December 7, 2006

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

For roughly two months in the year, a yell of ďDuckĒ doesnít make me dive for cover. Instead, when I hear that shout Iím scanning the sky to pick out a target during Missouriís waterfowl season.

Lake Show Me will never be confused for the flooded grainfields of the Dakotas, but the Scotland County waterway is proving to be a quality destination for duck and goose hunters alike.

There is quite a bit more to waterfowl hunting than simply showing up on the lake shore on October 28th. Unlike the stateís other hunting seasons, duck and goose targets require more education for the hunter.

A deer hunter simply must decide between a buck or a doe, as is the case during turkey season when the shooter must target a gobbler or a hen. Both determinations are quite simple.

But the waterfowl hunter must be aware of a much broader scope of possible targets, with bag and breed limits that change annually.

So for the past month I have been working on my midair decision making. Itís tough for a new duck hunter to be able to decide the difference between a hen pintail and a gadwal. While a rookie hunter may have trouble deciding which is which, the game warden wonít. Thatís because hunters are allowed to harvest just one pintail among the limit of six ducks a day. Gadwals are not restricted, and can make up the entire six duck limit.

Mallards, the most popular target, are equally as easy to identify as they are desirable to harvest. Hunters can take up to four mallard ducks, but no more than two hens.

Thus far in 2006 I havenít had to worry too much about my bag limit. On my handful of outings, I have failed to come close to downing half a dozen birds. I think I need to get my nose out of my ďDucks at a DistanceĒ book, reading about the different breeds, and spend some time practicing my shooting. As it is right now, Iím spending a lot of time identifying ducks as they fly away from me after Iíve emptied my gun with no results.

Of course I still have to do my homework, because even the worst shot gets lucky occasionally. I donít want to be walking out with what I think is a legal limit of two redheads, to learn that I am actually over limit with two canvasback ducks (the limit is one) because to me they look a lot alike.

Donít let the book work scare you away with this sport that is gaining popularity locally. Regardless of what type of duck it is, a group of birds with wings locked as they glide in for a landing amidst your decoys is a site that will make a duck hunter out of you in a hurry.

Another plus is the fact that waterfowlers can head to the blind in the morning and enjoy some quality hunting and still have time to make it to work on schedule. With shooting times around 6:40 a.m., the best hunting often comes in that first hour as the birds enter and exit the lake area in their flight patterns to feed in area fields or to continue migrating south for the winter.

While the season is technically open until the day after Christmas, freezing temperatures close down the water, forcing decoys to be pulled and limiting the landing area for waterfowl. Plus for me, it means my mind switches to ice fishing instead of duck hunting. That takes way less thinking, and if I catch something over the limit, all I have to do is release it.

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