Monthly Archives: October 2011

Duck hunting the Bear

This post is a guest submission from my friend Brett Prettyman. Some of you may know Brett from his outdoor writing with the Salt Lake Tribune. We recently had the good fortune to hunt together again.Thanks for the post Brett! 

Sunrise over the Bear River Bird Refuge

As we climbed into the canoe at 6 a.m., I mentioned the last time I had been in one was on the Boundary Waters in Pete’s home state of Minnesota. I didn’t say it, but I quietly reflected on that trip and wondered how such an experience in a canoe could ever be topped. Little did I know it would be equaled in the next hour.

Pete talked about a previous trip on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and how fun it was to listen to his young niece constantly make sure her father and uncle knew were they were going without any light a week earlier. I thought the same thing, but this was not my first trip with Pete. I had learned to trust his outdoor skills long ago. We met more than 20 years ago in a college class at the University of Utah. He spent the next two summers teaching me how to fly fish on the Green River where he guided anglers. In more recent years he has been teaching me the joys of the marsh.

We dipped the paddles in a waking-up-kind of rhythm for a few minutes and, after one false partial turn, pointed the canoe in a southerly direction and started searching for a good spot to set the decoys. I thought my coffee-depraved mind was playing tricks on me, but I had to ask. “I swear the moon is getting brighter,” I said, noticing the cool morning air was making my breath visible. Pete turned his head to the less-than-quarter moon and said it was because it was catching more of the sun as dawn approached.  It was good thing he was doing the steering because I couldn’t take my eyes off the glowing slice of moon in the eastern sky.

After scoping out a couple of potential spots we settled for the tallest island of cover and started setting the decoys. I had only really ever watched Pete do it on our other trips. This time he suggested where I should throw them and how many in each spot. I headed off to do as I was told, but took a minute to watch as he grabbed his bag of SoftShell Decoys and headed to another spot. Pete had been sharing his idea of the SoftShell Decoys with me for a couple of years. He even borrowed my camera at one point to try and get some good photos during the production phase. As he pulled the lightweight decoys out and started to push them into the marsh I realized I was watching a man who had completed a vision.

SoftShell mallards in the shallows.

It was a moment I’ll never forget.  A good lesson in the power of making a dream become a reality. We wedged the canoe into the phragmites, called Sugar into the craft and settled in just in time for those magic moments when night relinquishes its hold and day creeps onto the scene. It really was a surreal moment. I felt like I was looking at one of those photos from space with that eerie glow of the sun separated by a thin moving line preparing to extinguish the stars.

I snapped a photo and had just put the iPhone away when the ducks started to fly. My shoulder hurt after the third shot and I didn’t drop a bird until a dozen or so shells flew out of the shotgun. Pete reached his limit quickly even after giving most of the best shots to me. I lamented on my poor shooting, but he reminded me it had been a while since I’d pulled the trigger.

Sugar looks over Pete's shoulder, waiting for the next flight.

The morning heated up, but the birds kept coming until the mosquitoes started to buzz. It was time to head home. The scenery had been stupendous, the shooting subpar (at least on my behalf) and the company stellar.

The decision was made when a pair of floating decoys had built up enough weeds and caught enough current to start to float away. I chased them down while Pete fetched up his decoys. I wondered if he would have made me carry the backpack full of heavy decoys while he carried his bag of 50 SoftShell Decoys that weighed lass than a quarter of the bag I had collected. I figured he would have, but only one way.

New Federal Duck Stamp Contest Entries

The 2012/2013 federal duck stamp contest is set for this week, on October 28 & 29. You can view all of the entries here on the website. Any guesses as to which number will win? One of my favorites is below,I can’t recall a duck stamp that looked like this! I’d like to give credit to the artist, but they are all unknown at this point.

Federal duck stamp contender- artist unknown at this point.

Lucas & Sugar

Lucas just turned 14  while Sugar is 2 now. She’s the dog he’ll grow up hunting over. Here they are with a pintail on a recent duck hunt. Luke has the whistle around his neck, he’s learning to direct her during our hunts. She’s learning to pay attention and mark when Luke shoots!

duck hunter, yellow lab, pintail

Lucas and Sugar

Daddy Daughter Day- It’s all about the outfit!

Emma and Max watching the sun come up, laughing all morning long as the ducks pour through the decoys.

Great hunt, now how do I cook these ducks?

Cooking a duck isn’t easy, which is why we hear other hunters say these things:

“Do you eat the ducks you shoot?”

“Do you like duck?”

“We call them sky carp around here.”

“I quit hunting ducks because I couldn’t eat them.”

Or the joke we hear in Canadian bars every year- You know how you eat a duck? Put it on a board, roast it in the oven, take it out, throw the duck away and eat the board!

Whenever I hear comments like these it sounds more like a personal confession, something along the lines of “Help me, I don’t have any idea how to prepare a duck or goose.”

green winged teal

Tasty teal

The main reason ducks and geese are tricky to prepare because it is so easy to overcook them. Here are a few tips to make your results turn out better.

