Over the open waters of the lake, clouds of diving ducks rise like palls of smoke from distant brush fires, while scattered flights of dabbling ducks circle hidden pockets in the bulrushes. As gunfire from other hunting parties reverberates around us, waves of divers—mainly bluebills, ruddy ducks, and buffleheads—come barreling through the pass. Most skirt the edges of the rig, but occasionally, a small bunch breaks off, locks their wings, and bombs into the decoys. Reder puts on a shooting clinic, downing five ducks in as many shots. He briefly jeopardizes his perfect shooting average when he misses his fourth shot, but he soon recovers by taking a “scotch double” on bluebills with his fifth shell.
Unlike my hunting partner, I have a tougher time hitting the speedy little divers streaking over the decoys. But my luck improves when a formation of much larger diving ducks suddenly appears downwind of the decoys. The birds’ sleek profile and wedge-shaped bills clearly identify them as canvasbacks. As they cup their wings and sail low over my side of the rig, I sit up and shoulder my autoloader. Firing almost eye-level with the low-flying flock, I fold a pair of cans gliding just above the decoys. Reder claims another bird moments later, as the rest of the flock reverse direction and flare downwind. We scramble out of our boats and retrieve the ducks ourselves, too excited to wait for the tender boat. More than a decade has passed since I have taken a canvasback, and I am delighted to once again admire these regal birds in hand.
It’s a fitting conclusion to three memorable days of traditional layout gunning in southern Ontario. After spending considerable time on the water with my hosts, I clearly appreciate how this “sport within a sport” can get in your blood. Rongers says it best: “When I’m in a layout boat on the broad water, the shot is almost anticlimactic. It’s the total experience—the fellowship of your hunting partners, the teamwork, the wind and the waves, the solitude, and watching a big flock of divers bore into a decoy rig—that makes layout hunting so rewarding.”