On Thursday morning I sat in a La Porte County marsh with my friend, Ryan Pendowski staring at the cold, leaden sky, in search of migrating ducks.
We were in a great spot, with perfect wind (…wind is everything in waterfowl hunting) and plenty of decoys to greet birds that blow in from the north. All systems were go except one thing: There were no ducks.
When I mean “no ducks" ... I mean we may as well have been in a parallel universe where ducks do not exist. We saw a bald eagle and a peregrine falcon, swans, shorebirds, a pheasant and even some snow geese, but no ducks.
Given the set up, including the weather here as well as up north, the venue, and of course the timing, I’d have never guessed it was destined to be a duck-less day. It was kinda scary to be honest.
Many waterfowl hunters will read this and say things like “it doesn’t surprise me” or “I coulda told you that." Despite my depth of knowledge of the current situation — which is fairly horrific for duck hunters by the way — there are still basic, steadfast rules when it comes to waterfowl migration. And though the duck hunting has overall been quite grim as of late, it is still reasonable to expect some semblance of duck migration on certain days.
Apparently, the ducks didn’t get that memo Thursday.
When hunting is tough, hunters blame all kinds of things. Again, we have a tendency to swerve into the conspiracy lane quickly and cause a massive pile-up with many sustaining long term injury to their sensibilities. Silly anecdotes abound and though they are based on virtually nothing, it doesn’t take long for these fanciful theories to spread. The rumor mill is good at churning out false truths.
I’ve heard it all, from fish and wildlife agencies that don’t want us to shoot ducks so they feed them corn from gravity wagons deep within the remote confines of wildlife refuges to the DNR tossing coyotes, wolves, bobcats and cougars out of black helicopters to eat all of the deer.
And, one of my personal favorites ... they originally stocked the turkeys to eat all the quail.
These theories bring up some interesting questions. For example, it must have been difficult in the extreme to get the parachutes on those vicious predators — how did the biologists pull that off? Did any of them sustain nasty slashes to their faces or stupefying blows to their heads? Infections, perhaps?
And, are the parachutes biodegradable? I mean, wouldn’t we see the coyotes dragging the remnants around sort of like a huge cape?
And, though quail are relatively scarce in this part of the state, why would the DNR want to eradicate them when they’ve tried multiple times to figure out why they don’t flourish here? Were the turkeys a sort of Kevorkian move? The experts figured what few remaining quail existed were likely isolated, depressed and certain to die of melancholy anyway, so they just sped up the inevitable? Seems legit.
Oh yeah, and why would the turkeys eat the quail anyway? I know, turkeys are omnivores so they eat pretty much anything. Among other things I have seen mushrooms, berries, cereal grains, insects and even a small frog in the in the crops of big gobblers. Yes, I bet a turkey could eat a quail chick, but why would it?
Can you imagine a turkey roaming the grasslands, stabbing hapless quail chicks, tossing them into the air and then catching them like a T-Rex? Supposedly they also smash quail nests and stomp the parents, too.
Which, if you think about it is really stupid because if they love killing quail chicks so much, smashing eggs and killing the parents is a sure way to run out of chicks to kill and eat.
I heard through the grapevine that turkeys also aggressively search and destroy grouse and woodcock nests and stomp the parents and eat the chicks just like they do the quail. That’s what I heard anyway. Cuz you know, turkeys.
Whether it’s scarce deer or skies without ducks, often times the answers to questions are fairly obvious and they aren’t all that spectacular. Corn hybrids that flourish hundreds of miles further north than ever, a total lack of snow cover so they can reach the waste grain and massive power plants that discharge water so warm that even in Northern Canada there is always a place for ducks to roost. Why would they leave if everything they need is 300 miles north of the US border?
The deer have survived the onslaught of nearly unabated pressure caused by incredibly liberal bag limits. Consequently, these deer are highly nocturnal, in particular when it’s warm. Unless they are left alone and hunted with extreme caution, these elusive mammals disappear off the radar screen. They go underground.
The best a hunter can do is look at trail cam photos of them moving about at night and hope and pray that they show up during legal, daylight hours. These deer are the best of the best when it comes to survival.
Yes, I know, deer numbers are down — story after story supports this. Hunters just aren’t seeing deer like they used to. But, I happen to think there are more deer than we may believe. In other words, show me dirt in the La Porte County countryside, and I’ll show you deer tracks.
What we need is cold, snow and ice to straighten things out. Until then I think we are going to be staring at relatively empty skies and fields with no deer.