11/9/2019 7:30:00 AM Natural Reaction Unlikely friendship forged in the field
Jacob Friede Of The Lakeland Times
With duck hunting, everything is about the set-up spot. Birds are not only paranoid but picky and have limitless choices on where to fly and land, and despite the allure of decoys, if ducks aren't flying in the area they won't see them.
Through time on the water, though, you become acquainted with the terrain birds favor for their flight paths. But no matter if it's a peninsula, an island, or a backwater bay, on any given lake or marsh there are only so many good spots.
And those spots are coveted.
They are monitored and scouted by hunters that arrive insanely early in the morning to claim them, and once claimed, the only thing anyone can do is find a different spot, because that's the code of hunting on public land. Simple and fair.
I've never minded getting up ridiculously early and I thoroughly enjoy the quiet hours of darkness before shooting, so more times than not I'm prompt enough to be able to claim my intended spot, wherever that may be. But the anxiety of somebody else being there and shutting me out follows me every morning that I row out to a location, and it only subsides when I arrive and see no headlamp lights.
I very rarely hunt on private land, but I've always thought that one of its greatest luxuries is knowing that no one will be in your spot.
I recently experienced this comfort when I got a call from a friend in the southern part of the state who has just gotten permission for us to hunt a freshly combined cornfield where the farmer had reported hundreds of migrating wood ducks landing.
I was thrilled. The farm, which was right by a lake, had one of the few cornfields in the area that had been cut, and if the birds were landing there at night there was a good chance they'd still be feeding in the morning or would show up soon to resume.
Plus, we figured, we were the only ones with permission from the farmer.
Spirits couldn't have been higher the next morning as we zig-zagged through a cornfield maze of back roads on our way to the farm.
But as we rounded a corner and approached our intended field we were dumbstruck by what we saw.
Out in the middle of the field was the glow of multiple headlamps.
There was a whole crew of hunters out there setting up decoys amongst the freshly cut stalks.
I was in disbelief. I hadn't even considered someone else being there. In fact I had been carefree all morning. Anxiety kicked in, however, as I realized we had no time to return to the lake, hook up the boat, find a spot, and set up in time for prime shooting, and we had no permission to hunt any of the neighboring fields. Most were still standing anyway.
Within seconds of showing up we noticed two headlamps heading our way as we frantically scanned the farm for a possible alternative spot.
Before long we were notified by two of the hunters that we had not been the only ones who received permission from the farmer to be there. We were also told that the report about the woodcuts was accurate because they themselves had been on the road the previous night watching it happen.
It could be a good morning, they said. A really good morning.
So rather than screw it up for each other, by setting up in two different spots on the same field, they suggested that my friend and I hunt with them.
There was no kicking us out or screaming at us to leave. They were friendly the whole time and, especially with a good scouting report, gave us an offer we couldn't refuse.
Pretty soon I found myself on my back, buried in cornstalks, in a line of strangers, staring straight up at the sky from a makeshift blind. Everybody else had proper layout blinds, but I didn't care, I was covered and comfortable as I anxiously awaited a flight of birds.
In the meantime, we got to know each other a little bit. They were well drillers, originally from Michigan and now living in Wisconsin. From the conversations we learned they knew two things inside and out: well construction and waterfowling.
Their sense of humor was matched only by their proficiency with a duck call, with which they gave several performances.
But all got quiet as the black sky turned dark blue.
Then, through the first red rays of light on the horizon, came the whistling sound of wings as wood ducks filled the air like a whirlwind of bats.
They circled the extensive decoy spread once and then came in to land. That's when one of the crew yelled "Take em!" and instantly nine hunters sat up at once and began blasting.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
The shots rang out and the birds fell from the sky.
This scenario played out two more times that morning before the skies got quiet.
It was some great action and we couldn't thank our new friends enough for letting us in on it.
They had rights to that field that day and I wouldn't have blamed them for sending us on our way. They beat us to it. Fair and square.
They were a cool crew though, and their camaraderie made for not only a great day of hunting but a great day for hunting as well.
Jacob Friede may be reached at jacob@lakelandtimes.
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