By Josh Gowan
Beautiful Opening to Duck Season
What a gorgeous Thanksgiving weekend! Duck season opened and a lot of waterfowlers took to the field to try and seduce flocks of mallards into cupping their wings and easing down into spreads of decoys. I did what all outdoorsmen have to do at some point, at least those who wish to continue being outdoorsmen and stay married at the same time, honey-dos. Aside from a brief fishing trip and managing to brush up against the year’s last living vine of poison oak in below freezing temperatures, I did little more than yard work and watch football (Go Mizzou!)
Our yearly, Griswald-ish tradition of going to Meier Horse Shoe Farms outside of Jackson, Missouri to pick out and chop down the perfect Christmas tree was again a success. We boarded the long, wooden wagon and took in the countryside as two enormous horses pulled us up the hills and into the vast tree farm, and fanned out accordingly until locating the ideal shape and height pinus strobus, or white pine for those of you not up on your coniferous subgenuses…
Christmas tree in tow, I returned home to find that my neighbors, a wretched lot of lawn and garden enthusiasts, had all eradicated their yards of leaves, and erected long levees along the curb where apparently the city will come to collect them. My block now resembled a tile kitchen floor that had been swept clean, except for my tile, which was awaiting the dustpan. This was no doubt a conspiracy to keep me home, and while I’m not sure how the ducks and deer got to my neighbors, I’ll have my vengeance, if not this weekend than the next (Gladiator voice)! I pondered paying a neighborhood kid to do it, but I questioned the price and quality of work, then I remembered I possess my own neighborhood kid, but knowing his price and quality of work, I opted to take care of it myself!
Enough of my domestic woes, I did manage to slip off to Rotary Lake, southeast Missouri’s premiere trout fishery, while I was in Jackson. To tell you everything I know about trout fishing would take a book, a one page book, with a large picture. However, I’ve been plucking rainbows out of the park since the first year the MDC stocked them, and they’re a blast to catch. It’s also a great place to take a kid. A Zebco 33 Combo and a roadrunner with a simple cast and retrieve method will land plenty of fish. You have to buy your $7 trout stamp, it’s catch and release only, and you can’t use scented or live bait until Feb. 1 when you can keep four trout per day.
Brett Matthews of Charleston, Missouri is a seasoned duck hunter with a prized share in southeast Missouri’s “Eagle’s Nest” hunting property in the bottom of the Bird’s Point/New Madrid Spillway. Eagle’s Nest is a privately owned, 575 acre farm put in WRP, or Wetlands Reserve Program, a USDA program that partners with land owners to protect, restore, and enhance wetlands to benefit wildlife. The low-lying river bottoms has a series of shallow pools and willow breaks with several permanent blinds.
Last weekend Brett took three young men, Seth Peters, Steven Willis, and Tanner Herbst and their dads hunting during the Missouri Youth Waterfowl Season. Brett has been taking kids out the last 13 years and says he enjoys watching them shoot the unwary birds more than shooting them himself! The Youth Season is the first time the ducks have been shot at in Missouri’s South Zone, which generally provides an abundance of ducks for the eager hunters.
Brett believes in a “less is more” approach when it comes to his spread, and was only hunting about 60 decoys with a couple of “robo” ducks. Eagle’s Nest was holding around 5,000 ducks, and while the action was steady, the cloudy sky made for apprehensive ducks, and getting them to work right into the hole was tough. There was a bit of a learning curve for the young hunters, but once they adapted to the longer shots, they scratched out a good limit of mallards, widgeon, teal, and a few gadwalls. Brett had a blast, and said it’s really a great time to take kids because most of them don’t get to see the sheer numbers and workability of ducks during the regular season.