First, you need to start out with the right duck.  Both ducks and geese take on the flavor of the food they’ve been eating. As a rule, puddle ducks taste best. Mallards, teal, pintails, widgeon, wood ducks and so on generally taste better, or are more mild than other species. You can do yourself a favor by choosing which ducks to shoot while you are in the field. Here in Utah, I regularly pass on shooting gadwalls, shovelers, and all the diver duck species when I hunt because of their diet. I’ve eaten these birds in other states and they were fine, but I’m sure every state or region has its peculiarities.  My personal favorite is Alberta mallards that have been eating wheat, peas, and corn for a couple of months! I haven’t prepared any sea ducks yet, but I’m sure the guys who hunt them can tell you which are the best.

Second, I like to make sure I clean my birds quickly. I know some people like to hang their birds so they can age, but I like to take care of mine as soon as I’m home- I think they taste better this way. I can age them in the refrigerator if I need to.  Also, take the time to clean out the wounds, looking for shot, bone fragments, and feathers.

Third, when I cook a duck or goose I want to make sure I never overcook it!  There is a fine line between a perfect piece of meat and one that is overcooked and ruined. I want my duck meat cooked medium rare, no more. This is a good rule for any duck roasted, grilled, or pan seared. Once it passes over to medium it loses a ton of flavor, becomes tougher, and starts to take on a liver taste.  I like to sear most of my breasts in a hot pan and finish roasting them in the oven. This link is a great description on the simple technique of  searing a duck breast, plus there are tons of other great recipes on this site, Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook.

I like to compare the taste of game to store bought meat the same way I compare home-grown tomatoes to store bought. The flavor of game is intense and rich, and very much worth the effort  The feast is as important as the hunt, after all it is the reason for the hunt!

Little rockets, or Green-winged Teal if you prefer

Lucas on a teal hunt

Lucas waits for the next flock of teal to come

I love early season teal shoots, especially when you can take a new hunter along. Lucas and I decided to go to one of my favorite spots this weekend to take advantage of the great numbers of teal that are around right now. He’s shot teal before, but he’s never hunted for them when there are this many around. We saw both cinnamon and green-wings, although we only connected on the GWT’s. Flocks of 2-50 were coming into the decoys regularly, offering shots that were a little too close and tight for Luke at first. He began to connect once he started to take the ducks a little farther out, around 25-35 yards.

Lucas with a green-winged teal

Lucas with a green-winged teal.

I know teal are supposed to fly at the same speed as most ducks, and that might be true if they’re at altitude just cruising along. But when they decide to come into the decoys and do their thing, there is just no way they’re flying the same speed as a mallard or gadwall. Truly like shooting at little rockets! We laughed and reloaded all morning long.

After a little while, Lucas was able to take his first limit of 7 teal. Our yellow lab Sugar was pleased with the results.

Sugar on duck hunt


Softshell duck decoys

SoftShell's in the shallows

Lucas sleeping in the car

Luke takes the easy way home

I really hope they stick around for next weekend so we can do it all over again. We have another new hunter to take with next week, I hope she’s game for getting up at 4:30!

SoftShell duck decoys are quick and easy to put out

How long does it normally take you to put out your decoys when you hunt? I know what it’s like to unload a trailer load of full body waterfowl decoys, it’s a pain in the butt! This past weekend, I thought about how great it was to put out my SoftShell Decoys because it was so quick. It took me just as long to put out 15 floaters next to my 4 dozen SoftShells

You can quickly put out 4 dozen mallards in about 5 minutes, or about the same time it takes for your partner to put the Mojo together. All you need to do is grab 10-20 decoys at a time from your SoftShell Decoy carrier and hold them by the stakes. Doing it this way is a real time saver because you don’t need to walk back to the trailer/truck/4-wheeler to keep grabbing a couple of decoys.

Grab 10-20 decoys at a time

To hunt with SoftShell Decoys you pull the decoy cover over the top of the support rib (backbone) to give the decoy its unique shape.  Pull a decoy out of your bundle and grab the middle of the support rib, like in the picture below.Pull the cover over the decoy. It should easily slide over, not too tight.

Hold the decoy by the backbone and grab the cover.

Pull the cover over the decoy, now it's ready to put into the ground

Adjust the head how you would like (preener, looking left or right, or forward), grab the stake and shove them into the ground. Done, time to hunt.

Do the reverse when you’re done hunting, pull the decoys out of the ground by grabbing the middle of the body (not the head) and fold them flat by pulling the cover back over as you go along. You can easily pick up a couple dozen at a time. That’s it, pick up is as quick as putting them out. And, the decoys are ready for storage because you’ve been smart enough to pull the cover back over as you picked them up!

Both putting out and picking up a spread of SoftShell Decoys is very quick and easy. The more you do it, the quicker it will go. I like to put my decoys into their carriers in offsetting bundles of 10, which helps me in both deployment and storage. Good luck and good hunting!


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