Epic duck hunts are few and far between. I just lucked into one at Grand Pass Conservation Area just north of Marshall. The cold front that moved through last week pushed a massive amount of ducks into Missouri and Grand Pass is still holding a bunch of them.
The luck started with my friend Brad Kircher drawing the No. 1 spot in the Quick Draw Lottery. Grand Pass is one of the conservation areas operating under the Missouri Department of Conservation's (MDC) Quick Draw. The quick draw assigns 80 percent of the total spots to those lucky enough to be drawn in the computerized lottery. Spots are assigned in numerical order, so the first pill gives you first pick and so on. Those in the poor-line are drawing for 20 percent of the spots and any vacated by quick draw no-shows.
In four years of trying I've yet to receive a coveted quick draw. Thankfully a few of my friends have, and I've been able to tag along. This was my first hunt on the first pill though, and it was more than I could have imagined.
Jeremy Stephens, Missouri's regional director for delta waterfowl, joined Kircher and me on this hunt. Jeremy has been hunting Grand Pass for more than a decade and knows the best spots on the property. He also knows how the ducks fly, so after we selected our location we headed to Malta Bend for breakfast. He said there wouldn't be much action until later in the morning. He was right.
After filling up on biscuits and gravy and pounding a pot of coffee, we headed back to Grand Pass. We pulled into the parking area just as the sun was rising. We took our time dressing and sorting gear then made our way towards the standing corn we'd be hunting. As soon as we neared the corn, ducks began lifting out. Then the sky went black as thousands of ducks lifted up at once and flew back towards the refuge. The three of us just stood there with our mouths hanging open.
The action was non-existent until about 9 a.m. but slowly started picking up until it just went haywire around 11 a.m. Groups of two or three turned into groups of two or three hundred. After we limited on mallards, we focused on rounding our total duck limit with teal. As we waited on teal, thousands of mallards worked through our decoys. Sitting in the corn as hundreds of ducks landed all around was an experience I'll never forget.
If you read my column about bringing home Junior, my black Labrador retriever, then you're aware of my intentions to establish him as a true hunting companion. Well, I couldn't be any happier with how he performed. Junior went 18-for-18 on retrieves. He needed a little guidance from Jeremy, as did I, on a few blinds but overall impressed everyone with his abilities. He found a few ducks in standing corn that we surely wouldn't have located without him. We're off to a great start.
See you down the trail...
Brandon Butler is an outdoors columnist for the News Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.