Mark Walters, Columnist
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Fifty-one opening days of duck hunting ago I was a very young boy in a very low income, single parent family, and my dad was raising my brothers Mike, Tom, myself, my sister Lynn and sometimes my brother Bob. We lived kind of like I do now, which is a very busy life that is often centered around the next outdoor experience. One of our annual “can’t miss” trips was living on an island on the Mississippi River near Ferryville and hunting ducks. I am now 61, low income, running hard, and still on that “can’t miss trip”.
Friday, September 30th
High 75°, Low 52°
By the time I would hit the cot two days after today, 17 people would have camped together and all of that is due to my dad. Though there is no ringleader anymore, I am the guy that is always here and now much of our group is 15-year olds to 34. My daughter Selina and I hunt out of a canoe, we kind of suck when it comes to bagging ducks, but we have a great time with our golden retrievers Ruby and Red being the center of our attention.
Today was a great day. We all converged on the island as we could, built our camps, checked out our spots and, as always, tonight was a campfire, excellent food and lots of happy talk.
Saturday, October 1st
High 72°, Low 48°
When shooting began Selina dropped a hen wood duck and now the pressure was off. In reality, Selina does not care much about duck hunting and she will only do this hunt, all season. With a double major at UW-Stevens Point, a minor, a job working in the Aquatic Biomonitoring Lab and lots of weekend events that are related to school, this hunt and three weekends at deer camp are the best she can do.
So, I drop a goose and a drake woody, it becomes very warm. Selina takes a net and catches aquatic insects, puts them in a mason jar that has alcohol in it and in the end, she will take them to school and do research. A person catching insects in your decoys does not help when it comes to ducks being attracted to your decoys, but neither of us cared.
At about noon we paddled back to camp, had lunch and a two-hour siesta. The evening hunt was very enjoyable, but I have to tell you I love the campfire time on this particular trip. On Saturday night everyone cooks duck. A half dozen hunting dogs are exhausted and, for myself, I can look at every one of these kids in camp and I am well aware that they are here because of my dad and in reality because of me as my dad passed away before most of them were born.
I will give you one example. Grant Wandler is around 30, he grew up with my stepson Joey Dushek and started coming here when he was in high school. Conrad Wandler is two years younger, Vlad Wandler is 20 and Silver is 15. Grant is a lineman, as is Conrad and soon Vlad will be. Grant lives in California and flew to Wisconsin for this hunt.
When Grant and Conrad were 16-22 all of their gear was junk but what they had was a love for this trip and now they have the latest, greatest gear and these boys put a hurting on the ducks, and they are a hoot around the campfire. On this particular hunt there was 13 kids, I could say that I have all of them beat in age by 30 to 46 years.
The following morning Selina and I as well as everyone else in camp was on the water before daylight and many ducks fell out of the sky. Sunday is always kind of sad for me because Selina has to go back to school and our three-day gab session is over.
For myself and my nephew Trent Schuster it was a new beginning. Trent’s dad, Dick Schuster and my brother Mike came to camp for 24 hours as they generally put a hurting on the local perch population. The perch were not hungry, but Trent and I had a great hunt, and his two-year-old golden retriever “Ivy” had a light turn on and it became very obvious that she’s going to be a duck dog.
I am ahead on my deadline. In real time, as you are reading this I should be on top of the Rocky Mountains near Bozeman, Montana on a solo, go-for-it elk and mule deer hunt.
Get them kids outside and keep it fun!
Check out previous weeks’ columns here or in print in the paper.