Outdoors

A beautiful day for duck hunting, but ...

Duck did not cooperate

Indian summer isn't the best for duck hunting, but it can give someone a chance to enjoy a comfortable day and nice weat
Indian summer isn’t the best for duck hunting, but it can give someone a chance to enjoy a comfortable day and nice weather. (John Lawrence Hanson/correspondent)

The National Weather Service issued high wind warnings.

The prediction maps on weather.gov let me envision the strong low pressure system days earlier. With such knowledge, I could plan my weekend duck hunt — or not — with time to spare. November can bring such harsh winds.

Earlier in the month, my hunts were on bluebird days. There was little point in hiking my decoys and gear in such fair weather. It had been summerlike and the meteorologists predicted more.

Why take the effort to go afield on such days? Because that was when my schedule allowed. Variable waterfowl migration waves and fixed work schedules are disonenet.

So I go when I can.

My Indian summer hunts were along the Cedar River and Buffalo Creek. Greater and lesser waters but migration corridors nonetheless. I guarded their wetlands just in case.

The morning hunt found two real ducks swimming and talking among my counterfeits up until two minutes before shooting time. Who knew ducks adhered to Vince Lombardi’s maxim that to be early was to be on time?

Their timeliness to leave saved their lives. If I subscribed to that philosophy as a hunter, then it would cost me a painful visit from the warden.

My hunt along Buffalo Creek was as nice as could be, save for the lack of ducks. Summer’s second act meant comfortable sitting and no mosquitoes. A pair of common snipes pitched into an adjacent wetland, a barred owl hooted, and kept my eyes skyward.

That afternoon brought wave after wave of blackbird flocks flying east-southeast. I tried again and again to follow a single blackbird in the mass as long as I could.

The ancients looked to flocks of birds as omens. Pulsating flocks of starlings must have evoked special auguries. These blackbirds, their cousins, gave no particular signs. The weather service already predicted Indian summer to continue, so my interpretation of the flocks was merely fantasy.

My mind wandered to the fowlers of yester-year who looked to a similar balmy late autumn day and personally forecast a bad day for hunting. Then too, the weather and birds changed at will; Work or holidays drove the hunter’s schedule.

On Armistice Day, 1940, the Upper Mississippi was thick with duck hunters rather than ducks. The holiday meant a chance to go afield. The pleasant day suggested memories to be made of friends rather than fowl.

Ah, but the winds of November are two-faced. A second summer day can change so quickly into a blast of winter. Our weather satellites save us today from such shock. In 1940, the fowler had to take the day as it came.

The day came to be the death of more than 20 hunters on the river. A powerful and fast weather front charged through the region. Winds shifted, temps plunged and the snow squalled.

At first it was a riot of ducks just ahead of the front and the shooting was easy. But soon the lightly clad men and boys were huddled for warmth or trying to reach the safety of shore in flat bottomed boats among the whitecaps. They never saw it coming.

Our shamans of weather wear spiffy clothes and speak perfect English to us through the wizardry of television. Computers send predictions to our pocket phones.

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I won’t get caught by dangerous weather. My work schedule will drive me to duck hunting on bluebird days. And I’ll continue to relish November, no matter what mood it’s in.

Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.

John Lawrence Hanson, Ed.D., of Marion teaches U.S. history with an emphasis on environmental issues at Linn-Mar High School and sits on the Linn County Conservation Board.

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