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FINDING DUCK HEAVEN IN A MOST UNEXPECTED PLACE

FLUSHING TEAL sound like low-flying jet planes, emitting a faint, whistling "whoosh" as they rise behind you.

Standing in a meadow on a farm near Springville, you would expect a grouse to flush that way, maybe. Not ducks.

Yet here the men were, a few days before the recently closed duck season, watching mallards, teal and wood-ducks swoop past like military fighters on a low-level strafing mission.

They never would have thought to look for ducks in farm meadows until the Senior Partner discovered them.

"You better come right down," the Senior Partner said, "there's hundreds of ducks in here."

The junior member of this hunting partnership has come to rely on his experienced mentor's judgment about bird-hunting of any sort. So he joined him at this certain place where, while scouting for deer, Senior had been thrilled at the tremendous flight of ducks that came streaming in during the last week of duck season.

They drove up a rutted track through the highlands above Springville, filled their pockets with shells and set off through a network of meadows and woodlots left to the mercies of resident beavers.

"There's a terrific swamp in here," the Senior Partner said. "Head up that way, toward the woods over there. I'll go this way and meet you -- and look out for ducks!"

When Senior Partner shot, a few minutes later, Junior saw a pair of mallards climb. And keep climbing.

That's all they saw as they reached the main pond of this beaver-created wetland. They sat under the trees. They watched the darkening horizon and hoped for an evening flight of ducks. It was cold, and damp and windy. Pretty soon it began to snow.

"There will be ducks," Senior said.

Well, there weren't. And it was getting colder and darker and the young Labrador accompanying them wanted only to sit in laps.

In boredom and frustration the Junior Partner blew on his duck call. That's a joke, right there, because he sounds like a very inexpert guy blowing on a call, not anything like a duck. But a duck answered from back in the watery meadows and the partners decided to head back.

A driving snow squall obscured them from each other's sight as they trudged along the wide-spread fingers of swamp that now delineate the grassy meadow boundaries.

They hadn't gone 30 paces before ducks flushed and guns barked. A mallard fell, and a teal and the pup handled both very well. In the midst of that, more ducks flew in.

They came in bunches six or a dozen strong, flying low and hard into the face of the driving snow, silhouetted against the evening sky. The hunters fired and dropped one here, another over there.

Nothing kept the incoming ducks from pouring magically out of the opaque sky into the silver of the marshy landscape.

Not the men nor the dog, stopped them. Not a waved arm. Not even shooting. The ducks continued to come in on rapidly beating wings, their bodies arched into the wind at a slight upward angle, carrying just enough speed to get them past the danger below to the safety of the swamp.

The partnership took a few: teal, mallards and two wood-duck drakes.

It was a fitting end to any duck season -- even if it did come in a meadow on a one-time dairy farm and not in a "traditional" setting of duck blind and waterfowl marsh.

As he penned these words in his diary, the Junior Partner's phone rang.

Senior, again.

"Say, you remember those beaver dams I showed you a few weeks ago?" he asked. "Well, the ponds are pretty deep so they don't freeze up real fast, and the farmers here have cut some corn and there's a world of Canada geese down here, now. Season on them lasts into January, right? Well, we could slip back there in a canoe . . ."

The Junior Partner didn't wait to hear the rest.

He was reaching for his goose loads.

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