out. They helped us pack up all the decoys, we tied the boats together and headed back to the launch.
When I got to my truck it hit me that I was so excited to get after those birds that I had completely forgot to close up and lock the back of my pick-up. The tailgate was wide open leaving easy pickings to my baby mojo, my box full of shells/gun cleaning stuff, a 10 foot mojo pole and my new $60 boat cover. Everything was there. I was shocked. Karma had decided that it was our day. Helping a couple stranded hunters was icing on the karma-cake. Help your fellow hunters and good things happen.
The sheer size and variety of our decoy spread pulled in the birds like a charm. The weather was perfect and we shot well. You really can’t ask for a better hunt than that. Sorry Zeus. You’ll be there next time. I promise.