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Ducky weather greets hunters on opening day

Dan Markham shots a ring neck duck shortly at sunrise Saturday morning. Markham and two hunting partners shot seven ducks on Nature's Lake opening morning. Steve Kuchera / Forum News Service1 / 6
Marty Espe picks up one of three blue wing teal he, Dan Markham (left) and a third hunter hit on single pass on Nature's Lake Saturday morning. Steve Kuchera / Forum News Service2 / 6
Harry, a black lab, retrieves a young drake mallard Saturday morning. Steve Kuchera / Forum News Service3 / 6
Marty Espe waits along the shoreline of an island on Nature's Lake during the opening morning of Minnesota's duck season. Steve Kuchera / Forum News Service4 / 6
Three duck decoys float on Nature's Lake at sunrise. Steve Kuchera / Forum News Service5 / 6
Three Canada geese fly over Nature's Lake at sunrise Saturday morning. Steve Kuchera / Forum News Service6 / 6

ON NATURE'S LAKE — For an early opening morning, just a day into fall, the start of Minnesota waterfowl season Saturday, Sept. 22, turned out to be pretty ducky.

A low deck of clouds hung overhead allowing an incredible orange and red pre-dawn glow for a few minutes before socking in to keep the sun out of our eyes.

A persistent southwest wind kept the decoys moving nicely and it was just cool enough so a jacket felt good. A few raindrops even fell as we paddled back to camp.

Best of all, for the crew at the Squaw Lake Bird Watchers Society, the ducks cooperated.

Teal, blue winged and greenwings, joined mallards, wood ducks, ring-necked ducks and geese to provide enough action that the dozen or more hunting groups spread across this shallow lake were blasting away much of the morning.

"There's a pretty good number of ducks around today. That's not always the case on the opener,'' said Marty Espe of Duluth, one of the club members.

Espe, Dan Markham and I paddled out through wild rice so thick it stopped the canoes at times. We set up on the outside of the rice where open water began. We tossed about three dozen diver decoys out, pulled the canoes up on a floating bog, and told stories for 45 minutes before shooting time arrived. Several other groups from camp were setting up within earshot.

Just past 6:30 a.m. a few shots echoed from a far shore and it wasn't long before we got our first chances.

Markham was first to connect with his leggy black lab, Harry, making a textbook retrieve on a ring-necked. Espe soon followed with a nice shot. There was some missing going on, and a gun jam, and some slow periods. But there were always ducks in the air worth watching, even if they seemed to not like our particular spot.

Finally a trio of bluewings came in low and slow. None flew away.

"It was nice to get that redemption opportunity," Markham said.

"Those are going to taste great. Nothing tastes better than a teal,'' Espe said as he admired one of the birds in his hand.

Pretty soon we had a nice little pile of ducks, seven in all, that made the paddle back into camp a little easier, even through the thick rice. We were back on shore by 10:30 a.m. even as some other members of the club continued to bang away.

It was time to have another cup of coffee, tell a few more stories and take the chill off in front of the fireplace. Plans were already being drawn up for the afternoon hunt. Over in the cook shack a late breakfast was being readied.

As we walked into the main lodge to shed waders and hunting coats, another volley of shots came from another of the camp groups still on the water. I looked up in time to see a dozen or so bluewings rocketing over a cattail island. Over a distant island a flock of geese were winging toward the far shore.

It was the perfect time to stop and watch for a minute.

Opening morning of Minnesota duck season was in the books. Mark it down as a good one.

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