Everyone ages 7 to 70 was sitting around a roaring campfire, telling stories, reliving memories of the past and creating new ones the night before the Wisconsin Waterfowl opener. All were a part of what Paul Smith, outdoor editor of The Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel, called the oldest duck camp in Wisconsin. This year’s 45th Annual Duck Camp in Northwest Wisconsin was a success on many levels. Great hunting, good dog retrieving, friendships rekindled and fun work shared.
“I can understand why duck hunter numbers might be dropping,” said Matt Pasche of Hudson. “This is a lot of work and you need a lot a gear. I don’t see why anyone in their right mind would want to start,” tongue in cheek and laughter in his eyes. Pasche loves the art of waterfowling as much as anyone I know, from his waders to his Benelli M1 to his Fiber Dome duck boat. But we have other levels of waterfowlers at Duck Camp, some just beginning and some who are nearing their last shot.
Brady, my 11 year old, was as excited as I’ve ever seen him after shooting his first duck, a blue winged teal when hunting with my oldest son Josh of Hudson and Chris Wiberg from North Branch. They were in the right place, The Channel, and were piling up duck dinners at a good clip after Wiberg and his dog Tori dumped their kayak in the brink around 4:30 in the predawn dark. Pasche and Susie his Black Lab pup and his friend, Dave Kell, from Hudson and his dog Finn were down the Channel and were also in the midst of limits and some good dog work.
Also at the camp were my daughter Erin from River Falls and grandson Silas, aged 7, disappointed at being a little young and not enough room to fit him in the small crafts we paddled into the marsh. But with promises of future hunts, BB guns, fires, Frisbees and candy he managed to survive and had more fun hanging out with the big guys.
Jon McCorkle from North Branch was also at Duck Camp along with his unwanted guest, Parkinson’s disease. “Everything takes longer and seems harder. I’m not getting down on the gun when I shoot. My muscles are stiffer. I don’t think I’m going to bag many birds this year. I can’t stand up in the swamp anymore and my gun kicks harder. But it’s so much fun just watching the ducks and seeing how excited Brady is. How much he’s enjoying it. That’s what’s important.”
Jon didn’t get up at 3 a.m. opening day but instead chose to walk out to a marsh near camp. “I didn’t get there in time. The place was packed and most of the ducks were shot off the marsh by the time I got there.” So that afternoon Josh and I helped Jon into Josh’s Pintail duck boat and I put Brady in my little jonboat. Ducks came over; some fell but most got away. Brady pulled the kid move by leaving his 20 gauge Remington Youth shotgun and jacket back at camp. Both Springadors, Josh’s dog Bern and my dog Briar, carrying puppies, retrieved all the ducks we shot. Not much they could do about the ones we missed.
Jim Bennett is an outdoorsman who lives and worked in the St. Croix River Valley and can be reached at email@example.com