By Wade Bourne
Photography By Rick Adair
The gusts were whipping the bulrushes back and forth over my head, their shadows like dancing tiger stripes across my parka. The blow was from the northwest and cold—a migration wind. Based on what Dr. Scott Stephens and I were seeing, or not seeing, many ducks in this area had hitched a ride on it and headed south.
Scott and I had waded into this wetland before dawn, tossed out a bagful of decoys, then hunkered down on marsh seats a few yards back in the reeds. His seven-year-old Lab, Brie, watched anxiously from her dog stand. Yesterday afternoon Bob Grant had seen streams of mallards using this marsh. This morning, though, only an occasional duck was flying by.
It was mid-October, and we were in the famed Minnedosa pothole region of southwest Manitoba. Bob is manager of operations here for Ducks Unlimited Canada. He calls this area the "best of the best" in prairie nesting habitat. And this year especially, water and adjacent upland cover had been plentiful. The ducks had responded by bringing off one of the strongest hatches in recent memory.
But even in the best spots, duck hunting can be dicey. The birds can change locations overnight. They can get temperamental about working to decoys, or changing weather can bring unexpected surprises, like the sudden departure of the ducks that had been using this marsh. Even in this storied country the stars have to align properly for hunters to experience those dreams hunts all waterfowlers seek.
I was beginning to chill. The water was close to the top of my waders. It seemed like the wind was getting stronger and the sky emptier. My confidence was declining along with my comfort, and then I saw them—50 or more mallards pitching into a patch of flooded willows a few hundred yards to the west. Maybe there was hope after all.