Finding the peace in all the racket
Published 3:18 pm Friday, December 9, 2022
Lines of trucks, side-by-sides and hunters lined the road side at Mahannah Wildlife Management Area near Vicksburg. I knew at that point I was not the only person crazy enough to wake up at 2:30 a.m. to go hunt ducks.
There were at least two hours until first daylight but Mahannah Wildlife Management Area near Vicksburg was teeming with activity. Roars of four-wheeler engines sped off into the darkness, geese honked in the skies and ducks quacked from their roosts.
Splash, splash, splash. The boys in waders labored pulling a sled of gear and decoys. They trudged through a muddy pond bed as they worked their way to an island with cuckleburs as cover. Boom, boom, boom rang out from a duck hole somewhere in the WMA. It was just barely legal shooting light as a group decided to start blasting away with shotguns at an unfortunate prey.
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Scrambling, the boys threw out the decoys and made their way back to the island and took a seat on stools.
“Bird coming in on your right,” one said.
A teal splashed into the spread just beyond some decoys. Bang, a shotgun rang as the bird slumped in the water. A silver lab named Bailey dashed out into the water to retrieve the bird but she was called back as more teal appeared.
“You got a group coming in over our heads,” one of the hunters said.
Four shotguns rained down a hailstorm of lead but somehow the birds managed to get away. The next hour of hunting passed by with blitzing speed. Teal rocketed across the spread as shooters pulled the trigger but were unable to hit their target. Somehow, a hunter in the group hit about three birds, but it wasn’t easy.
“We got a bird coming in our nine,” a hunter said.
Just seconds later, a gadwall shot across the front of the group with rapid incoming fire. It took four hunters to get it to drop to the water and it still put up a fight when Bailey went to retrieve it. A group of teal roared overhead but flared away alerted by something. They sounded like fighter jets.
“Do you think we should shift our seats?” one hunter asked. Everyone agreed to back up a little more into cover for better concealment.
Another two went out to reset the decoys as they figured maybe the spread pushed ducks into the open water out of range. About another hour passed with the occasional teal flying by.
The quacking of ducks grew closer as the big birds started moving. They grew louder and louder as they approached from behind before shooting overhead. It was a group of pintails, somehow in the frenzied shooting not a feather was harmed as the group flew away.
Action began to slow down as the hunting pressure kept birds weary of getting in shotgun range. A group of coots swam from the left and out into a shallow marsh, they seemed relatively unbothered by the bursts of gunfire.
Every once in a while a group of birds would consider landing in the spread but chose to take their luck elsewhere and about 30 seconds later shotguns volleyed in the distance.
“They had better luck over here. We can’t hit a thing,” one said.
A teal finally decided to land in the spread late in the morning but chose to stick to the back where he was safe. Watching, the hunters waited for him to move closer and closer but he never did.
“I think I’m ready to call it a day,” one said as the clock got closer to the 12 p.m. hunting cutoff.
A group of coots stopped mocking us from about 50 yards away.
“Can I shoot ‘em,” I asked.
Four shots later, most of the coots had left with one hiding in a marsh. He was stopped in the shallow water frozen like a decoy. I contemplated shooting it for good measure but decided against it. Slowly walking to it, I bent down and grabbed the coot by the scruff of the neck. Much to my surprise, he was not dead, only playing dead as he tried to claw my arm off with his feet. I’ll spare you the details of how I got him to stop clawing at me.
Walking back to the island I smiled with satisfaction. It was my first waterfowl harvest and perhaps the most memorable hunting experience I have had.
Waiting on the bank of the duck hole, I watched as birds started to fly back in with the absence of hunters and all our racket.
It was a sunny day with blue skies and I took a moment to thank God for the incredible hunt and blessing our group with a harvest. Those quiet minutes as I waited for my cousin to pick me and the birds up were probably the best moments of the day.
Hunter Cloud is a reporter The Daily Leader and The Natchez Democrat. Contact him at email@example.com.