The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

September 22, 2012

Cross: Welcoming in fall with a quick duck hunt

— If duck hunting is anything, it is usually labor- and equipment-intensive.

So yesterday, in the pre-dawn darkness, hunters all across Minnesota were busy tossing out decoys, making adjustment on boat camouflage, in anticipation of the duck hunting season that opened at half hour before sunrise.

But I was traveling refreshingly light as I picked my way through a darkened soybean field Saturday morning.

I carried only a quartet of wood duck decoys, their cords draped across my shoulders, a pocket bulging with a dozen or so duck loads, a shotgun on the other shoulder and a travel cup of steaming coffee.

Circumstances relating to my day job as a photographer meant that I would be unable to participate in the opener in the traditional manner of traveling to some waterfowl lake to hunt from a boat over a spread of dekes.

Instead, the plan was to engage in a duck hunt-lite — a quick walk down to the Maple River in my turkey hunting neighborhood with plans to bag a few of the wood ducks that might find refuge on the quiet flowage.

At best, it would be a brief hunt of an hour or so before tackling a day’s worth of photo assignments.

To describe the Maple River nowadays as a flowage would be generous. A string of nearly rainless months have reduced the river to little more than a trickle.

But even at a trickle, I figured there would be more than enough water on this secluded stretch to keep shy wood ducks trading up and down the river in the early morning.

And with so little water, tall rubber boots instead of waders were all I needed to keep dry.

It was legal shooting time by the time I placed the decoys in a quiet pool and found a comfortable place on the bank to sit.

I snicked a shell into the chamber followed by a couple in the magazine and my duck hunting season was officially open.

I had no expectations, but with a bit of luck, a few wood ducks might whiz past looking for a quiet place to loaf.

But otherwise, I was content to watch the river bank come alive and sip my morning joe.

Funny how things can change over only four short months.

Last spring, when I hunted wild turkeys, the air carried the smells and sounds of a fecund countryside poise to erupt in new life.

But on Saturday, beneath the gray sky, the air carried the smells and sounds of a countryside with life spent and exhausted.

A few high-flying geese coursed overhead. In the distance, an occasional volley of muffled shots could be heard. Once, there was a trio of shots fairly close.

But otherwise, from the amount of shooting I heard on Saturday, nobody in my neighborhood was enjoying any more luck than I was.

I glanced my watch: 7:30. All of the duties that loomed back at the office began to weigh on me. Just five more minutes, I decided, and then I would hang it up.

I was looking at my watch one more time when there was a splash in front of me.

I carefully looked up where a hen wood duck had settled into the decoys, her head bobbing, now suspicious of her stoic companions.

My hands tightened on the shotgun.

At fifteen yards, she would be an easy shot when she flushed.

But then again, one duck a dinner does not make and with so much to do, one duck would only complicate the day, I decided.

She sprang from the leaf-dotted pool and quickly vanished over the trees as I got to my feet.

I unloaded the shotgun, retrieved the decoys and headed back to the car.

Duty called.

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at 344-6376 or by email at

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