Ted Peck

Outdoors talk with certified Merchant Marine Captain Ted Peck.

Bucks or ducks?

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Ted Peck
Sunday, October 27, 2013

My wife's birthday is Saturday. We have the same conversation about a gift to celebrate this occasion every year. She says, “Just don't wreck my car.”

Years ago a hunting buddy called late at night babbling “the ducks are down.” We had been staring at mostly barren skies since the second opener. This would have been great news if I was still at duck camp. But duck camp was a two-hour drive away. My truck was out of gas. I would have to take my wife's new Oldsmobile.

All she wanted on her birthday was my undivided attention. Unfortunately, higher thought processes were consumed with wing-cupped mallards. This is probably why I didn't see the deer.

Fortunately the collision occurred just a couple miles from home. I left her car in the driveway bleeding anti-freeze with just enough gas in the truck to make it to a local slough and welcome the ducks.

She didn't have breakfast waiting at about 8 a.m. when I returned home with four fat greenheads. Maybe she was upset that I did not wake her with a cup of birthday coffee. “If you think you're mad now, go look at your car,” was not the right thing to say.

Perhaps you can benefit from this near-fatal error. Duck hunters should not lose hope. The vanguard of migrating webfeet is now trickling into stateline wetlands. Drivers need to be extra cautious. The deer rut is at hand. Bucks are chasing does all over the map.

The major migrational push of ducks arrives here Thanksgiving week with the first blast of genuine winter weather. A pearl of wisdom from the Old Duck Hunters still rings with universal truth—ducks fly by the weather; geese fly by the calendar.

But the annual autumn arrival of those big, white-cheeked birds isn't as obvious as it was 20 years ago. Many areas—including Rock County—have a resident population of honkers that will hang around as long as its members can find food, open water and an ambient temperature that doesn't dip below 15 degrees for three days in a row.

When the ducks get here next week they will concentrate near limited habitats like Lima marsh. Some years we have plenty of sheet water in fields after heavy autumn rains. This isn't one of those years, at least not yet.

The annual whitetail rut is easier to predict, with hard science now backing what used to be primarily woodsy observations.

Right now bucks are actively chasing does, frantically making scrapes on the forest floor and rubbing their antlers on expensive oriental trees where rural subdivisions meet honest woodlots.

Winds of seasonal change are winnowing the fleeting tapestry of peak fall color from trees and underbrush now, with quiet evenings and frosty mornings between insistent greetings from northwestern vectors providing exciting opportunities to be in the woods with a bow.

Outdoors types are faced with a happy dilemma between the hunter's moon and the harvest moon. Fishing is always an option, but those enthralled with shooting sports are torn between bucks and ducks.

It is painfully easy to become consumed with overwhelming passion for either pursuit. Sadly, it is only possible to follow one of these manitous with a high probability of consistent success.

In recent years waterfowling has become more of a casual pursuit with me than an irrational, addictive quest. Bowhunting continues to hold attention with more than passing interest.

Saturday I plan on treating my wonderful wife of 42 years to a dinner and movie of her choice—unless Bullwinkle catches an arrow at dusk and there is a blood trail to follow into the night.

Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at tedpeck@acegroup.cc.

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