By the middle of October, those of us who have been bitten by the duck-hunting bug have difficulty concentrating on work, or what our spouses might be saying to us at any given moment. Other motorists are in peril as we scan the skies for high-flying flocks or early signs of an arctic cold front.
It only gets worse after the season opens, as it will in the North Zone on Saturday. Opening day hardly ever finds large numbers of ducks in Missouri. Most years, the weather Saskatchewan and the Dakotas hasn’t gotten cold enough to push many birds south. But its’ a rare hunter who can resist hitting the marsh at the first opportunity, even if that means swatting mosquitoes and staring up into blue, empty skies.
It would be worse this year. The forecast for central Missouri calls for a hard freeze on Thursday night and partly cloudy skies for the opener on Saturday. The weather up north is less encouraging. Nighttime lows in Fargo, N.D., aren’t supposed to dip much below freezing for the next week, and with no snow predicted up there, not many ducks are going to feel the need to fly south any time soon.
I’m willing to go as far north as necessary in search of more encouraging news. Regina, Saskatchewan, is expecting a high temperature of 37 degrees and a wintry mix of rain and snow today. If that convinces a few green-wing teal, shovelers, gadwalls and pintails to vacate the northern prairies, there’s only about 1,250 miles between them and me.
Okay, that’s not that great. But by a week from today, Regina is expecting lows in the low 20s and high teens and west-northwest to north-northwest winds of 13 to 20 mph. I was pretty happy about this until a killjoy hunting partner said Missouri’s long-range forecast shows 50-degree temps hanging on into December. Thanks, John. Is there anything you’d like to tell me about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny?
I’m afraid hunter reports from Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and the Dakotas – where the season is already underway – aren’t much more encouraging. The swarms of blue-winged teal reported earlier seem to be evaporating like morning mist. “Nothing much going on here,” is the prevailing sentiment now.
The truth is, I don’t care if flocks of birds blot out the sun on opening day (though that would be nice!). I’ll be in the blind with my golden retriever Willa regardless, if for no other reason than to watch the sun come up over the marsh. If a few wood ducks or shovelers buzz us, that’ll be icing on the cake. And there’s the comforting knowledge that this year’s estimated mid-continent fall flight of 13 million mallards will get here eventually. When it does, Willa and I will be waiting for them, and the shivers we feel won’t be entirely on account of the cold.