It is beginning to feel a bit like the Bill Murray flick,"Groundhog Day!" We have been stuck in this warm weather pattern for what seems like most of the season. The birds in large part are completely neglecting a morning feed. They opt instead to feed in the closing minutes of what is left of legal light, more often than not flying just after time runs out. So with that in mind we did what we always do. We hit a loaf pond, with ideas on setting an ambush to catch them by surprise.
The gray morning minutes were filled with anticipation. This group of guys was heavy with excitement and light on experience. So when the first sound of wings overhead broke the silence, things got tense. The tension was near immediately assuaged by graceful fly-by of a pair. They eased their way down into the landing zone and were met by a wave of shots. This pair obviously had trained in dog fighting tactics, because they managed to make our hunters look foolish. A few dumbfounded looks were traded in the blind and then it was back to business.
As the early gray faded and gave way to a bright morning, the skies went quiet and the wind went still. Dustin did his best MacGyver impression and fashioned a makeshift jerk string from a few decoy ring bases and a bungee cord that held our blind grass in bundles. Once that was completed we were ready for the big finish that was about to come.
Around 9:30 we started to see new life in the air. As each flock made their fly-over we steadily picked away at the groups who couldn't resist the sultry sweet talk of Dustin and I on the calls. Of the several flocks that were coaxed into range, there are two moments that stand out above the fray.
First: A lone bird was heard honking in the distance off to the west. Dustin was the first to pick it out as it made its way toward us. Those two made quite a duet as they played the classic game of You Honk, I Honk. As this giant canada grew closer, Dustin could be heard telling the guys to get ready. Then the sound of safeties could be heard as they switched to fire. Just a few more wing beats and Dustin yelled take'em. From out of nowhere, Coach (aka: Ben's Dad) rose up and cracked off that first shot before the rest of the guys could even react. That goose folded up so violently that it caught the rest of us off guard. Mostly because Coach could most often be heard fast asleep in his comfy Zero Gravity layout blind. He showed us just how quick a motivated old fart can move when he is determined. (LOL I bet he will will get a kick that I call him an old fart.)
Second: Last week we had some brand new first time waterfowl hunters in the blind. We had a solid flock of around 25 read the script, line it up and then back flap their way into floating amongst the decoys. If you read the previous journal entry you know how that flock played out. This week we had an eerily similar flock find its way into our decoys. They broke off of a larger flock from the south east. They wasted no time on their descent. One solid swing to get set up for landing and then they glided in for a watery touchdown floating amongst the fakes. Dustin and I were there having flashbacks to last weekend with our fingers crossed. We hollered shoot them and it was a beautiful display of shooting. The guys all shot pump actions and with each round of shots you could see the geese drop away from the flock. When the guns were empty and the feathers had settled, they had managed to drop 12 birds from that flock.
If you would like to listen to a post hunt recap of this hunt, Ben recorded an episode of The Fowl Front Watefowl Podcast from the comforts of our cabin. Hope you enjoy the conversation. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/big-honkers-in-the-flint-hills-sky-panda-hunt-review/id1358111889?i=1000459735438
This week saw volatile weather in the forecast. We had a three day pattern that saw cold damp conditions followed by a weekend filled with crazy wind and warmth. Our clients were fairly local to us so we made the call to ask if there was any chance they could come a day early as the weather was supposed to remain the same as opposed to the massive swing back to the warmer side of things on their originally scheduled hunt. After a short back and forth, things were set in motion to have a Friday morning hunt.
We were slated to have dense fog throughout the morning that would later become light drizzle. (picture perfect waterfowl weather) Our plan was fairly simple, the scout showed that the birds were feeding heavily in two adjacent fields that were maybe a mile apart. Smack dab between them was a cattle pond. Birds were bouncing between feeds fairly regularly each day. Friday came and we opted for a water set. Planning to ambush birds as they traded between feed fields. (this would turn out to be the right call)
The early morning started out promising, with a pair of mallards giving it up right after first light. Then another single dropped in like a ninja in the shadows. All three met the business end of our group firing line. Ten minutes in and we had three mallards on the straps. Then things went pretty quiet until around 8:30. I could see the clients were starting to lose confidence. We assured them this was pretty well in line with what the scout said would happen. They were first time waterfowl hunters so they were not all that convinced.
Then the all to familiar sound of a distant honk broke through the fog. Their faces lit up and you could feel the excitement fill the blind. The distant honks drew closer, approaching from the East. The fog concealed their exact location, but we knew they were coming. The birds caught the south east wind and slid to the north setting themselves up for a graceful touch down in our decoy runway. Then like a magic trick they emerged from the fog. Their wings were cupped and they were about to meet their end. Just when they got into range we hollered Take'em. The guys jumped up and unleashed a fury of steel. not a single gun was left standing with a shell in the tube. Their faces were beaming and all their doubt had washed away.
They next 45 minutes would keep their barrels warm and their adrenaline pumping. when it was all said and done we were sitting at 17 birds for the morning. Dustin and I were happy with the hunt thus far but knew there would be a few more chances. We patiently waited for the next opportunity. Just as doubt began to creep back into our clients, we had an epic flock grace our spread.
