peck colm

Getting to water where ducks are could be a tricky maneuver when the season opens Saturday morning.

Duck season opens Saturday in Wisconsin’s southern and Mississippi River zones, running through Oct. 11.

A few northern migrants are beginning to show up in this part of the state, with overall conditions a doppelganger of last year.

Extremely high water in 2019 gave webfeet almost unlimited opportunities to loaf and feed. Scouting was key in finding concentrations of ducks to ensure plenty of action for the opener.

This year, scouting is once again critical. But wetlands, sheet water and other critical components for attracting and holding ducks are diminished across much of Wisconsin’s southern tier of counties—especially Grant, Crawford and Vernon Counties which are the femoral artery of waterfowl migration along our state’s western border.

Although flow volume on the Mississippi River is still greater than it was back in 2006 when “The River” experienced near-record-low levels, extreme siltation during the past 14 years has actually decreased available prime hunting opportunities found in backwater sloughs and potholes.

It is now to a point not seen since 1936 as our landscape adjusted to 33 massive lock & dam systems that changed the face of The River forever.

The peak of the “Dust Bowl” calamity across the Midwest came in 1936.

Ironically, drastic change in farming practices since this disaster to conserve valuable topsoil are a major cause of siltation.

That runoff has filled in wetlands along our western border where access is somewhere between difficult and impossible as we get ready to welcome in another season tomorrow morning.

Sandbars blocking passage through running sloughs and backwaters with exceptionally low water levels are a greater navigation hazard than notorious Mississippi mud.

Even hunters travelling to their hunting spots with Go-Devil and Mud Motor propulsion on flat bottom boats face the possibility of going from 30 mph to 0 in a boat length—in the pre-opening morning dark.

The rich soil deposited from siltation is near perfect for growing duck food like smart weed. But placing decoys while slogging through gumbo mud greater than knee-deep tends to cause ducksters to rethink their definition of “fun.”

This may be the year when mentoring Wisconsin’s rich waterfowling tradition in the next generation pays off. Few things in the outdoors are more gratifying than a hot cup of coffee when hunkered down in a duck blind to greet the morning sun.

There is much to be said of coming of age during the time of lead shot and paper shotshells. Young guns that you have mentored now have young guns of their own.

Watching water dogs work and kids stumble in the mud provides greater satisfaction than watching a dozen mallards come wafting into the dekes with wings cupped and orange legs hanging.

Well, almost.

Few experiences in the outdoors touch a soul at a carnal level more than sitting in a tree with a stick and string waiting for a whitetail, or hot coffee in a duck blind at the dawn of another day.

Both are all-encompassing, all-consuming experiences.

October is a time which offers the opportunity to do either.

Decades in the outdoors teaches it is nearly impossible to simultaneously follow both passions at a level where consistent success is realized.

Phenomenal fishing that arrives with steadily falling water temperatures this month also needs to be factored into the extreme happiness matrix.

Finding inner peace can be a similar matter of changing your personal definition of extreme happiness for any outdoor pursuit.

Hot coffee is the perfect accessory in realizing nirvana for a veteran duck hunter. It’s hard not to smile when watching dogs work and kids stumble in the mud knowing they forbid an old guy lending a hand for fear he’ll have a heart attack.

The effort you paid forward in mentoring others is further rewarded by letting the old guy shoot first.

Sometimes it pays to act older than you really feel. Heart attack? Will never happen in a heart that is forever young, living for the moment in the Wisconsin outdoors in the very best month of the entire year.

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

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