4:15 AM, my eyes had a blank stare of fatigue as I looked into the warm vapors of my coffee. Speaking in a whisper, I mumbled to my brother, "I really hope this works." He responded, "Me too bro, me too."
The day after Thanksgiving, we decided to try something different. Instead of chasing deer, we headed to a known mallard flyway. A public land area, we banked on Black Friday to keep most people out of the swamp. There was only one problem, this was the same area I killed my first duck, a black duck, nine years ago but had not been back to this flooded timber since. Entering the waterway not really having any idea where to go or what to expect-made paddling a canoe across a lake in the dark real interesting. Public land hunting can be scary, frustrating, challenging and rewarding. Regardless, this is the kind of raw uncut adventure I crave.
Two minutes into legal shooting light, a hen mallard appeared no more than 20 yards in front of us, fully committed about to land into our decoy spread. I barked at Austen to shoot fully expecting to watch the bird crumple in classic fashion as Austen is one of the best wing shooters I've ever seen. Until I heard, "Dude you gotta shoot my safety is frozen!"
The bird had landed in front of our set up but its final attempt to escape after I grabbed my gun was futile. "First blood of the morning!" Austen whispered in excitement and our hi-five was the first of many.
The skies began clearing as the cover of darkness melted away with the time. Ducks circled and flew into our spread but not nearly as heavily as we initially had hoped. By 9:30 we had seen more ducks than the entire season combined but only scratched three for our bag limit- including the largest headed mallard I've ever seen. A true migration edition bird with an emerald head so pure, it flashed different shades of green as the sun bounced off it from different angles. However, as the clocked melted away, we felt that maybe we should get going back to the family. But as is the norm with the Reid boys, the depths of the swamp called. Neither of us would really admit just how badly we wanted to explore the swamp, rather we said to each other it would be a well calculated effort to scout for the next day's hunt.
Up until this point in my life, the majority of the duck hunting I've done has consisted of shooting behind wood ducks as they scream by. Decoying ducks has always been tough. Mostly because of the time I have to duck hunt and the areas. After finding the edge of the ice pack about a mile into the swamp, we set up on the edge unaware the next forty minutes would look like something out of Louisiana. Cupped and committed. Feet down, locked in. There are many beautiful sights in this world. Weddings, births, the mountains, an obedient gun dog, big bucks and trophy bulls, but the beauty of watching green-heads tornado into the spread was immaculate. There was a pureness about watching those birds against the high blue skies.
We looked like olympic shooters for once in our lives and quickly filled the remainder of our limits. After those final two birds fell, my brother and I looked at each other in utter amazement. IT had worked. We had paddled into the unknown seeking adventure and ducks. For a few brief hours, nothing else mattered. Just me and one of my best friends playing in a swamp like little kids, grinning, laughing, living and doing what we had been taught by our mentors.
"That just happened."Austen kept saying over and over. My own disbelief could only be communicated though the dumb smile on my face.
Day two dawned colder, moving the ice even further up the swamp than the day before. This time we had company. Murphy, my eight year old Black lab and a good friend Greg. But this day, proved the spirit of a dog. Murphy is nearing the end of his hunting career, but you wouldn't know it. Despite two stomach surgeries, taking a porcupine to the face, and being run over by my mother, His body and instincts were as sharp as they ever were. Finding downed birds in the jungle of cattails, breaking through ice to make a retrieve, his spirit was unbreakable.
Our canoe is a roughly spray painted family heirloom. Both the possession of my late Grandfather, my father's childhood boat, and until earlier in the fall, my late Uncle. The paddle out felt like a right of passage. Not an ego booster like so many use waterfowling now, but a true connection back to the roots of what keeps our family and extended family grounded. In the old canoe, loaded with gear, birds, dog and friends, I could imagine Jim and Ralph looking down from heaven shaking their heads and laughing saying- those darn Reid boys.
Learn more about Jason Reid, Freelance Outdoor Writer by visiting his website at pushingthewildlimits.com