By Matt Young
Pat Kehoe fought the steering wheel as the big four-wheel-drive pickup fishtailed along a muddy back road winding across the Alberta prairie. Soaked by a heavy rain the day before, the typically dusty road surface now had the consistency of axle grease. With a rocky embankment on one side of the road and a deep ditch on the other, there was little margin for error, especially with a 16-foot boat mounted with a Go-Devil motor in tow. Fortunately, the veteran DU Canada biologist has had extensive driving experience on slick prairie roads, and we had little difficulty reaching our destination-a remote irrigation reservoir located miles from the nearest paved road.
The eastern horizon smoldered beneath a sparkling curtain of stars as we launched the boat from a neglected boat ramp on the lakeshore. The Go-Devil rumbled to life, and we set out across the open waters of the reservoir shrouded by a thin layer of fog. Peering through the mist, I caught occasional glimpses of diving ducks taking flight ahead of the boat, their dark forms visible only for an instant before vanishing into the gloom.
Kehoe throttled down the motor when we approached a narrow point of bulrushes extending into a broad, shallow bay. A traditionalist who grew up gunning divers on Ontario's Lake St. Clair, he hunts exclusively using hand-carved wooden decoys. We deployed more than 50 exquisitely painted canvasback, bluebill, and redhead blocks in parallel lines running downwind from the point. Then we placed a dozen dabbler decoys-mallards, pintails, and wigeon-against the bulrushes to appeal to any "slough ducks" that might happen by. With the rig in place, Kehoe restarted the motor and drove the boat into the dense growth of bulrushes behind the decoys, offering us excellent concealment.