By Gary Koehler
The blue, plastic cup next to my bunk is capped with a half inch of ice. This is not a good thing at 4 o'clock in the morning, if only because in 15 minutes it will be time to crawl out of the toasty sleeping bag and dress for the day's hunt. But, I choose to ignore the ticking alarm clock and burrow down deep, pulling the plaid wool blanket over my head. A few more winks are to be savored before placing warm feet on the cold camper floor. Such is life in a mobile duck camp the first week of January.
If timing is everything, I will never be confused with a stopwatch. Take this assignment, for example. We were to use a pop-up camper to travel to a number of waterfowl hunting sites throughout the Mid-South and determine if a duck camp on wheels was a plausible idea. The start date was early December. The weather, unfortunately, did not cooperate.
What began as freezing rain turned into snow accompanied by temperatures that slipped into the teens. This went on for weeks. The cumulative effect was record-breaking in some parts of the region, and, at the very least, created a scheduling nightmare. Nearly every lake, pond, pothole, and flooded rice field was locked in ice-from Rieser, Missouri, to Big Sandy, Tennessee.
So, the first lesson learned was that this type of adventure is not something for everyone, particularly those who have limited time to pursue their duck and goose hunting passion. No matter how you cut it, weather conditions are definitely a factor; it helps to have the luxury of being able to adjust your schedule.
Generally, our part of the country is much more suitable for this type of outing because of milder overall temperatures. Early- to mid-autumn trips in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and other states sharing similar latitudes would likely be fine, but I shudder to think of tackling this expedition at the tail end of the season across the Great White North. Call it an aversion to freezer burn.
Still, for those tired of looking at the same old cattails, the same old marsh, the same old stretch of river, the mobile duck camp may prove to be a viable alternative to the status quo. You've got to be a tad adventurous, willing to rough it some, log a few miles on the pickup truck or SUV, and there is more than a little planning involved. But we're betting there are a number of exciting opportunities waiting for you down the highway. Jump aboard and come on along. Here's what we learned when we mustered up our best Willie Nelson imitation and went on the road again. And again, and again.