Indeed. Even though hunters have access to these blinds for the entire season, decoys must be picked up daily. Siltation has made a handful of blinds all but inaccessible without the aid of mud motors. And, because the blinds are relatively close to each other, it is not unusual to have a circling flock flare when hunters in the next blind shoot.
An erstwhile scoreboard at the check station reveals that 234 ducks were taken last weekend on opening day. The tally slipped to 62 ducks yesterday. Mallards, wood ducks, and teal dominate the kill sheet.
"Everybody is looking for new birds," says William "Tonto" Hartman, who rounds out our quartet. "The weather has been pretty mild, and they just haven't shown up yet."
The temperature has bottomed out at 27 degrees, and we see patchy fog moving downriver as the morning progresses. Someone apparently forgot to provide the ducks a wakeup call. The majority of birds in the air are flying along the tree line behind us—until 8 o'clock, when four divers take a wide berth around our spread of 80 decoys. And then six more swing by. Shots are sparse. A half-hour later, two mallards briefly hover over the decoys before being downed on consecutive shots.
"Don't know where they came from," Nagel says. "But we'll take 'em."
Nagel has been hunting Illinois public waters for 50 years, including 30 spent at the nearby Sparland Unit, a component of the Marshall State Fish and Wildlife Area. Woodford and Marshall are but two of 10 public hunting areas where blinds are allocated for one year by virtue of lotteries held in the summer. Others include the Anderson Lake Conservation Area south of Havana; Clear Lake at Sand Ridge State Forest near Forest City; Lake DePue in Bureau County; Meredosia Bay, just north of Meredosia; Rice Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area south of Banner; Spring Lake and Pekin Lake, north of Manito; and Starved Rock State Park, near Utica.
Fuchs, who grew up nearby and is now a member of a private duck club, is hardly a stranger to river hunting. He regularly accompanied his father to hunt public areas in his youth.
"It's been a while since I've been out here," Fuchs says, "but one thing that has always stuck with me is that boat ride early in the morning. That's something special. I miss that."
River hunters everywhere know the feeling.