End of Waterfowl Season

Kiri retrieving a mallard on a previous outing.

Kiri retrieving a mallard on a previous outing.

Today marks the end of Montana’s waterfowl season, the last of the general hunting seasons for the 2016 license year.

My last waterfowl outing, and I’ll point out that in this case “last” means most recent, was typical for the tail end of the hunting seasons.

Kiri, our black Labrador retriever, and I made a long trudge across a snowy field. We were heading for the upper end of a warm water spring creek. It’s a magnet for mallard ducks during cold weather. It’s partly the warm water, and partly the willows at this end of the field that provide a windbreak from the prevailing west winds.

This unassuming little creek has been a reliably good spot for ducks for many years, so it’s worth the long walk to get to this corner of the field. Occasionally we’ve even put up a pheasant or two from the brush, so there’s the possibility of more than mallard ducks.

On this walk Kiri and I have company. There are half a dozen black Angus bulls hanging out near the creek. They’re pretty calm, but as they moved aside so we can get by them they created a little buzz of activity.

That little buzz put the ducks on high alert and as we got a few steps closer to the creek four mallards flushed, out of range, and flew off for safety. Seconds later another little bunch of mallards also took off, and the creek was empty.

We took a long walk across a frozen field without the reward of getting shots at ducks, not to mention the makings of a roast duck dinner.

The makings of a roast duck dinner.

The makings of a roast duck dinner.

I won’t complain. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve made that walk and come up empty. We saw ducks and they outsmarted us. For a bonus we also saw a couple pheasants, though their season was closed. On our drive to the ranch we saw a big flight of Canada geese flying out to feeding grounds.

Presumably, by the time you read this Kiri and I will have made one more waterfowl outing and, optimistically, we’ll bring home another duck or two to end the hunting season on a positive note.

There’s also a good chance that the final outing won’t be any more successful than this one, and if that’s how it goes I’ll still be grateful for yet another hunting season.

Kiri and I have had a lot of outings since the grouse season opened on September 1. We’ve looked for blue grouse, ruffed grouse, pheasants, deer, and waterfowl and we’ve had some success in the majority of outings. We’ve been out in warm, late summer weather, cool, crisp sunny autumn days, rain and fog, and subzero winter days.

We have birds and venison in the freezer and a journal filled with another season’s worth of hunting memories. I’m grateful and content.

As a footnote, Kiri and I made one more hunt, an outing in -8º temps, with sparkling frost along the spring creek. In spite of the cold we saw waterfowl, putting up a dozen mallards just out of range, and a little later about 3 dozen mallards and a 100 Canada geese – also out of range. This was kind of a typical end to my hunting seasons.

Kiri enjoying the search for ducks in subzero weather. "Cold? I didn't notice."

Kiri enjoying the search for ducks in subzero weather. “Cold? I didn’t notice.”

We note the death at age 91, two weeks ago, of a Montana fishing legend and a hero of that Greatest Generation, Bud Lilly, “A Trout’s Best Friend,” the title of his autobiography, co-written with Paul Schullery.

Bud Lilly grew up earning a reputation as a fisherman and a baseball player. Both fishing and baseball took a back seat to serving in the Navy during World War II. Like others, he returned home to win the peace, earning a college degree, starting a career as a high school teacher, and then left teaching for the somewhat risky opportunity to buy a fly shop in West Yellowstone.

As the saying goes, the rest is history. Bud became famous both as a fishing guide and as a merchant, and as he developed a reputation as one of Montana’s top experts in the ways of trout, he also developed a deep sense of conservation and an appreciation of wild trout.

I regret that I never got to meet Bud Lilly, much less fish with him. Still, anybody who has fly-fished a Montana trout stream and caught a wild trout shares a part of Bud Lilly’s legacy.

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