25 of the largest honkers you ever saw crested the horizon and made their approach. They approached from the north, on a perfect line for us. This was the exclamation point flock that we were hoping for. A few honks from Dustin and I and they were lined up and fully committed to land. You could practically hear our clients confidence build. They were silently counting up the birds that were sure to rain out of this approaching flock. The geese gave it up... no hesitation, straight to landing gear down and back flapping over the water. Of the 25 that came in, all but three landed before we yelled, "Cut'em." the guys burned their barrels down on this group. When the dust settled, only two birds were left floating on the water to be added to the already heavy straps. After incessant ribbing, a healthy dose of shit talk, and an abundance of laughs it was clear this would be a flock that would live on in our conversations for the foreseeable future.
We had a very solid opening albeit bumpy. We were slated to have four guests for our first weekend, but after life happened and a couple cancellations we had two hunters for a Friday hunt. Friday morning came and with it some pretty stiff north winds and a mix of rain and sleet. Scouting the days leading up to the hunt the bird pattern was changing daily. We had birds all throughout our area, but they were not as consistent as we would hope with clients arriving ready to hunt Friday morning. We had geese hitting cornfields, but bouncing from one field to the next never hitting the same field twice in a row. We also had several nice pockets of mallards utilizing a couple different cattle ponds and coming to feed in corn at last light. It was a bit of a corn flip, so we left that decision to our clients. They opted to chase ducks for their morning hunt. It was our job to put them on em'.
Friday arrived, and it found us setting up the A-Frames on the bank of a 2 acre pond the birds had been using as loaf off and on for the past few days. It sat adjacent to a corn field they had also been using. After getting all the decoys out, it didn't take long for the birds to start trickling in. Our guests were first time waterfowlers, but well practiced shooters on the clay range. We figured the transition from clays to birds would be seamless, but sometimes the learning curve is a little steeper than expected. This father-son team had birds taking the elevator trip down from the heavens to get into the decoys. The excitement of watching fat northern greenheads work in proved to be too much. They ran their barrels hot with each new flock. It was to the point that, if opportunities at birds equated to birds on the straps, these guys would have been market hunters. We had a lot of fun ribbing them over each miss, but secretly we were loving it. It was one of those special days where everything works just as it should and with each miss we got to bask in it for a little longer. The guys finished just shy of their mallard limit, with a bonus goose and a his/her pair of Hoodies.
It was an absolute privilege to spend the morning in the blind swapping stories, laughing about the birds that got away, mutually suffering through the windy 23 degree morning, and loving every minute of the hunt. It was one of those mornings that reaffirms the reason why we guide. It was the perfect "warm" up to was is shaping up to be another great season.
- Chad Dawson
Veteran's Weekend usually marks the start of our waterfowl season. This year was a tale of two stories. For many years, Veteran's Weekend has been a weekend spent in the deer woods with my father, this year was no different. We arrived on Friday night with just a half hour of daylight remaining. We opted to check our stands to make sure they were safe, before hitting the hotel room for a good night of sleep. After about 15 hours in the stand and an excruciating miss on a truly huge buck, I had to opportunity to shoot a small 6 point. I was thrilled, he will make some awesome jerky, steaks, and burger. With my 2019 archery tag filled, I had full opportunity to devote to my passion for waterfowl.
Dustin and his wife were fortunate to harvest a doe and mature buck in early October, so they have been on the hunt for waterfowl ever since. Opening weekend they spent hunting a couple small Canada goose feed fields, and a small wooded water set. The migration hadn't really hit quite yet but they were able to put together a couple solid hunts. Even managed to get his first Canvasback. Still, a feat that I have yet to match...though I feel like this is my year!
We have our first group of clients arriving later this week and things are looking pretty ripe. Birds finally started to arrive this past Saturday. They have been slow to get out and feed in the mornings, preferring to hang about their loafing areas and casually snacking on the available forage for the remainder of the day. We are set to get a cool front mid week featuring a 20 degree swing from the previous day. We are expecting this to get the birds up and feeding more aggressively. Time will tell, but we know where they are loafing so we are ready for whatever they throw our way.
I will update the journal after our guests pack up and head back home. Until then, be safe, shoot straight, and take a newbie hunting.
- Chad Dawson
cold front early in the week saw temps in the 30's with a stiff north wind. this is a sure sign birds are on the move and the front did not disappoint. nearly all the ponds and watersheds have fresh birds, mainly gadwall, jacks, and a healthy dose of greenheads. as long as they hang around opener looks promising.
Exciting things have been going on this off season. Between family additions and the curves life tends to throw, we have been busy to say the least. This year we have made a push to optimize our outfit. This means we have new layout blinds that excel in comfort and concealment. New silhouette decoys that will allow us to be more adaptable to the ever changing conditions we face. New goose floaters to replace the ones that were K.I.A. New a-frames that will allow for better shooting position and more opportunity. And finally a new to us 4-wheeler to help make those wet fields easier to navigate. We are anticipating a stellar season and look forward to sharing the blind with our friends and our guests.