by Doug Larsen
A lot of folks keep "to do" lists for their adult lives. For some, the list is studded with sincere goals or accomplishments and may feature such endeavors as "finish master's degree" or "bicycle through Italy." Others compile lists that are more adrenaline charged; they want to check the box next to "scuba dive with sharks" or "bungee jump."
But if you are the kind of person who would rather be in a duck blind on a bright November morning than anywhere else, you don't want to jump off a perfectly good bridge anyway. In your world, bungee cords are meant to hold duck boats in pickup beds. So when the editors of Ducks Unlimited asked me which items I might include on a duck hunter's "life list," I compiled the following summary of 10 defining tasks and unique destinations for waterfowlers. Perhaps my suggestions, presented here in no particular order, will inspire you to create and pursue a list of your own.
1. Hunt the Canadian Prairie in Early Fall
Whether you choose Manitoba, Saskatchewan or Alberta, an early-season trip to Canada will change your perspective on ducks and duck hunting forever. Hunting seemingly endless prairie dotted with sapphire potholes is truly magical. And this isn't like duck hunting at home; you can't just put out your decoys and wait. In Canada, you must go to the birds. That means driving the countryside to find them and then making plans to be under them before they return the next morning.
You can hunt ducks on big water or small potholes, but what defines prairie waterfowling is dry-land hunting in immense agricultural fields. Once you have been under the milling vortex of hundreds or even thousands of mallards pouring into a pea field or have seen the golden sun set across a sweeping horizon of cut barley, then you can say you've experienced the prairie in the fall, the place where the migration begins.
2. Train Your Own Duck Dog
Training a retriever is an important step toward becoming a complete duck hunter. At some point in a waterfowler's career, he or she has to decide that having a good dog is a priority, which then makes waterfowling a year-round endeavor. This, of course, is the beauty of dog training. Not only does it provide you with a new best friend, but also it puts you in a hunting frame of mind every day.
Training a puppy until he is a conservation asset in the duck blind is a daunting and sometimes frustrating task requiring the patience of a kindergarten teacher and the persistence of an encyclopedia salesman. But there are many books and videos on the market to guide you, as will hunting friends who have solid water dogs of their own. All those hours of training will prove worthwhile when on opening morning your young student is steady to the shot and brings back that first bird of the year. Your pup's tail will wag furiously, and you'll be so proud of him that if you had a tail, you'd wag it pretty hard too.