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Banding Together for Waterfowl

The Sooner the Better

When the weather turns cold, thousands of waterfowl pour into Oklahoma’s northern tier.
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With a game plan now in the works, decoys are loaded onto the back of an ATV, along with additional gear. This exercise will take more than a couple of trips. And then there’s the matter of not spooking the herd of 200 or so cattle intently watching us from the adjacent pasture.

By the time I hike to the beaver pond, two-year-old Chessie pup in tow, Iowans Art and Greg Ladehoff, Calef, and Halverson are well on their way to cleaning out an opening in the inch-thick ice. Their only tool is a garden shovel. Sheets are broken off and slid under the peripheral ice. Years of experience have taught them that smashing the ice into cubes does not work well.

There is relatively little cover, save for scattered scrub trees, a few stumps, and a patch of cattails. Sitting still will be important, if we are lucky enough to see a duck.

“This is such a small hole, we’re going to have to be really careful with movement and calling,” Calef says. “If there are any ducks around, they are going to be looking for open water. We’ve got some, at least. Let’s sit and wait awhile and see what happens.”

It does not take long before that riddle is answered. A pair of mallards circle twice before deciding they are not interested. But then three gadwalls appear. Same result. Maybe the hole is not quite big enough.

Calef, who impressed enough judges to win three world duck calling championships over the years, has been personally challenged and is now in hunt mode. He pleads long and hard to the apparently spooky birds. Four gadwalls respond. These ducks are seeking a quiet place to sit.

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