There are some things in life that have an enigmatic beauty much deeper than sole visual pleasure. The arrival of a new born baby into the world, the seasonal color change in foliage, and the slow creep of the sun through the horizon to welcome a new day all exhibit this kind of beauty. However, with the fortune of educated timing, there is an opportunity to place oneself into the most aesthetic and magnificent scenes the calendar year has to offer: hunting wood ducks early season. The distinction of wood duck hunting against hunting of other waterfowl is the unique habitat in which wood ducks prefer. Largely depending on food sources that only freshwater and trees can provide, wood ducks draw hunters into lake and bog ecosystems. Hunting this scenery provides uncontested aesthetics independent and much different from that of hunting the saltwater marsh. For this reason, I find it imperative to make room in my duck hunting schedule to hunt the lakes and bogs for wood ducks every year in late October to early November.
October 21, three days after opening day of waterfowl season, I pack my gear hours before daylight and leave the house destined for Beaver Swamp. Beaver Swamp has provided some of the most memorable duck hunting experiences in my life, not through the number of wood ducks I managed to kill, but through being able to witness in silence the interworking of the various species that make up the Beaver Swamp ecosystem. I arrive at the swamp still long before the presence of sunlight wondering what kind of scenes and how many wood ducks the day will provide. With paddle in hand, I set off for a specific area on the back edge of the lake in my kayak. This is an area which I prefer to hunt due to a natural funnel provided by the trees and the plethora of foliage that can provide as good cover. As I row, I am greeted by the powerful and majestic hoots of an owl breaking the silence in the adjacent forest. The greeting brings a smile to my face, for Beaver Swamp started early today with the display of its beautiful nature.
Reaching my destination, I begin placing my decoys in a manner that I find most suitable to catch a wood ducks attention. I meticulously place my last decoy and row for the bank. Trudging across the floating peat, with each step shaking and bouncing the land around me, I haul my canoe and gun to a clump of trees among the flat moss covered marsh. In an area perfectly aligned with my decoy spread, this ancient clump of trees has seen many migrations of wood ducks, and the select few which I have taken with my gun every year. I adjust myself into comfort, place my gun in a position which makes it readily available, and fall into silence, waiting patiently for the woods to awaken from the night. A slow revival can be told from the slow and steady brightening of the sky without the sight of a sun on the horizon yet. Its now a half hour before sunrise and I begin hearing the whistling wings of ducks flying in all directions, searching for their feeding spot of the day. A couple land in my spread and swim around, I watch their silhouettes against the water in tranquility. The forest to my back wakes up with the sound of various song birds and chickadees singing their morning chants. The sound of a mourning dove stands out among them. The marsh to my front wakes up with the arrival of the sun, and the flight of a bald eagle from its perch across the lake. I cannot help but ask myself: How lucky am I to witness the revival of the wild on this chilly October morning? I cannot answer the question, but I know I am where I belong.
Interrupting my peaceful state is the screeching of a flying wood duck to my right, my eyes shoot over to its location in time to see a beautiful drake cupped into my decoys. I raise my gun with precision, place the bead on the colorful drake as he flies in front of me, and pull the trigger. I grab my kayak and row out to the dead wood duck that is floating belly up in the middle of my decoy spread, his beauty is undeniable. With a multitude of iridescent colors covering its head, and a chestnut brown barreled chest accompanied by illuminating gold sides, the wood duck drake is undoubtedly one of the most handsome of all waterfowl. After admiring my newly acquired bird, I take position in my tree clump again. I wait in silence and after about an hours wait something crashes in the woods across from my set up. I watch and begin to wonder what could be crunching the leaves and moving the brush across the water. A whitetail deer emerges from a thicket of bushes, and starts walking towards the bank. I sit still as she enters water and begins swimming towards the opposite bank: where I am set up. She swims with intriguing ease and begins closing the distance, even bumping into one of my decoys. As she approaches my bank she catches a subtle movement among the trees in front of her as I fail to take a picture without being notice. She turns and swims back to where she came from, this time in a haste. I did get my picture to remember the instance, and I am again inspired by the glorious scenes Beaver Swamp is so eager to share with its hunters.
The cries of a wood duck hen emerge from the water to my left. My guess is the calls are coming from about 80 yards away among a large patch of duckweed covering the water. I cannot see the multiple birds which are now chattering, but there is a trick among wood duck hunting that comes in handy quite often. I pick up my wood duck call and begin softly speaking the notes only a wood duck can understand. Unlike most ducks, wood ducks can be called in swimming on the water through precision calling. My call is quickly followed by a response coming from the group. Now it’s a game of enticement. Steadily, we exchange calls untranslatable to me, yet so alluring to the wood duck. My peripherals catch ripples in the water, the flock of mixed drakes and hens are swimming towards my decoys quickly and without hesitation. I am now uncomfortably close to the birds, and I know to be weary of my movements. They begin mingling in my decoys as my right hand extends for my gun in a cautiously slow and steady movement. When I have grip, I shoulder the gun swiftly. The flock of wood ducks in front of me splashes the water frantically for the safety of the sky. My gun aims towards vulnerable and easy to aim at ducks on the edge of the flock, three shells are ejected from my gun and two splashes hit the water. I grab my kayak again and row out to retrieve the two dead wood ducks floating in my decoy spread. I admire their beauty with equal enthusiasm as the first duck of the day, then claim my spot in the clump of trees again.
I now have my limit of wood ducks, but I sit out in hopes for a last farewell ode from Beaver Swamp before my departure. Much to my delight, it is not long before the flight of an eagle breaks the treeline to my right and returns to its perch which it had taken off from that morning. It is a goodbye satisfactory enough for me, for the dignified flight of a bald eagle is a sight which never gets old. I grab my gun and kayak, pick up my decoys, place the dead wood ducks upon my lap, and row back to the entrance of the lake. I leave one of the most fascinating areas I hunt yet again in success. I return home and cook up the wood ducks for dinner. I go to bed knowing that the woods of Beaver Swamp is now falling back into the silence of night. A smile emerges on my face as I set my alarm for the hours before daylight. I will wake up and again witness the revival of Beaver Swamp’s wild when wood duck hunting the next morning.