I am writing this column while watching the first real cold front of the season send snow flurries and very cold windy conditions our way. The Arctic air mass has been exactly what waterfowl hunters have prayed for. According to friends, it is doing the job.
Sam and Jackie Barker, who live in the Missouri Bootheel, told me by phone that ducks and geese are moving into their region in astonishing numbers. Sam had spent the afternoon breaking ice on 40 acres they call "the rice pond." Some years back they went in for rice on a small scale, but gave it up and let the levee-made reservoir revert to nature.
The reservoir holds water year-round and is a wonderful attraction for ducks and even a few geese. I have had the good fortune to hunt the place several times - always with success. During one hunt there I began to notice a large number of snipe darting all over the area and lighting in vegetation where the water was very shallow. As soon as the morning duck flurry was over, I switched the choke on my shotgun over to cylinder bore, changed shells to quail shot No. 8, and began wading the shallows and jumping those funny little birds.
Snipe were much sought after by a great many hunters during the 19th century and on up until about 1930.
I had a fine shoot that day and learned again that snipe are difficult targets, having the ability to dart away from your shot pattern before it arrives. When they jump, they usually make a peculiar little whistling sound - something like skape.
They are fine on the table, being much like doves and woodcock, a distant cousin, I believe. But enough of snipe.
Bitter-cold-weather duck hunting seems to have arrived and with lots of ducks all over the region, it now appears we may be in for a banner year. Bitter-cold-weather hunting requires lots of stamina. When temperatures drop into the teens and lower, hunting can be dangerous.
Considering hunts I made when I was a somewhat callow youth, I marvel that I am still around. One such hunt took place during one of the longest and coldest spells this region ever endured. Virtually every body of water in the Delta was frozen solid. Nevertheless, ducks managed to keep a few spots open.
One was in the middle of Alcorn Brake (Coahoma County, Miss.), a huge cypress and button brush swamp sometimes known as Eagle Nest Brake, due to it having been a spot where many bald eagles nested.
Displaying very poor judgment, I walked out on the ice until I flushed them out of a small hole they had kept open. Leaning against a cypress, I stayed and bagged several mallards as they tried to come back, making certain to shoot those I believed would fall out behind me on solid ice so I could retrieve them.
After that one experience I realized that to continue such a foolish practice might bring my hunting to a close at a very early age. Had I broken through that ice, out there all alone, there was little or no chance I would have been able to reach shore.
One benefit of getting old is that you realize your limitations and no longer tempt fate just to shoot a few ducks!