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Sandbar Ducks on the Big Muddy

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

It's two minutes 'til dawn.The temperature is a little over 40 degrees, and an impatient north wind is kicking sand into the shallow pit where I huddle with Guiness,my golden retriever.The pleasantly musty smell of her damp fur stirs memories of other hunts.

A few feet to my right, soft snores indicate that my hunting partner, John, who has no dog to keep him warm, has escaped the cold in the folds of Morpheus' cloak.

My gaze drifts left, where a slight rosy glow promises sun and warmth. I am lost in memories of other mornings when squadrons of low-flying ducks suddenly swoop low over the decoys, their wings rending the silence with an airy roar. I catch the barest glimpse of handsome black and white markings before they are gone behind me.

"Ringnecks," John observes, instantly awake. Guiness' swiveling head tells me the birds are circling out across the Missouri River's main channel, preparing for another pass.

John blows encouraging quacks on his call as four small, speedy ducks come back into view. I contribute contented feeding chuckles.

Skimming low over the roiling water, the quartet of divers seems determined to light. When they reverse their wing beats and throw out their feet, we throw back our tarps. Two shots dump two drakes. The remaining birds flair wildly and are out of range almost before their mates hit the water. Guiness is in retriever heaven, splashing madly toward the the ducks as they drift slowly down the river slough.

Duck hunting on the Missouri River is unpredictable. It shifts with the river's moods, sometimes fast and challenging, other times slow and contemplative. But it's never dull.

River duck hunting is more work than dabbling in flooded cornfields, but the rewards are worth the trouble. For one thing, you need no reservations. Instead of standing in cramped rooms with other hunters to draw lots for hunting spots, you can survey your decoy spread without another hunting party in sight or hearing.

River hunting really comes into its own when ice locks up shallow wetlands. Then, ducks seek open water in river sloughs and side channels. I have seen river backwaters teeming with late-migrating mallards weeks after waterfowl refuges stood empty and silent. I'll never forget the haunting calls of a thousand snow geese descending through moonlit fog to land around me on a mile-long sand island.

River duck hunting, more than

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