Winter waterfowl hunting is all about enduring Mother Nature’s worst

Posted Dec. 17, 2010, at 12:33 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:37 p.m.

BOISE, Idaho — Snow falls as silent as the fog and is just as impossible to ignore when you’re sitting in the brush waiting for ducks to find your decoys.

Your eyes strain as dim morning light and snow turn the world into a monochromatic haze in which even the colorful decoys are muted.

The cold creeps down the neck of your heavy jacket, and despite your thickest wool socks, you feel the pangs of numbness setting into your feet. You start to wonder, “What am I doing out here?” Then you detect birds circling your decoys and actually hear them before your eyes can tease them out of the haze.

The anticipation builds as the whiz of wings sails over your head and changes into the frantic sound of flutter-ing wings as the ducks descend from the low clouds into your decoys.

Guns blast and ducks fall. Dogs who sat in shivering patience, despite their thick neoprene vests, splash into the water like it’s a swimming pool in July. The dog returns with a duck in its mouth as happy as a kid at a birth-day party.

Silence returns, snow falls and decoys bob in the placid pond.

Any “why am I here” thoughts dissipate as quickly as the fog engulfs the sound of shotgun blasts.

Late-season bird hunting isn’t for those who crave comfort or who think a good hunt involves a casual morn-ing with a little nip in the air followed by a warm, sunny afternoon.

Winter is a time to strap on the armor of polypro, fleece, wool and neoprene.

While others are content to limit their hunting season to the weeks of comfortable weather during fall, you have to be willing to step into the ring with Ol’ Man Winter and go the distance.

It’s not an exercise in masochism; it’s a way to experience all of bird hunting — from the sweltering September opener to the short icy days of dead winter.

You follow your quarry as ducks and geese descend from the north or chukars come down from the rocky ridges in the canyons of the Snake and Salmon rivers.

You pursue pheasants as they roam rows of cut cornfields or hunker down in the cattails and brush thickets at the edge of fields.

Or you might hunt the buzzing quail as they flitter through creek bottoms or mingle and scratch for the re-maining seeds on the frozen ground.

Idaho’s hunting season is generously long, but still only a fraction of the year. There’s no reason to let it slip away.

And remember, nothing warms the body more quickly than a pulse of adrenaline that comes from a flock of wing-cupped geese locking on to your decoys or the brilliant eruption of feathers as a rooster pheasant flushes out of the snow.

(c) 2010, The Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho).

Visit The Idaho Statesman online at http:///www.idahostatesman.com.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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