It was 5:45 AM and still pitch black as we trekked through the McPherson Valley Wetlands on our way to the small waterhole my exuberant teenage guide had found the day before. We trade experiences and knowledge; I teach him to trap and he takes me waterfowl hunting; this morning was opening day of teal season in Kansas. Trudging and weaving our way through a sea of thick viney pickerel plants and waterlillys, then finding the shortest route around patches of cattails taller than my 6 foot 3 inch frame is tough enough in broad daylight, let along attempting said march in the beam of a flashlight, all the while doing our best to keep the oozy, sucking mud from extracting the boots right off our feet. I packed a shotgun, ammo & gear bag and a small camp chair; Jared carried a shotgun and ammo plus a dozen assorted duck decoys. Four pickups were already parked when we got there, and we could hear other hunters setting up camp here-and-there as we sloshed along. Jared had set a waypoint on the GPS of his phone and I lost count of the number of times he told me “It’s not much farther now!” Finally at his chosen pool, he let me get settled while he deployed the decoys in a tiny pond that in the dark looked no bigger than a backyard fish pond. He suggested I sit amongst a small patch of weeds near the pool, and when I unfolded my camp chair I quickly discovered that every inch of ground not truly under water was still covered with several inches of oozy mud. There was no way of getting my chair even remotely stable in the mud, as each time I sat down it sunk into oblivion. I finally figured the chair was as good as it was gonna’ get and Jared found a comfortable spot to kneel amongst the muck as we waited for the sun’s arrival and for that magic hour of 30 minutes before sunrise that signaled legal shooting time. In the quiet blackness we could hear the hollow clank of plastic decoys banging together as another hunter walked somewhere near, then the splashes of decoys being tossed into water. Finally absolute silence enveloped the marsh as hunters watched their time-pieces and the sky.
As just enough morning light dripped over the horizon to show us the sky above, flocks of birds coming from every direction began to fill the sky. Waves of slow flying herons, egrets and pelicans lumbered past, occasionally interrupted by a few ducks zipping by. Jared had no sooner whispered “Its legal time,” than shotguns bellowed from all over the marsh; some nearby and some a quarter mile away, all trained on the small colorful Kansas ducks called blue winged and green winged teal that zoom and zip overhead like tiny fighter jets. They mainly stood apart from all the other fowl overhead and from other ducks by their small size and speed. We would hunker down until a flock of them suddenly sped toward us from who-knows-what direction, then attempt to rise from the marsh in time to connect with one as they zipped past. I’m not the best wing shooter to start with, but my style was seriously hampered by the muck that was everywhere. When I did succeed in rising from my sinking chair, the teal were long gone before I got my footing in the slippery ooze. Jared on the other hand dropped 3 of them in the first 20 minutes. That’s life when your hunting partner is 17, works out every day, is a crack shot with a shotgun and has reflexes that are quicker on a bad day than mine ever were.
Finding downed birds in a wetland environment is tricky at best, and a good dog is those settings is worth a king’s ransom to a water fowl hunter. As it got daylight we could see that our little pool was one end of a narrow area of water that snaked its way around through the marsh above us. A pair of hunters a couple hundred yards away had a black lab retriever with them, and we watched it find several ducks for them that had tumbled down into the mass of greenery around them. After much hard work Jared managed to find all 3 of his harvested teal. As the sun rose fully, the flocks of teal became scarce with just an occasional 3 or 4 racing by. The shooting also became sparse, with just a shot or too from somewhere every few minutes.
We gave it awhile longer then collected our decoys and headed for the truck. In the daylight we could see everything we missed in the dark. Muskrat lodges the size of pickup beds built from mud and cattails now sat on dry ground in the middle of tall cattail patches, the main trails leading to their entrances now mere channels in the mud. We even found an area about the size of a dining room table that was full of dead tadpoles; evidently that was the last bit of water in the dried-up pool and they all congregated there until the sun baked them. Despite the slimy muck that covered the marsh (and finally did succeed in sucking off one of my boots) the trip was worth every second even though I harvested no teal. Like I said, that’s life when your hunting partner is 17, works out every day, is a crack shot with a shotgun and has reflexes that are quicker on a bad day then mine ever were!…Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors.
Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected]