“The Winds of Change”
That line begins it's life from a speech by British Prime Minister Harold macmillan to the Parliament of South Africa in February of 1960. The seeds of independence were beginning to take root in Capetown at that time. Thirty years later, the pop group Scorpions borrowed the phase again- “The future's in the air-I can feel it everywhere-Blowing with the wind of change” My revival of that line here is a long way from South Africa or a German rock band formed in 1965.
The words rushed back to me as I listened to the wind howl through the trees outside one morning, clanging chimes loudly and catapulting anything not tied down into the woods near the house. It seemed a cyclone had blown in overnight, kind of unusual for Wisconsin, not known for such gales. Out west, sure-I was used to non-stop wind whenever my buddies and I head to North Dakota. It's a constant, even in the dead of night we'd discovered. Usually those winds drive ducks and all manner of waterfowl along for the ride. Cold and wind seem perpetual in “nodak” during October.
We usually make the trek west just before Halloween, which signals the imminent changeover to winter and our last chance for puddlers and divers before winter slams the potholes shut and frozen. Some years arctic air arrives early and breaking ice for dogs and birds becomes the modus operandi, a challenge (not pleasurable) for anyone and everything.
The winds of change arrived this year to be sure. A record high temp preceded us (86 in Bismarck) and it stayed in the upper 60's and 70's during our stay with little to no breeze. All that is fine and dandy, but not exactly favorable to waterfowl hunting. Apparently, the ducks didn't get the memo that late October is when they should be streaming through the pothole region where we hunt. They too must have just stayed put, enjoying the bluebird days wherever they do such things. Needless to say, we walked far and wide for the few birds we did take-scarcity, the order of the day (s). I shudder to think just how much each duck cost per pound on this trip, but again, that's not the reason for doing such things-besides, we re-cooped some of the cost in unused ammo.
Not only the weather was altered, but also the make up of our hunting party. My buds and I are all in our middle 50's, but the average age dropped considerably this year when 3 young sons of a couple of the guys joined us. I was all in favor. It kind of takes the pressure off the four elders to constantly torment and tease each other for now we had new blood. No missed shot would go unnoticed. There was also the advantage to have young backs to carry overflowing bags of decoys to far flung ponds or fit legs to circumnavigate the biggest of potholes.
The newbies were fun and changed the dynamic of our group. Devising a strategy for 8 guys is different from half that. It was almost like making a war plan, involving synchronizing watches, dividing the troops and being sure the correct retrievers tagged along with their owners. Things move slower but broader, from rolling out of bed in the morning to spreading out among all available wetlands in the search for game. There may have been fewer ducks aloft, but steel still flew-the youngins still working on their distance judging. If one shot were fired, then three, then down the line until guns reached the limit of their plugs. I think the ducks had little to fear at some of the volleys .
|Molly and Mallard|
As usual, filling gamebags was not the priority, but rather enjoying time outdoors together in a beautiful place. We made a point everyday to find the highest point around, park the trucks, let the dogs out to stretch and watch the sun go down. I think the “kids” appreciated it, not realizing in the early days, we'd still be collecting evening decoys at that time of day and slugging them back to the pickup. Now, we just take the time and savor it and the company. Perhaps the highlight of those evenings was the decision to tailgate on one of those hill tops. Why not? Grills were trucked in, coolers and lawn chairs set up and Wisconsin brats sizzled over flame. Times like these are made perfect, not only by the food, friends and scenery, but by stories told-many of which had us in stitches. That crowns a great day hunting out west.
|Selfie with 1187 & Molly Mae|
All to quickly the trip is over, and the task of packing, cleaning and driving is before us-8 or 9 hours for most back to central Wisconsin. Within 40 miles, the pothole region, with ever present water and rolling hills, is behind us-replaced by a dead flat plain, corn and soybeans. On the horizon, plumes of black smoke-here and there, accompanied us for almost 200 miles. Puzzled at first, I soon realized the source-farmers burning wetlands of cattails and marshgrass, then following with the plow and disk. Change was bowing in on the marshes as well. CRP land, so vital to not just waterfowl, but wildlife in general, was disappearing in every direction we looked. Sky high commodity prices last year had driven CRP acreage into virtual extinction everywhere in North Dakota. The change just in the past year was dramatic-far less habitat meant fewer birds and animals. I understand farmers need to make a living, but a few more acres of corn, fueling the questionable ethanol industry, comes at a high cost for the environment and wildlife.
Change is inevitable. Some, like sharing the outdoor life with new family and friends is the very best kind. Others, like the transformation of the landscape, would be better left untouched, the way the wind and weather formed it and what drew us to it's beauty many years ago. Let's hope the breeze shifts in a positive direction to sustain what we have come to love and keep future generations coming back and living life out of doors.
|Buck Pond Hike|
|End of Day Storytime|
|Sunset at Allens|
|Boot Pond Morning Decoys|