By Paul Wait, Delta Waterfowl Editor
Bluewings buzz the backwaters of the Illinois River
September 17, 2012
A shroud of fog couldn't muffle the sounds of success from the far shore of the shallow lake Saturday morning. Somewhere close, the retrievers of another group of hunters sloshed through ankle-deep water to fetch fallen teal after the echoes of shotguns faded into the September sunrise.
Then they shot again. And again. Once more. Splashing — dogs with ducks in their mouths.
It was early, yet with each volley across the way, all five hunters in our group longed a bit more for wings to visit our spread. I sat in quiet confidence, enjoying the colors of a rising ball of fire trying to overtake the haze on my first duck hunt of the season. Our host, Pat Gregory, had taken part in a good shoot a day earlier, so optimism still surrounded our stools in the weeds, despite the obvious preference of the ducks for the other side of the lake.
"Two on the left!" reported my wingman, Bob Vericella, of Bloomington, Ill.
Almost immediately, the pair of blue-winged teal flashed over the decoys. I was slow to mount my shotgun, but Vericella and his buddy, Matt Hany, were quick enough on the trigger. One teal disappeared into the fog, but our first duck of the day was soon in the mouth of Sage, the black Lab of Greg Winterland.
Slowly, the sky cleared. Soon, a dozen blue-winged bombers curled low in unison over the lake from the right, locking in on our decoys. Three broke away from the speeding flock and fluttered amongst our fakes. They settled in, and as soon as the other ducks were no longer in sight, we jumped from our chairs. The ducks jumped, too, but didn't stay up long. Before we could send the dogs, another pair whipped in from our left. We splashed them, too.
Sage lunged for flopping birds, while Vericella commanded his Chesapeake Bay retriever, Boon, into action. Each retriever sent water spraying in unbridled zeal to reach those ducks.
I simply smiled. The fast, furious fun of early teal season had paid a visit to our side of the lake.
And the action was just starting. Minutes later, Gregory and Winterland dropped a pair on their side, followed by a single bluewing that decoyed much like a tantalizing curveball over the heart of the plate. That one, too, was quickly in Boon's drooling jowls.
"It's just a good steady spot," said Gregory, who serves on the Illinois Prairie Chapter of Delta Waterfowl committee.
The largest flock of the day — easily 15 strong — burst straight out of the shimmering sun, catching us off-guard even though we saw the ducks coming. We pulled down three, but our shotshell hull count was embarrassingly higher.
Still, what fun!
Along the way, Boon brought back two teal at once. Not to be shown up, so did Sage.
I managed to pick off the second teal of another pair duped by Gregory's hand-carved decoy rig, and Winterland folded our final duck of the morning with a nifty crossing shot a few minutes later.
Our little two-hour hunt netted 15 tasty teal — 14 blues and one greenwing — and provided a full limit of satisfaction to our hunting party.
"It was a great hunt," Winterland said as we rode back to camp on an all-terrain vehicle. "A nice way start to the duck season."