Schell Memories

By Ted Bare | December 2, 2008
From Missouri Conservationist: Dec 2008

As I reached over to turn off the alarm, my hand felt the wet nose of Deke, my 33-year-old son’s big black Lab. The dog was sleeping between our beds at the motel in Eldorado Springs.

My son, David, and I were on a three-day waterfowl-hunting trip to Schell-Osage’s Conservation Area. This was our third and last day to hunt. We were hunting without a reservation, and that morning it was my turn to try my luck at drawing a lower number for a good blind choice.

After loading our gear and Deke into the pickup, we headed to an all-night convenience store to fill our coffee thermoses and stock up on munchies. We weren’t the only ones there that early. The store was busy with lots of crazy waterfowlers.

It took us about 20 minutes to reach Schell. Vehicles, boats and trailers packed the parking lot, and the crowded office reminded us how Saturday is usually a busy day at Schell.

“Well, Dad, I hope your luck is with you, or we may be headed home early,” David said.

“No problem,” I assured him. The first two days we were able to choose fairly good blinds—F-4 and C-6—because there were fewer parties than blinds, along with spots available in A-pool, which is a wade-and-shoot area. That Saturday, however, some parties would be going home without any blind or spot.

At 4:45 a.m. sharp, Ken Davis, the area manager, closed the party list and declared the drawing open for reservation holders. Those hunters crowded toward the two windows to draw a small cube with a position number on it from a covered wooden box. Reservation holders were guaranteed a low enough number to give them at least a blind choice. The rest of the parties, like us, had to rely on the luck of their one representative to draw a low enough number for a blind or spot choice.

I had signed the party list, filled out my daily bag limit blue card and was seated on one of the old split log benches brought up years ago from the original office. I watched, listened and enjoyed the old familiar sights and sounds.

Surveying the room, I recognized many faces from previous years. There were some father-son pairs and hunting partner groups that I’d seen year after year at Schell.

A father, son and grandfather were seated next to me. The 10-year-old boy was going to make the pick for the group, and he was nervously waiting his chance.

“Give me five—I’ll bring you luck!” I said. He whacked my hand, smiling. I smiled too as I remembered a special hunt 20 years ago when David, then 13, stepped to the window to choose for us.

Previously, Ken had announced that Number 41 would be the first cube that morning. After the reservation holders were finished, a representative from each party eased toward the windows hoping to draw a number close to 41. I followed the boy, and he drew 47, which was a good low pick.

I reached in the box and withdrew cube number 76. I did the math in my head. “It’ll be close,” I told Dave.

After the position drawing concluded, parties were called to the windows starting with number 41. As groups chose their blinds or A-pool positions, the room slowly cleared, except for those of us who were hoping for a chance at one of the remaining blinds or spots.

They called out number 76 and we stepped up. The guy at the window said, “Only B-2 is left and it could be a sleeper.”

We took it.

I think all of Schell’s blinds provide hunters a chance to work the ducks and geese in their area with no crowding. They can arrange decoy sets to make use of the wind and bring the ducks and geese to within good shotgun range.

Through the years I had experienced some good hunts in B-2, and the 20–30 miles per hour crosswind and cloudy sky that day pushed our expectations up.

I reminded David that it had been almost 20 years before—to the day—that he drew B-2 from the old-style squirrel cage that they used to hold the blind positions in.

“I remember, Dad,” he said. “I got my first goose and mallard drake that day.”

We left the office and headed for a small cafe near the area for a big breakfast and more waterfowl stories. B-2 was a disabled-accessible blind designed to accommodate wheelchairs. One could drive right up to the back ramp of the blind to unload gear, so there was no need to hurry. Our late arrival allowed us to get refills on ham, eggs, biscuits and gravy, and coffee, as well as memories.

As we changed into our waders in the warm office waiting room we received some tips for hunting from B-2 blind from Ken. We also showed him pictures of last year’s hunting trip, which featured 14 inches of snow and spring floods of 11 feet.

A short trip along a levee brought us to our blind, and we unloaded our gear and went to work. Our roles were reversed from 20 years ago. Now it was my job to arrange guns, lunches and gear bags in the blind and to grass everything over with our portable grass sections.

David put out our decoy set with pulsators, roto-wingers and wing-set landers. Deke took his position in the dog box at the end of the blind. After a final inspection we climbed in the blind, ready to hunt.

An overnight rain had stopped, but low clouds and 25-mph winds still persisted. Schell Lake was loaded with geese and ducks, both on the water and in the air above. In fact, they were trading back and forth over our heads as we were setting up in the semidarkness.

Shots from blind C-5 started the morning in grand style, and the excitement continued throughout the day. I had left my calls in the truck so calling was entirely David’s responsibility. I think he was glad not to have to contend with my loud hail calls and ill-timed feeding chuckles.

B-2 had not been hunted for two days, and the ducks were regularly visiting the area. They decoyed readily to Dave’s calling and reassurance chatter. By midmorning we had collected three plump mallard drakes. We couldn’t even finish our lunch and coffee until the action slowed.

One more mallard drake fell to our guns in the early afternoon when a group of six slid right into the decoys with wings bowed, heads down and feet lowered.

As the afternoon waned, snow geese became more active. Family groups traded back and forth from Schell Lake to the Osage River. One returning group of six got careless.

“They’re going to be in range, Dave,” I whispered. Safeties clicked as we both rose as one. Two shots rang out and the second goose in line folded and dropped out of the formation. Deke hit the water with a tremendous surge, galloping out in the shallows for the retrieve. He took a little longer to secure a good hold on the larger snow goose than he did on the mallards.

As sunset grew near, I began cleaning up the inside of the blind, carrying blind bags, the cooler and the food bags out the back ramp to the access road. David was still on the lookout for some last action.

Just as I reached the road he fired once, dropping another mallard drake. “He just popped over the levee and sailed right in,” he said. “What could I do?”

It was dark by the time we reached the office and turned in our daily blind cards. Bagging five mallards and one snow goose was not bad for a last-pick blind.

After goodbyes to the staff, we headed for the motel. During the drive, we reminisced about the many years we had hunted at Schell. My two sons grew up waterfowl hunting with me at Schell and, although they both now live in Indiana, one or both of them usually return each year for a three-day hunt.

I participate in the waterfowl blind reservation drawings each year, hoping for a reservation at Schell. Whether I get one or not, we know we will be back the following year. Schell is just too good a place to hunt waterfowl.

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