by Gary Koehler
It would not be a stretch to surmise that for many the end of waterfowl season results in a long sigh and a groan. Withdrawal is likely on its way. Symptoms may include irritability, anxiety, and other not-so-pleasant maladies. Be not dismayed. There are antidotes—ways to stay actively connected to the lifestyle you have grown to love. Perhaps you have a routine of your own. Maybe you are looking for additional adjunct pastimes. If your off-season pursuits are not filling the bill and you still have an itch to be involved somehow with ducks and geese, you may want to try one or all of the activities on our list. Some of these suggestions are designed to make your experience in the field more rewarding. Other outlets are simply extensions of common interests. All can help fill the long days between the end of one season and the beginning of another.
There is an old black-and-white photograph hanging on the wall of my office. It depicts my father, pump-action shotgun under one arm, displaying a freshly killed mallard drake taken on an Illinois River backwater lake. The date was 1936. Many people have inquired about the origin of the photo. Because it is one of only two pictures of my father from the “old days,” this image is a family treasure. Maybe this off-season is the time to hone your photography skills in preparation for creating your own special keepsakes next duck season. Do not be intimidated. Today's cameras do just about everything but load their own batteries. Whether you go digital, 35 mm, or video, take time to practice. Get the feel of the camera. Make note of what works and what doesn't in different light conditions. Experiment with lenses. Take a class. The only limitation on what you shoot is your imagination. Remember that the photos you take next season might make for a lifetime of memories.
Develop an Appreciation for the Tools
You need not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to amass a collection to gain an appreciation for classic decoys and other waterfowling artifacts. You can view displays of these intriguing tools at a number of places. By my count, more than 20 museums across the country currently dedicate space to duck decoys. In addition, those seeking to learn more about vintage decoys, duck calls, shell boxes, and such would be well advised to attend one of the approximately 25 decoy shows held each year. You do not have to buy anything, and you will find that many dealers and collectors are happy to take the time to share information on waterfowling collectibles. Some shows require a small admission fee; others are free. Decoy shows provide an opportunity to see a wide range of old and contemporary carvings in all price ranges.
Improve Your Cooking
Getting stuck in a kitchen rut is easy to do, particularly when it comes to preparing wild game or fish for the table. I may be one of the worst offenders. Nine of 10 ducks I fix are done on the grill. The birds are marinated and then cooked quickly over hot coals. Good eating, yes, but there are unlimited additional opportunities. And that's something I hope to explore this summer. If you too want to expand your culinary horizons, pick up some new recipes. There are many cookbooks on the market dedicated exclusively to wild game. In addition to providing fresh ideas on fowl, game cookbooks may also contain sections on venison, fish, and many other critters. Look through the book, select a recipe that sounds good, and give it a go. What can it hurt? Perhaps you will find something that everyone in the family will enjoy. If you have the time, attend a cooking class or wild-game cooking demonstration. Outdoor shows, community colleges, and local cooking clubs provide diverse opportunities. Swap recipes. Do not be afraid to try something different for a change.