Iowa’s special youth hunts have been a popular addition to the state’s outdoor recreational picture. Special youth seasons [where only youngsters can legally take game] began with early deer hunts during the late 1990s.
Special seasons have now been expanded to include turkey, pheasant, and waterfowl. Aimed at promoting hunter recruitment, the seasons give youths and their adult mentors — most often their fathers — a chance to hunt various species of wild game in what is hopefully a noncompetitive environment.
This year’s youth waterfowl season took place on the weekend of Sept. 17-18. Although water was in short supply on many areas, habitats that were in good shape held plenty of birds.
As the weekend approached, it became hard to tell who was more excited — the youth hunters or their mentors. I especially know that to be true for my son Matt who was planning to take out his 7-year-old daughter Natalie. Although Natalie had already downed two wild turkeys, she had yet to bag a duck and this would hopefully provide her first opportunity. But let me start at the beginning.
Several weeks ago, Matt and Natalie decided that it would be fun — instead of using off the shelf, factory decoys — to make their own decoys for the special hunt. Wood ducks — two hens and two drakes — became the species of choice.
Matt ordered the materials and the project began. The days passed quickly and, before long, the upcoming season was just around the corner. Unfortunately, the decoys were still in their early stages. If you’re a duck hunter, you already know how easily this can happen.
Throwing it into high gear, there wasn’t a second to waste. The hunters hurriedly shaped, sanded, primed, and painted until the blocks came to resemble the like real thing. With less than 48 hours remaining until the season opener, the decoys were finally finished. Time had arrived for the critical float test. Taking the decoys to the backyard frog pond, the pair was delighted when all four decoys floated in perfect balance.
Opening Day: Following weeks of searing drought, a severe thunderstorm — complete with smokestack lightning and torrential downpours — moved into northern Iowa during the wee hour of Saturday morning. Wouldn’t you know it? Waking Natalie, Matt informed her of the weather and asked if she still wanted to go. “Are you serious? Yes, I’m going.”
They had two spots to choose from. One was a shallow pond covered with mallards; the other was a cattail jungle loaded with wood ducks. It was Natalie’s pick; she chose wood ducks.
Arriving at their destination, the pair watched as the storm continued to vent its fury. Finally, with only minutes to go until legal shooting time, the lightning began to move toward the southeast. Grabbing their gear, they raced for their spot; getting set up in the nick of time. As if on cue, flocks of wood ducks appeared and began piling into the dense vegetation.
They had tossed their new handmade decoys into a large opening and were delighted when a dozen or more woodies accepted them as the real McCoy, touching down so close that the birds actually threw water on the new carvings. More and more wood ducks continued to arrive. Some piled straight in; others kept going. The moment of truth had arrived.
Shouldering her 20-gauge, Natalie had a miss and then a hit. Her very first duck was an immature drake wood duck. The ducks kept flying and within minutes the long-anticipated hunt was finished — a first ever limit of three drake wood ducks was in the bag.
Natalie [as well as her Dad, of course] was completely delighted with everything that had happened — the excitement of that powerful ground shaking white lightning thunderstorm, the sight and sound of all those wood ducks, the ducks’ acceptance of their new decoys, her shooting, everything.
A hunt that began with weather that had appeared to put the entire outing in jeopardy, had turned out to be a perfect day after all.