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When you’re seventy…another Illinois opener on the Mississippi River is almost always good!  

With the recent flood, I went out on Friday to scout and check "my spot" where the willow framework of a temporary blind stood. It was built before early teal season. I was lucky. The grey line showed the water came within a foot of the top. Everything below had a muddy coating. I only had to tie fresh bailing twine around the old bindings to tighten things back up. However, there were still 2-3 inches of water over the island in the spot I normally hunt (and worse everywhere else).

Opening morning Daisy and I got there very early....mostly because I couldn't sleep. The small piece of plywood to stand on wasn't going to work, but we were in luck as the water had dropped some. There was a tiny patch of muddy ground high enough to put her ultra-low dog hide on. The water in front of the island blind was almost waist deep but fairly easy to walk in. Using my trusty ski pole and the boat as support, I put out 24 decoys - geese, mallards, teal and some flocked coots. A teal and baby hen MOJO flanked the setup. We were ready early, so sitting in the chair catching a few zzzzz'z or watching for shooting stars passed the rest of the time. I had my spotlight on so's others could see where I was set up, too. Little did I know how meaningless that would prove to be later on.  

At 6:35 am (ten minutes before shooting time - ON OPENING DAY) a boat moved in. They started to setup about 70 yards from me. I asked, "Hey? What's up with this?" They were so close I didn't even have to shout. I had scouted that shoreline the day before (after repairing my temporary blind) and there was no evidence of anyone being there recently. They must have come in later Friday afternoon (or not).

Their reply was, "We have a temporary blind we're hunting out of. Are you using a boat blind?" I should have said, "No and what difference would that make? The pool rules are the first one in means anyone else is to setup 200 yards away." However all I said was, "If you look 30 yards in front of you, my boat is tucked up in the purple loosestrife." The retort was, "Are you new here?" My answer was, "No, I've hunted this spot for the last four years with the first  year getting permission from hunters (from an Illinois city when blinds sights were registered) to use their permanent blind when they weren't." Final comment from them...."We're not moving". From me, they got a silent expletive.   

And that's my excuse for not shooting well.  

Daisy and I had our opportunities, but I was in "whiff mode" all morning. I did manage to get two birds for Daisy to retrieve. A green wing was first. Then about 8:30 am, the "intruders" on my right knocked down a lively drake mallard that landed in my decoys. So I sluiced it and sent Daisy. Then I heard them call back their dog.....which gave me kind of a contemptuous sort of warm feeling. After the retrieve, I said to the north, "That's your duck!" Meaning, if you've got the guts or gall (don't know which) to come and get it, I'll give it to you. They did and I handed it over. Of course there was no offer to return the shell I spent doing them the favor.

Sunday morning, it was Gunny's turn. We didn't arrive quite as early and the setup was two goose decoys smaller. I couldn't resist setting them up farther to the north (to take up more space). Unfortunately, it never turned into the message I wanted to deliver because they didn't come back the next day.  

The water was lower by a few inches and Gunny's ultra-low dog hide location was dryer. The wind was in a better direction, too. Five minutes before shooting time, a blind full of hunters on the backside of our island emptied their guns. A teal buzzed right over my head, but I waited.  About 30 minutes later, I caught a brief flash of a duck coming from behind. The sun was now in the eyes of the hunters back there and they must not have not seen it fast enough.  

It was a pintail headed straight for Iowa under a full head of steam. I didn't have time to think. Which was a good thing for me (the not having time to think part). I'm a much better instinctive shooter. Teal seem much easier. While mallards generally give you time to think. Not good (in my book). Anyway, one shot and it fell out of the sky. You know there are shots when your mind is racing with the thought, "Dam! Am I good.........or what?" The "what" is the unspoken. "Lucky!"    

Gunny is very advanced in his training but rather inexperienced with duck hunting. In addition, the slot in the high shoreline weeds where the dog hide is located didn't allow for much marking. Therefore, this turned into a 150 yard, "out to sea" cold blind. The distant, ominous horizon is the other side of the Mississippi River. However, he took a good initial line, swam about 70 yards and in the distance spotted a deceiving small top of the only exposed stump in the high water. I was not ashamed of using "terrain tools" to my advantage. It was directly in line to where the pintail would be as it drifted downstream with the current. There was no hesitation in his determined swim.....so I let him roll. When he reached the stump, Gunny realized his error.        

I blew the whistle, shouted, No!” and gave him a loud "Back!" Much to my relief, he took the cast. After swimming for awhile, he finally spotted the prize. I was pumped! In all the years that I've duck hunted, this was my first pintail. Gunny was probably wondering why I was a bit more animated with the "good boy" repetitions (or not).    

About hour later, Gunny made a very nice retrieve of a drake mallard. Then the biggest non-event of the morning began to unfold. Three geese came over.....low. I shot one, but only broke a wing. It bounce down about 70 yards out and it too headed for Iowa. Gunny was in hot pursuit, but it was fairly clear when he got near that even though the goose was "going west" the situation was headed "south in a hand basket". The goose could jump up and fly a few yards at a time and if caught was clearly going to be a handful for any dog. In reality there was no way he was ever going to catch up. Gunny was on the proverbial wild goose chase.  

I called him off and headed for the "tucked" boat. Getting underway and gathering up Gunny took awhile. With the gun cased and Gunny in the boat, we caught up with the goose way out in the middle of the channel. Closing in, I shut off the motor, loaded the gun and tried to get myself in a position where Gunny was totally clear (he's in the boat). Just as I mounted my Benelli, the goose flipped over and dove. My high emotions sank just as fast.

We cruised the area for at least twenty minutes......nothing. There was no "snake like sneak" either. Just a bit down from where the goose dove was a red channel marker sitting on its nasty looking concrete pedestal with the high current forming powerful eddies. I think the goose got caught up in the rip-rap.  

Witnessing the "death dive" of a valiant wild goose is not the best way to end a hunt on the river, but Daisy, Gunny and I had another truly wonderful opener to remember.  
 
                                                          
(left click on thumbnails)

                                                  

 
                          
                              "blind peek"
 
     
       "sunrise coots"
 
     
        "well hidden"
 
   
  "9 flocked coots"
 
                          
                                  "Daisy"
      
   "her two retrieves" 
 
        
     "Gunny's mallard"
 
      "up close"
                          
                           "Gunny sunning"
                      (blind needs mudded!)
        
       "two drakes"
       
    "mallard & pintail"  
 
"wild goose chase"

 
   
 
 
                               updated 01/28/14