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Banding Together for Waterfowl

North Woods 'Bills and 'Eyes

Bluebill hunting and walleye fishing on Ontario's pristine Lake of the Woods
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Unfortunately, the bluebills don't make much of a showing, save for a lone bird that appears from behind us and manages to land in the decoys, flush, and escape without a single shot being fired. We decide to pick up and try a grassy pocket a few miles north of camp.

Several ducks flush when we approach. We hastily toss out the decoys and scatter along the bank, using downed treetops as makeshift blinds. After an hour wait, three young mallards finally return and drop right into the decoys. We shoot all three and call it a morning soon afterward.

Reconvening at camp, Bruce and Pat have seen several bluebills, but have shot only one. The Methvens return from a more successful hunt, however, with a dozen scaup to show for their efforts. We pluck and wax each of the birds, and Bob prepares roast duck and vegetable cream sauce for dinner.

I hunt with Bruce and Pat the next morning. The biggest flight of birds they'd seen the previous day had entered the bay around 10 a.m. and broken off into several small groups before finding suitable areas to land. We find hiding places along a rocky, windswept point, hoping to intercept a similar flight.

We knock down two mallards that give the decoys a nervous look an hour into the morning. Then, at 10 a.m., 50 or more bluebills approach from the same area where Bruce and Pat had seen them the day before. Several of them skirt our spread. Knuckles tighten around shotguns as we watch the ducks from our point, but none of them pass close enough for a shot.

Although the hunting is slow, the fishing that afternoon is fantastic. Rather than make a long run, Bruce decides to sample some areas closer to camp. Without revealing anything too specific, there are fall walleyes to be caught within sight of Spruce Island. Bruce and Pat both catch sizeable fish, the largest a 6-pounder that Bruce hooks on a spinner and artificial minnow.

I join the biologists again for the last morning hunt. We're hunting the same bay and have a vendetta against the 10 o'clock flight of bluebills. Rather than set up on a shoreline point, an unsuccessful strategy the previous two mornings, we decide to anchor the boat on one side of a small island in the middle of the bay and place the decoys on the other side.

Although scattered bluebills intermittently fly across the bay, the 10 a.m. flight doesn't show. A cold rain keeps us huddled inside our parkas most of the morning. During a brief interval in the shower, I look up to see a single bluebill bearing down on the decoys as if they've insulted him. I shoulder my gun in near astonishment and fold the duck. Why can't we convince other bluebills to act like that?

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