Ted Peck

Outdoors talk with certified Merchant Marine Captain Ted Peck.

Peck: Hunters flock to duck hunting opener

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Ted Peck
Saturday, September 30, 2017

Serious waterfowlers who target public wetlands consider the initial weekend of duck season a youth hunt open to adults.

The architect of Wisconsin’s traditional split season had to be a wise old duck hunter carrying a pocketful of paper shot shells loaded with 1 oz. of lead shot in an old tan coat, viewed through the same prism that a drunkard views New Year’s Eve: Amateur Night.

Those prone to “marsh rage” who have experienced the epiphany that avoiding the boat ramp until after breakfast at a reasonable time is key to a longer, happier life know that they can quietly slip into the tules early next week and likely find a quality hunting experience away from the crowd.

They may even opt out of the second duck opener on Oct. 8, with knowledge borne from experience that the really good duck hunting doesn’t happen in southern Wisconsin until early November.

Hunters with a reasonable skill set, a wealth of patience—and a little luck—had an excellent chance of leaving the marsh with a nice mixed bag limit of six wood ducks, teal and mallards yesterday and are probably headed home with another nice mess of ducks and a wet, happy retriever as you read these words.

Biologists and conservationists from groups like Ducks Unlimited, who participated in the annual Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey across northern North America a couple weeks ago, indicate we’re looking at the fifth-largest webfoot migration to come down the pike this fall since they started keeping records back in 1955.

Wisconsin is in the middle of the Mississippi Flyway, fed by ducks coming from Canada’s prairie pothole country, Ontario and the Upper Great Lakes. Nesting conditions were nearly ideal this spring across the breeding grounds, with ponds holding about 10 percent more water than they did in 2016, when an estimated flight of 13.5 million mallards came whistling south.

This year’s survey estimates there are about 12.9 million greenheads poised to make the big push next month, out of a total continental breeding population of 47.3 million webfeet—a solid 34 percent above the 1955-2016 average.

Pintails and scaup are the only species that have seen a decline in numbers this year. This is why only one pintail is allowed in the six-duck daily bag. The scaup situation is considerably more ominous, with a recent die-off in recent years attributed primarily to an intestinal disease.

Pintails have always been a “bonus” species along the Mississippi Flyway. The lion’s share of “sprigs” push south along the Pacific coast, with the Altantic Flyway seeing a similar push of Black ducks.

Scaup are diving ducks, preferring big water like Canvasbacks, Redheads, Ringbills and Goldeneyes—small black and white ducks which are among the last to migrate.

Divers start showing up in good numbers across southern Wisconsin around Nov. 1, pushed by the first serious blast of a pending winter. The major migration thrust typically occurs about Thanksgiving, driven by an even more vociferous northwest wind.

Duck season closes here less than two weeks later on Dec. 3. Sometimes local marshes are frozen over by then. For the past couple of years they’ve been wide open. Waterfowlers who have passed the state of passion and moved into obsession territory can find peace in the knowledge that duck hunting doesn’t even get good down in Arkansas until after Christmas.

Some of these same folks can meet duck hunters coming out of the marsh this morning with a smile because they just came back from a hunt in Saskatchewan or North Dakota.

Duck hunting is an expensive and labor intensive pursuit. The spiritual concept that you can only serve one master certainly applies. There are deer hunters and there are duck hunters. But when you cross the obsession threshold you must choose a singular course.

Not saying you can’t travel both roads. But experience teaches you can’t travel both roads at the same time. Either path offers the joy of fall muskie or walleye fishing at mid-day. Factor in the Green Bay Packers who stand for the national anthem, and its tough not to feel sorry for anyone choosing to live beyond the Cheese Curtain.

Last updated: 11:41 pm Saturday, September 30, 2017

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