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The Northwoods River News | Rhinelander, Wisconsin

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November 14, 2019

10/19/2019 7:30:00 AM
Natural Reaction
Live and let live
Jacob Friede
Of The Lakeland Times

While duck hunting last weekend, I took winter head on - as in rowing straight into a pouring snow through the dark early morning across a lake.

These kind of mornings are the best. The nasty weather only adds to the exhilaration of being engulfed by the elements, and when you're in a kayak on the open water in a snowstorm, you're most definitely engulfed.

The winds were howling and the waves were rocking as I made my way to what I thought would be a calm bay. Thankfully, I was right.

As I rounded a point the roaring winds instantly turned into a faint, distant rumble. The water was calm, with barely a ripple, and I began searching for a set-up spot.

I was on a wooded shoreline so I searched for a gap in the trees and there were many, and after cruising the shore with indecision I finally settled upon a location.

I set up my decoys with great optimism. My spot was a haven from the harsh skies through which I knew ducks would be traveling, and if they needed a rest, my spot offered an ideal place for relaxation.

It sure was for me as I waited for the light while getting covered by the ceaseless snow. Being in the midst of the season changing so drastically drew me into a trance.

But before I knew it a trail of birds buzzed by my decoys and instantly landed. It's exactly what I envision every time I throw the decoys on the water and when it happens there's a thrill of success. Even without a shot being fired.

The birds landed a bit far out of range and they immediately dove underwater. But they quickly resurfaced and in no time I was able to determine that five hooded mergansers were swimming around with my decoys.

This was very cool because hoodies are some of the most intriguing birds to witness. The males have a most unique, oval-shaped head with a great big white patch on it while the females have a crazy, wild hairdo that is perpetually spiked. They are odd-looking birds and an awesome sight to see.

The downside is they taste awful. Mergansers eat a steady diet of fish, which negatively affects the flavor of their meat. As I won't shoot what I won't eat, I was content to simply watch them swim around in confusion with the decoys.

They eventually swam away, but in the meantime a mallard had landed a ways outside of the decoys. It was eyeing them up and swimming toward them.

I thought I'd finally get to kick up a bird and take a shot, but my plans were swooped away by an eagle.

As the mallard made its way toward my spread, a huge eagle appeared soaring above the bay. The duck noticed it right away and made one quack and instantly took off.

Then another eagle appeared and the two huge raptors glided in the strong breeze over the bay for the next couple of hours, making my once appealing spot very dangerous and unwelcoming for ducks.

So I went away without any birds, but not the least bit disappointed. Because while I didn't fire a shot, I was sure treated to a heck of a show.

Jacob Friede may be reached at or outdoors@lakelandtimes.


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