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Banding Together for Waterfowl

The Really Great Salt Lake

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What will this day bring besides potential for a suntan?

A lone mallard drake arrives first, flying right to left right down the center of the channel. A single shot from Farber’s 12-gauge puts the duck on the deck.

“I think we’re going to see more of that,” says Olsen, whose high-octane energy level is enviable to all of us over 50. “And we’re going to be ready.”

And so the displaced ducks return, in singles and pairs, threes and fours. There are no large flocks, but there is a steady stream of stragglers, meandering back to the resting and feeding area they had abandoned an hour ago. Bigger flocks are spotted regularly off in the distance.

Lindquist knocks down a gorgeous pintail drake, Farber takes another mallard, and Olsen connects on a wigeon. Me? The on-loan autoloader in hand had been cleaned the night before by a party who wishes to remain anonymous. But one critical piece must have been left behind. I jerk the trigger, but nothing happens, not even a click. Fortunately, Olsen has a spare shotgun in the boat.

The afternoon is nothing less than a duck hunter’s dream. Between selective, drakes-only shooting volleys, we watch swans and geese trade across the lake. There are no other hunters nearby. We are alone. We are awash with ducks. And all is well with the world.

Not so much the next morning. Olsen and I are set up in what he describes as a roll-blind, a simple, homemade contraption valued for its portability. The blind consists of wire covered with grass and poles at each end that are stuck in the mud. The blind can literally be rolled up for easy transport. We set up at Willard Spur, a state public hunting area adjacent to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.

“Hunting can be good here if you time it right,” Olsen says. The wind is not in our favor, however, and the majority of the ducks we see refuse to respond to the call. Only a couple of shots by Olsen avoid a waterfowl shutout.

We return to the big lake the following day. This time there are two airboats. And eight hunters, plus Rox. Again, we endure a long-distance cruise. This time, however, the thermometer is on an upward climb. Temperatures creep into the 60s. Ducks must be loafing in the calm weather, because they remain conspicuous in their absence.

Our rig is placed in another marshy area, but the difference this time is that the vegetation consists mostly of phragmites, an invasive plant species that has grown increasingly worrisome on Great Salt Lake the past several years. This plant chokes wetland habitat and is capable of spreading quickly.

“It’s one of our biggest problems out here,” Olsen says. “Phragmites displaces native vegetation and offers nothing positive for the waterfowl resource. It’s like a plague.”

Still, there are ducks. The shooting schedule is more subdued, but mallards, gadwalls, wigeon, and teal all drop in. Many skirt our spread to visit small open-water holes in the phragmites. Gunners willing to battle the mosquitoes do well while hiding in the tall reeds.

“A lot of people who live in this area don’t realize what we have out here, what type of terrific resource this lake is,” Olsen says. “Great Salt Lake is unique.”
 No argument here.

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