Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson
For November 6th, 2009 Edition.
A light dusting of snow helped brighten the normally dark early morning landscape as Belle and I began our short walk to my canoe that awaited our arrival on the bank of a small creek. A few fluffy snowflakes tickled the exposed skin on my face as I pulled the bill of my wool Kromer a bit lower on my forehead. The low moaning of a northeast wind rippling through the crown of a majestic white birch overhead suggested the coming morning would be a perfect duck hunter's dream morning. Time would tell!
The date was October 22nd of this year. Having recently returned from my annual North Dakota waterfowl hunt, I hadn't indulged in the sport in my home state in over two weeks. I knew from past experience most or possibly all of our local duck population had probably already headed south, or were resting in local freezers. But what the heck, a morning in a duck blind with a good friend beats watching the morning news on the boob-tube, ducks or no ducks!
Our fifteen minute paddle downstream was aided by the brisk following wind. No muskrats or beavers crossed our path and not a single star twinkled above. The faint glow of the "cat-eyes" on the brim of my hat projected an eerie feeling of traveling through an endless time tunnel of darkness, a situation commonly experienced by dyed in the wool duck hunters!
After setting out seven mallard decoys I dragged the canoe ashore and tipped it over under cover of a thicket of speckled alders some ten yards from the bank of the creek. A short walk to the old family duck blind followed where I plopped my posterior on a wooden bench, poured myself my first cup of morning coffee, gave Belle a dog biscuit and noted legal shooting time was still nineteen minutes away.
One of my favored activities is being outside watching our world come to life during the short span of time between the blackness of night and the grayness of pre-dawn. Those poor souls who like to sleep in late don't know what a great show Ma Nature provides during the pre-dawn twilight! I find it to be the perfect time and place to relax, reminisce, and ponder ones future. It beats a visit to a shrink.
As expected, the gray-black cloud covered sky above contained no evidence of waterfowl or any other type of birds. Belle and I appeared to be the only living things on the planet. Cups number two and three of coffee plus a chewy health bar had disappeared by the time my watch indicated we'd been watching an empty sky for over an hour. I'd give the ducks another thirty minutes.
My mind began wondering what special, insane desire infects duck hunters, late fall musky anglers and early spring trout fishermen. Most folks think we're nuts. And maybe by most normal human standards - we are. However, if that be true, I'm happy to be nuts!
Wild, and sometimes dangerous weather often results in an outstanding day in the marsh. But occasionally good duck hunting weather can turn deadly!
While we sat and waited I recalled what is probably the most famous, or possibly I should say "infamous" day of duck hunting in North American history, "The Armistice Day storm of 1940!"
The brutal storm caught folks in the upper Midwest by surprise. The early November weather had been mild and on the morning of November 11th temperatures in the upper Mississippi River Valley were balmy readings in the 50s. But change came quickly, pushing the Indian Summer temperatures downward with alarming speed. The fast moving front dumped cold rain upon the landscape and soaked those who were out and about. The rain quickly changed to snow with wind gusts reaching 70 mph! By the morning of the 12th temperatures along the river valley had plunged to -24 degrees and the landscape was blanketed with snow!
Duck hunters all along the marshes of the mighty Mississippi were trapped by rising water and waves up to five feet high. Over 160 persons lost their lives in that storm, half of them being duck hunters. Numerous stories concerning the disaster have been written and published, which include tales of heroism by rescuers and stranded hunters who fought bravely to stay alive. Likewise, there are some horrible tales concerning how others died.
One body was recovered from a muskrat house where the victim had attempted to stay warm. Another was found standing in hip high water, his upper body frozen solid and his frozen hands still gripping a small sapling. Others who were stranded on low-lying islands busted up their wooden duck skiffs and attempted to burn them to stay warm.
Survivors tell of fantastic duck shooting during the mass migration that took place just ahead of the approaching storm, many which claimed it was a hunt of a lifetime!
I was but three at the time, but my memory still recalls a small tidbit concerning the aftermath of that terrible storm. My family was also caught off guard by the sudden cold snap. At the time we were still living in "the homestead", a small three-room log cabin without electricity, running water or phone. To enlarge our living space during the summer months, dad hauled our small cast iron wood burner out to the garage. Due to the warmer than normal fall in 1940 our wood burning kitchen range supplied enough heat to keep the cabin snug. That was up until the morning of November 12th! I still recall dad mumbling some unprintable expletives as he carried our heater into the cabin and hurried to hook the stovepipe to the stove to take the chill our of our home!
During my reminiscing session three high-flying mallards sailed over the blind, showing little interest in my decoys or my vain attempts to seduce them with my duck call. Bell whined and gave me that dog look, which plainly said, "Why didn't you shoot, stupid?" I told her the birds were well out of range but she didn't believe me.
Shortly after 8:30 I began stuffing gear into my "gear bucket" in preparation for departure. A whistle of wings brought my attention back to looking skyward. A lone mallard had buzzed our decoys at point blank range, which resulted in a frown from Belle. But a pleading call from my duck call caused the departing bird to reconsider its flight plan.
The bird banked and set its wings for a landing on the watery landing field before me. When the mallard was nicely in range I stood and calmly missed with the first barrel. The frightened bird headed for higher altitude but folded cleanly on the second shot.
Belle made short work of the final act and soon the plump migrant rested by my boots and we were back home a bit after nine, all smiles and ready for whatever the rest of the day presented.
Yep, it was just another highly successful duck hunt!
Mr. Leon "Buckshot" Anderson is one of the few old time hunting and fishing guides left in Northern Wisconsin. Buckshot is a personal friend of the family and has known and worked with my grandfather, Howard "Pop" Dean, both of whom are members of the fresh water fishing hall of fame, Legendary Guide. Buckshot has authored 7 books on the great outdoors. All of his books can be purchased directly from him, at a discount, by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to: 2220 Deadman's Gulch Road, St. Germain, WI 54558.
Books by Leon "Buckshot" Anderson Click Here
Yes; Deadman's Gulch is the correct name, I have been on that road many times. Sincerely David D. Cruger
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