Opening Day – 2008 Oregon Duck Season

Were you to ask me regarding my opinion of the time spent between duck seasons, you would likely receive from me a single word answer:  Torture.  Plain, simple, agonizing torture.  As such, you can imagine the excitement which brews in the Thomsen home on the evening prior to any given waterfowl season opening day.  

This year was no exception.   After making the requisite calls to all my waterfowl-chasing friends to determine who would be sharing a blind with me the next morning, I set to the task of putting my shotgun, shells, blind bag, waders, and decoys aside for the morning’s hunt. 

My hunting buddy Scott would be joining me the next day, as would his two teenage boys, Michael and Kraig.  Dad would be absent for this hunt.  The plan for this opening morning mirrored the past year’s.  Scott coaches high school football and both of his boys play (though one is now in college).  As such, Friday nights are generally exhausting for the Akins household. 

So, I would wander out to the hunt site very early to acquire the piece of property we like to hunt.  Scott and boys wander in shortly before shooting time to make the most of the already short night’s sleep. 

There is little in life more offensive than the blaring of a 3AM alarm.  That is, of course, unless it signals the start of the greatest four months ever invented!  I gathered my thermos of coffee and a few snacks for the blind bag and hit the road.  I wouldn’t have to go it alone in the wee hours of this morning, as my hunting “buddy” Remington rode shotgun on the dark drive out.  Remington is my five year old Golden Retriever.   He’s a better companion than hunter, but with a few hours of dark loneliness staring me in the face, his presence in the blind is welcomed. 

Remington

Remington

Upon arriving at the parking site, I received my first of several opening morning surprises.  The lot, which at 3:30AM is generally sparsely populated with two or three other vehicles, now held twelve.  My plan to beat the late-sleeping hordes had, perhaps, been foiled.  Determined to not allow this small setback to dampen my enthusiasm, I donned my waders and camo, shouldered my decoy bag, shotgun, and blind bag, and set forth into the marsh. 

The area I’d be hunting on this opening morning was the Fern Ridge Wildlife Area (FRWA).  Located in Lane County, Oregon, the marshes and impoundments surrounding Fern Ridge Reservoir hold good numbers of local birds.  It is also a significant staging area for southern-migrating ducks and geese in the Pacific Flyway.  Hunted right, “Fernie” can be great fun and very productive.  If you’ve ever wanted a bufflehead for the wall, Fernie in January is the place to be!

As I wandered the dike system which surrounded several bodies of water in the Fisher Butte Unit of FRWA, I began checking my favorite spots.  Our spots are nicknamed and, unless you’ve hunted with me, you’ll likely never find Cop Island, Easy Island, Limit Island, Bufflehead Alley, The Marsh, or The Other Island.  Drop those names around my hunting buddies and you’ll get funny looks and even funnier stories.  But, then, I suppose that’s better left for another journal entry!

I made my way through the unit and was discouraged to find my favorite spots had already been occupied by other hunters.  As I made the turn into a separate section of the area, I noted Limit Island did not appear to be taken.  In the darkness, I had to make that determination based on the absence of headlamps, barking dogs, or splashing decoys as they were thrown to their positions. 

I set out small groups of Greenhead Gear Hot Buy mallard decoys; eighteen in total.  I really dig these decoys for a number of reasons, not the least of which is price.  I’m hard on my gear and generally adhere to the “buy once, cry once” school of thought when purchasing same.  In the case of decoys, however, I’m hard pressed to drop substantial coin on expensive decoys which look and last (in my humble opinion) the same as the Hot Buys. 

Decoys Afloat

Decoys Afloat

Next, I set up my Final Approach dog blind.  Its been my experience waterfowl key in much more readily to movement than shapes and colors.  As such, I take great pains to limit the amount of movement visible to the birds. 

Satisfied, I sat on the bank and enjoyed a cup of coffee and granola bar with Remi.   After an eternity, Scott and boys arrived and by 6:40AM we were loaded, set and ready. 

There is something truly magical about those few, precious minutes between the sun’s first muted appearance and the officially designated shooting time.  Time slows to a crawl and you’re left to fully absorb the sounds of the marsh.  As the second hand ticked ahead with painful lethargy, I embraced the sounds of complaining Canada geese and single, grouchy mallard hens rasping out a defiant cadence.  The smell of the marsh, decomposing and yet still aromatic and appealing, wafted across my face with the gentle (but really damn cold) breeze. 

The first shot went off northwest of our spot.  He was early, but so very close enough as to serve as a clear and final warning bell.  Waterfowl season was afoot. 

The first birds of the 2008-2009 waterfowl season came low and slow.  I’m not certain whether they hadn’t gotten the memo or simply were familiar with our group (and its lack of shooting prowess) and didn’t feel threatened.  Whatever the cause, confidence was their fatal flaw, as not-so-true to form they were summarily dispatched by Scott and Michael.  Another mallard followed suit and met the same demise. 

As the cold, dark morning blossomed to blue skies and puffy clouds, wave after wave of ducks came within shooting range.  Our shooting skills soon fell back into their familiar state and we allowed more birds safe passage through our kill zone than those with whom we were able to connect.  As in years past, our average shooting abilities were supplemented by a few spectacular shots.  Scott hammered a pintail as it tried in vain to put another ten yards on the already fifty yards between them.  I managed to scrape a greenwing teal out of the sky after it had survived a volley from the armada that was Scott and the boys at much shorter range. 

By 10:00AM, the shooting had slowed substantially, at which time I took full advantage of the sun and caught up on a few winks of shut-eye.  Remi, as you can see, followed suit.

Nap Time

Nap Time

By the day’s end, we had managed to put together a bag containing three mallards, a gadwall, a pintail, and thirteen teal (equally divided between the greenwing and bluewing varieties).  Remi had performed admirably, given he would rather sprawl at the foot of the bed than curl up sopping wet inside a dog blind. 

As we wandered to the truck, I couldn’t help but wonder how the rest of the season would play out.  And a small part of me, somewhere deep within my soul, began the premature task of worrying over the season’s end.

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About the Author

Matt Thomsen

Matt Thomsen

Matt Thomsen routinely spends over seventy days afield each year during Oregon's hunting seasons. In addition to chasing bear, deer, elk, coyote, waterfowl, upland game, and the occasional sage rat or two, Matt was fortunate enough to draw one of seven annual tags and harvest a Rocky Mountain goat in Oregon in 2008.