Cold, wet and miserable on a waterfowl hunt from hell

Hunting ducks and geese can be tough, but regardless of age, some of us can’t re

Duck and goose hunters risk misery on any given day, but there are times when we know better than to go but still choose to roll the dice in an effort to scratch out one more memorable hunt.

That was the case this past Saturday, Jan. 2, when Old Man Winter tossed us some of the worst weather we’ve seen so far this season. It rained all day. The temperature was in the low 40s, and unfortunately, I had agreed to join a few buddies on a combo goose/duck hunt on a flooded field and marsh.

The one thing that can make a hunt go from bad to worse is to plod through mud and muck in pre-dawn darkness. When you find yourself moving through boot-sucking mud with piles of decoys, the enthusiasm can be sucked out of a positive mind.

Setting up a spread of goose decoys is no easy task. On most occasions, you’ll be in knee-deep water, slogging through mud. That’s what we did Saturday morning. We got the spread set up but in the process were sweating like crazy. When it was time to get in the blind, that’s when the cold started to seep in.

Layering is always the key to staying comfortable on a waterfowl hunt. But when it’s raining and you can’t simply peel off a parka to keep from sweating, that’s when your inner layers can get damp. And when you stop, the cold can really make things tough.

Fortunately the hunt went well once we settled into a big and comfortable blind. Thanks to a blustery north wind, geese and ducks were flying low, and we had some easy shots early. When there are birds to shoot, it’s like mind over matter — you forget about the aching from being cold. But when the shooting slows to a trickle, the misery factor accelerates. Fingers go numb, toes start to ache and you’re wondering why you let common sense overrule good judgment – as in staying home on a warm sofa watching ESPN college football previews.

A few years ago, I swore off goose hunting. The reason why is simple – it’s way too much work for very little shooting. Or that’s the case on most goose hunts. One thing I’ve learned after over 50 years of waterfowl hunts is that you never know what to expect. That’s especially true when goose hunting. It’s like rolling the dice. If you’re in the right field at the right time, a goose hunt can be a fantastic experience. However, geese are far less predictable than ducks. You can pattern ducks on most days. You can try to pattern geese, but more often than not, the best-laid plans will make the guide or hunt leader look like a fool.

Some of the best combo goose/duck hunts usually take place in a flooded rice field – that’s the kind of stuff most waterfowl like. Years ago I made a hunt with Bobby and Alice Vaughan. At that time, they lived in Beaumont. Now they call China, Texas, home. The Vaughans take their waterfowl hunts seriously. Bobby makes it a point to flood the right field and build the most inconspicuous blind. On one particular morning, the three of us hunted one of their blinds in a flooded field near Nome. What started out as a slow hunt turned out to be fantastic. We had steady shooting at ducks and geese. At about noon we left the blind with a strap of birds that included snow and specklebelly geese, pintails, two mallards, a black duck and several teal. That’s about as good as a waterfowl hunt gets. And believe it or not, it was actually raining that morning. And it was plenty cold. But the birds were there, and regardless of what Old Man Winter had in store, we had a misery-free blast.

That’s why so many hardcore duck and goose hunters will play the odds. We might get hammered a few times by the weather, but sooner or later it all comes together and at the end of the day, you’ve got a hunt to remember.

 

Robert Sloan can be reached by e-mail at sloan288 [at] aol [dot] com.

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