"CLOSING DAY" Luke Clayton I wonder why those in the outdoor press mention opening day so frequently. Granted, the beginning of anything, especially deer or duck or quail season is an exciting time but what about the closing or end of the season? For the past several years, I have opened AND closed duck season on a backwater marsh not far from my home. This is one of those places where you have to really want to get back to. You wont see this little duck magnet on any road maps, satellite imagery yes, but even when looking at pictures taken from space, its impossible to see the little subtleties that make this spot so good for ducks. Its remote; I have to paddle my lightweight Poke Boat a good half-mile and much of the trip is through patches of Coontail moss that grows almost to the waters surface. Forget about walking in, the brush is so dense that wild hogs steer clear of the area. Its not easy getting there but getting there is half the allure for me. In the predawn darkness, when theres even a hint of a moon, I have learned each and every turn that eventually takes me back to the spot where I keep my decoy spread bobbing and weaving on the waters surface. I paddle the serpentine route very often without the aid of a flashlight. Every beaver slide, overhanging willow limb and patch of cattails has become as familiar to me as my own backward. This year, I set the dekes out back in October and just pulled them out this morning. All these weeks, they have remained in place, doing their job of attracting ducks, even during the periods when I was not there in my makeshift blind calling passing flocks of gadwall, widgeon and mallards. I use a motorized spinning wing decoy to complement the spread and the added movement, especially on calm days, adds realism to the set up that flights of passing ducks can seldom pass up. I paddled back to my awaiting spread early this morning, the last day of duck season, with mixed emotions. I was excited about the prospect for another great hunt but I knew when this outing was finished, it would be eight months until I would be able to again thrill to the sound of whistling wings overhead. In a few weeks, the ducks that I so love to hunt will be heading back to their northern nesting grounds and my thoughts will turn to catching spawning crappie or catfish, or calling in a big turkey gobbler. Soon I was snuggled down in my little blind, poking 12 gauge #4 steel shot into my Viper shotgun, the benchmark autoloader of Tri Star Sporting Arms. My shotgun earned the privilege of being Ducks Unlimited shotgun of the year and its served me well on many hunts. Its a bit worn from a season of begin tossed around in a duck boat and blind. Shotguns used for hunting waterfowl are notorious for getting more than their share of rough treatment, but my Viper continues to function perfectly, which is saying something for any auto-loading shotgun used for hunting ducks. Theres something very special about the time in a duck blind before sunup, as the seconds click away leading to legal shooting time. This morning, I found myself thinking about opening day of this season. Did I shoot three gadwall drakes and 2 teal or was it the other way around? Just how many ducks have I harvested this season? The only surefire way of keeping track is counting the number of duck breasts, wrapped with bacon, that I have smoked this season. Forty five is a pretty good estimate, not bad for the season, and were those smoked duck breasts ever tasty! SHOOOOOOSH! Overhead, I heard the first flock of the morning making their inspection flight over the decoys. It was shooting time and I watched a mixed flock of widgeon and teal bank into the wind and make a big circle. I gave them several greeting notes on my widgeon whistle, clicked the Viper off safe and made ready for some in your face duck shooting. The flock came in high, then cupped their wings and dropped, almost vertically into the spread. I shot the last bird that was about to land then, managed to drop two more as the flock took to the air. Pretty good shooting for me, I usually miss as many as I harvest! Photo by Luke Clayton As I waited for the next wave of action, I laid my shotgun down and picked up my Nikon camera. With plenty of ducks in the freezer and six more breast halves in the bag this morning, I decided to attempt to capture my closing day adventure on film, so that I could look at the images during the dog days of summer and count the days until the next opener of duck season, many months away. There are easier endeavors than focusing a camera on fast flying ducks working a decoy spread. Instead of calling, which often closes the deal with passing ducks, getting them in really close, I was attempting to capture the birds on film. A couple more small flights came in really close, then a pair of wood ducks came swimming into the decoys, as they often do. The morning resulted in a few more good eating duck breasts and some great images that I can enjoy looking at for a long time. Yes, duck season is officially closed now, but theres always next year. As I paddled my little boat out of the backwaters, fully loaded with a couple dozen decoys, I looked back at the blind that Ive enjoyed many hunts in this fall and winter. Will I have to build a new one for next season because of falling or rising water levels? Will the decoy weights still be there, tied to the lower limbs of a big willow, when I return next October to again set out my decoy spread? Or, will the ducks decide they like another part of the marsh better next year? Only time will answer these questions but one thing I know for sure, I have spent some very special times in my little bit of duck heaven. I stopped to give a word of thanks for having the opportunity of just being there another year, then I spooked a flock of mallards on my way out, I watched them disappear on the northern horizon. I bid them farewell, wished them a successful year nesting up in the potholes of North Dakota, and hoped for their return next duck season. Be sure to catch Luke's weekly radio show at www.catfishradio.com. And check out the new Radio Station feature at www.catfish1.com: http://www.catfish1.com/forums/radiostations.php.