Todd Graham and a very cold decoy
With the coming of the New Year I am looking forward to my first 2012 hunting trip and, like the last two years, in about a week I will be driving from Michigan to Arkansas for three days of duck hunting with colleagues and friends around Stuttgart, the proclaimed and acclaimed “Duck Hunting Capital” of the world with Primm Springs Wildlife Co. (http://www.primmspringwildlife.com/).
In 2010 the temperatures were well above freezing and the amount of red mud reminded me of the raining months of my childhood in Brazil, and the torrential rains before we arrived caused significant damage and losses to the local fish farm industry.
The sight of the continuous waterfowl “V” formation as the sun rose was as meaningful and unforgettable to me as when I saw my first tumbleweed rolling through the open North Dakota prairies when pheasant hunting many years before.
Last year on the other hand there were record low temperatures, and the guides had to wake up at 3:00 AM to find open water or break ice to have open water to attract ducks. If the cold weather made the guides’ life miserable, it made the shooting fantastic and frantic, as ducks would flock to any open water allowing us to fill our limits in very short time even in face of our rather poor shooting.
In the first morning we hunted an inundated grain field and had our limit in less than one hour, and oddly enough we shot only gadwalls. We also found out that the case of beer that we “forgot” in the truck bed was almost completely frozen.
On the second day we went to a very large fish farm and had to drive around a bit before we found open water. We set the decoys and shot a single canvas back from that spot as the water started freezing and closed the small opening in almost no time. We relocated to another pond less than a mile away that had a very nice open area. We set few decoys and had some great shooting, but after sometime the guide said that we should relocate as we were shooting too many small ruddy ducks.
After we grabbed our gear we move to another a nearby pond, and this was a very odd place. There were two large ponds divided by a road, one completely open with half of the ducks of the state or Arkansas on it and the other completely frozen and totally bare.
All the birds flew away when we arrived, but we had a simple plan. We would not set any decoys and would hide on the bank of the frozen lake and shoot the birds when they returned to the open water flying over us.
There was just a small problem. Rather than flying from the frozen lake towards open water, the ducks flew over the road and when we shot at the first incoming birds one of the ducks fell over the ice some two hundred feet from the bank.
The guide sent the Labrador retriever, and she really had more sense than all of us together, and at first refused to go for the duck, but she finally accepted the challenge. As the brown lab approached the duck the ice broke. She was enclosed in a small pool and could not climb back on the ice.
The guide immediately tried to reach her and started braking ice with his shotgun, but before he reached half way the water was coming close to the top of his waders and he had to come back.
By this time the dog was getting distressed and crying for help while swimming around the small pool. While two of the guys went out looking for a boat and I decided to try to reach the dog, as I was a bit taller than the guide. I had to use the shotgun stock to break the ice that was over an inch thick and after quite a bit of effort and with the water at the very edge of my waders I reached the dog and she immediately swan back to shore.
As the dead duck was just a couple yards away I decided to fetch it myself. I grabbed the cold bird and as I started back I stepped in a hole or some other depression and had the coldest bath of my life as the lake water inundated my waders, all the way to my socks.
By the time I reached the bank everybody was back with a boat that we no longer had any use for. They pulled me out of the water and helped me out of the waders and the wet clothes and immediately put me inside one of the trucks with heater running at its maximum and we started back to the lodge.
When we arrived they told me to have a hot shower and just leave my wet clothes and gear for them to take care of. By the time I finished a very long and very hot shower and put some comfortable dry clothes on my wet clothes were on the dryer and the there were two hot air blowers working on my waders. Moments later I had a glass of warming amber liquid in my hands and was being served good hot chili.
I am not sure that I saved that dog or that I was in real danger, but at least we had a good high tale to talk about for the next couple days, and when we were saying good-bye James, one of the head guides, told me that this was the first time that a client went into the water for a dog, and that I would be welcome back. And I will be back in another week.