Call it the luck of the draw, ideally fowl waterfowl weather, great migration cycles this past week, or an admixture of all of the above.
Longtime duck and goose hunting partner Bob Hauser and I got out on an Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge waterfowl drawing hunt Thursday morning the third day of hunts at the refuge -- and made out well with mallards.
The season opened Saturday and INWR blind-draw hunts go Tuesdays and Thursdays during the week. Neither Hauser nor I could get to the 5 a.m. drawing process Tuesday, so we keyed on a Thursday run.
Usually, our numbers come up later in the draw and, normally, the later in the week the lesser chance for a limit or near-limit bag of ducks and/or geese.
Thursday was different. Guys that hunted the Tuesday draw said they saw all kinds of birds and had fairly nice kills. Some counted 200-plus ducks moving within shooting range in the Mohawk and Oneida Pools.
With just one slot left on the Oneida Pool, we drew a number and took a center stand, described as tangled. It was. But the tangles were mainly shoreline trees and the decoy set-up was ideal for a light northeast wind puffing through just before sunrise.
Legal shooting started at 7:13 a.m. It did, everywhere. Shots, and birds, were coming from every direction in this and adjacent pools. In the first half hour we had to watch incoming birds; by then, we already had three mallard hens and could only take another one of that species and gender.
In full, overcast light, shooting conditions were ideal and mallards were flying everywhere. Occasionally, a melange of blue-winged teal and wood ducks would send out a peep and flit by, but this day was a mainstay for mallards.
Too often, birds would fly in from behind, offering no chance for a clean kill shot. Other times, we just plain missed. But when it got close to the noon quitting time, we bagged five drakes (males) and never got that fourth hen mallard.
In all the years of small-game and bird hunting, I had never considered having a waterfowl bird mounted. But while retrieving a double of drakes, both of those birds -- the size of domestic rather than wild mallards -- seemed worthy of mounting.
As I got back to our shooting station, the first thing Hauser said was, "You should have that one mounted." I will. As a memory of this ideal day in "the swamps" this drake will become a free-standing addition to all those heads sticking out of the wall.
Sticking out most prominently as the source of our successes this day was a "robo-duck," a mechanical duck with flapping wings, that drew in that steady stream of monster mallards.
The Iroquois Refuge has in place some major improvements since last year's duck and goose hunts. The main road to both back pools is now fully stoned, walkways have been trimmed of brush even in the "tangled" areas, and two newly improved blind sites on Cayuga Pool (Nos. 5 and 16) are a great upgrade for impaired persons, photographers, and hunters during waterfowl season.
Check out these sites the next time you visit the refuge.