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 Sunday, 18 September 2005
Sunday, 18 September 2005 22:37:51 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) ( )

This weekend was a great one! My oldest son (dubbed Adventure Boy) is just old enough to hunt. This spring he passed his firearms safety course with flying colors, and this past Saturday was the Youth Waterfowl Hunting Day where youth his age get a special day to hunt.

 

I had to leave Microsoft’s largest developer conference a day early so I could get back home to pack everything up for the trip, and we set off as soon as Adventure Boy was back from school on Friday. My father had offered to take us out – which was nice, as he has all the equipment and being retired was able to do some scouting.

 

Unfortunately reality got in the way of all planning when the wind came on strong from the south – the only combination that made the planned hunting location not work. So we improvised and found a place on the south side of the lake.

 

Now you must realize that duck hunting is best in those first few minutes of dawn, between 20 and 30 minutes before sunrise. This means that you have to be in position, decoys out and camo blinds up before that time. Getting set up takes about half an hour, as does rowing/paddling across the lake (can’t use a motor on this lake due to weeds and shallow obstacles). Add in the drive to the lake and a bit of breakfast and you are getting up between 4 and 4:30 AM.

 

In our case we were also rowing across the lake in serious dark, with only the tiniest bit of starlight filtering through the clouds. Improvising a hunting location in those conditions is a serious challenge! Still, my father is an excellent outdoorsman and we were just set by the time dawn arrived.

 

There aren’t a lot of ducks in Minnesota. There are a lot more than when I was a youth, but even so it doesn’t compare to North Dakota for instance. And nothing compares to the deep south where the ducks all congregate for the winter.

 

(Btw, the slow increase in the duck population over the past 25 years or so is almost entirely due to the environmental and conservation efforts of duck hunters and the groups they fund. Massive amounts of time and money are spent reclaiming duck habitat and lobbying for habitat protections, and the efforts are slowly paying off in increased duck populations.)

 

A few ducks flew over, quite high. Then a huge drake flew by close, followed by three teal who looked like they’d settle in the decoys. Adventure Boy did what I’d do and he shot at the huge drake. Unfortunately he missed, but not for lack of trying.

 

A few minutes later a single greenhead settled in near the decoys. Just as it was touching the water Adventure Boy got off a good clean shot and down went the duck. Both my father and I congratulated him on a great shot – but it was premature.

 

Ducks are tough, and steel shot (while environmentally far better than lead) doesn’t penetrate like lead. The duck put up its head, looked around and flew off. Adventure Boy took a shot, but missed. Undoubtedly a BB had just clipped the duck and stunned it, as it was flying just fine when it escaped… If we’d had a hunting dog we’d have had the duck, since the dog would’ve immediately retrieved it, but as it was the duck lived to see another day.

 

Adventure Boy got a couple more shots during the morning, but none connected. Still he has some great stories to tell and I think he really enjoyed himself (as much as anyone can after getting up at 4:30 AM).

 

Later in the day we went to a gravel pit so Adventure Boy could get some experience shooting a deer rifle. In October there’s a special youth deer hunting weekend open only to kids his age, and we’ll be heading into the woods that weekend as well.

 

These youth hunting opportunities are wonderful. The youth must be accompanied by an adult, and the adult can’t hunt. This allows the adult to focus entirely on coaching. And there’s a lot to cover – safety, stewardship, sportsmanship and the skills and knowledge required to hunt like tracking, feeding patterns and so forth.

 

Even though Adventure Boy didn’t bring home a duck, we had some very focused family time and he enjoyed an experience that ties directly back to the history of our state and our nation. Hopefully he gained memories he’ll keep for a lifetime.

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