While the firearms deer hunters were winding down their good season, waterfowl hunters were busy last Thursday.
The cold weather up north had pushed thousands of ducks and geese into the state and, as of Thursday, the entire state was open for hunting.
The latest count of waterfowl resting in Missouri was in the hundreds of thousands, including more than 24,000 at Schell-Osage with most of that number mallards. There were nearly 35,000 ducks at Four Rivers with mostly mallards while at Grand Pass Wildlife Area there were more than 75,000 ducks with more moving in every day.
When the duck season opened in the South Zone Thursday, Charlie Thomas, Bolivar, took his grandson, Bob, to a special place near Pomme de Terre, where he has hunted for more than 30 years and usually has good hunting.
Thomas said, "For years, I have hunted ducks in this spot and this year, I knew it would be a good hunt with all the ducks moving into Missouri and a forecast of a cold front for the weekend. I think the birds have a habit of revisiting the same pot-holes and ponds where there is a certain sheltered or alluring pool of water."
Thomas went on to say, "there has always been talk of ducks being scarce, just as there always has been of ducks being plentiful and there always will be. I have heard it ever since I first started to hunt, but yet I still am able to find a good day's shooting in the same area where ducks were expected to disappear 30 or more years ago. I think the reason I find ducks is because I hunt on the theory that ducks are essentially a bird of strong and inborn habits. Once a flock of mallards drops down in a pool where they can rest and feed to a reasonable extent and are not gunned completely out of existence, its a safe guess they will be back to this spot the following year at about the same time."
On this opening morning, Thomas and grandson found themselves in a dark world of fields and crop lanes. It was cold enough that they snuggled down contentedly after a mile walk through weeds and cockle-bur to await the still lingering dawn.
The water in front was shallow enough to wade out and gather any ducks that might escape the old setter dog that they had brought along.
Thomas said, "A good duck dog is a necessary part of a duck hunter's equipment. Many times there is no practical way of picking up downed birds except following them and to hurry ahead to a crossing or search for them in the many little brush hang-ups that dot the pool. For this reason I broke the old setter to retrieve the birds for us."
A light mist that morning made it hard to see birds, but as the shooting time neared, the sound of wings overhead stirred the hunters and the old dog. Almost anything could be expected on this opening morning.
As the fog lifted, the hunters could see an island of cottonwoods where a small group of wood ducks were swimming. Just before the sun bounced up, from its mossy-damp bed of fog to the east, a lone mallard had slipped in behind the hunters. Thomas told his grandson that there would be a flock of them soon.
The old dog gave a sharp yip as a flock of mallards sailed overhead. The hunters had just enough time to jump up and click off the safeties of their guns as the mallards banked right over the spread of decoys.
Picking out a drake, Thomas fired and the first duck of the day plunged into the water followed by another. As the dog hit the water to retrieve the ducks, Thomas noticed three mallards on the water. The third duck was one that Bob had shot and was special because this was his first mallard.
Thomas said, "I have never seen a prettier sight than that flock floating on set wings over the decoys right into our gun barrels!"
Bob, 12, was all smiles as he proudly displayed his first mallard to friends when he returned home. As his grandfather said, "Bob will be a duck hunter all his life after a start like this."