The 2019 Season was one of more ups than downs. Starkly contrasted to the one before. Water was tough to come by until January this year, as opposed to the previous one where we wished for some shallows.
"Working" as a hunting photographer the last 3 years has changed my perspective, my demeanor, and my experiences in the field. I've learned that no matter the success or the heartache of the hunt, to appreciate just being out there and nothing else. The most boring days I try to stretch out longer than I used to and the most exciting ones have started to "simmer" longer instead of "searing" like they used to. Good thing too. I don't get near as many "buddy hunts" as years past.
Last season I took advantage of every single opportunity I had to hunt at home. I would even drop my son off at school at 8AM, hook up to the boat, and head to the closest piece of public land we had. A buddy and I would hunt the "10 o'clock flight" and be back on dry ground by 1PM. We did that several days and it kept the hopes high for those slow mornings that we were lucky enough to be there since sunrise.
One morning, we decided to be there for shooting light and do it with more than just us. Shack, Chandler, Jeff, "the nephews", and myself all decided to try our hand on what we hoped would be fresh cold front birds. As duck hunts go, "the nephews" wore borrowed waders, one of which had many leaks. We flex sealed what we could see, but no bueno. He toughed it out and we shot a few birds, but at 9:30 "Uncle Jeff" decided the boys were wet enough and that it wasn't worth getting sick over. We loaded them up and hauled it to the launch. It wasn't the worst timing in the world, but it ranked right close to it. With the several hunts my buddy and I had started out there at 10ish, we knew that if the cold front was as good as we had hoped, that it was about to get magical. I pulled back into the "parking spot" just in time to see Shack holding a mallard up high above his head. It had started.
I parked the boat and jumped out like I knew the bottom was hard and i wouldn't sink. Thankfully it was. I hustled to the hiding spot and was greeted with big grins and a wave of birds coming from the north. A few hard licks on the cut-downs and they broke down. All of them at first and then eventually only a few. We took what we had and picked out the boys. Three total green heads down at 10AM. Three fellas in the water. We needed 9 more.
Over the next 90 minutes we watched waves of birds from the north make a B-line towards our Lucky Duck. They saw the flash and that's all they needed. We had to coax them all the way down, but it wasn't something you see everyday. Birds as new as the dates are at midnight, these things were friendly. We took our time and took it in, reminding each other the entire time that days like this don't happen much.
We started to fill our game straps as we shot at pairs and singles before we fired off into big wads. We laughed like school girls while we watched a stiff north wind almost stop the birds just barely over our decoys. Sometimes as many as 100 just backpedaling in place. After we dropped our 12th mallard, we packed up our game straps, blind bags and decoys as quick as we could and headed to the launch. Chandler's first mallard and all our limits in tow.
The game warden was waiting at the boat launch, as they always do here. We had our birds covered up by our coats in the bottom of the boat because, well...it's public land.
Mr. GW checked us, congratulated us, and obliged us by telling the boat that pulled up after us that he hadn't seen many mallards at all. We tipped our hat to him and went about our business.
That day was special. All of them really are now, but that one will simmer for a very long time.
Wade Shoemaker-Rig'Em Right Ambassador