Season Kickoff and the Coot Scoot Boogy

With only one day before the waterfowl season opener in the Pacific flyway of Montana, I realized that I hadn’t scouted. I had just spent my first full month in Bozeman and got so caught up in the brown trout spawn that I failed to realize that October marked the beginning of duck season in Montana. I now had one night to ensure that opening day was a success.

After hours on the computer and numerous calls across the state, I honed in on a shallow bottom marsh off of the Missouri River. After a dark two hour car ride full of anticipation and uncertainty, I arrived at the FWP parking sight. Close to three hours before game time, I was the lone soul in sight, outside of the bedded mule deer that I spooked when I pulled up.

I fumbled around my dark car for my face paint and began to smear the earthy colors across every uncovered part of my face. This simple, routine preparation, can best be compared to putting on eye black before stepping out under the friday night lights of high school football, though infinitely more exciting. When I left my car, I was greeted by the damp, cool morning air and a nighttime sky that more than lived up to Montana’s “Big Sky” reputation. I pulled my decoys, shell bag and gun from my trunk, slung the exceedingly heavy gear over my shoulders and began the cumbersome hike to the marsh.

As my hike in went on, the half mile walk I had predicted was quickly becoming a 5k. After thirty arduous minutes carrying six dozen decoys and other equipment, I decided to take a seat along the path. I pulled out my GPS and was dismayed to find that I had parked over two miles from my intended location, which provided me with a significantly greater challenge. After close to an hour of walking I arrived at the dyke of this shallow marsh. I was alarmed when I was met by a cacophony of Coot screeches as I entered the water, inadvertently moving the Coots and undoubtedly some ducks. I began to wade my way to a small island around 100 yards from the bank.

I quickly began to build a brush blind under the dim light of my headlamp and with each branch I added, my anticipation grew. I put out the decoys, arranging my divers into rows across the left of me with a cluster at the front to prevent birds from landing outside my shooting range. I grouped the puddlers and Mallards into four pods of eight to sixteen, leaving ample landing room along my right side. I began staking my Mojo Mallards and returned to dry ground to get a better view of my spread. With my decoys in place, I prepared for the agonizing wait till shooting light. The countdown was on!

Across the marsh, birds began to funnel into the thousands of Coots that I had pushed earlier that morning. Group after group of Teal, Mallards and Ringos flocked to the Coots without hesitation. Meanwhile, I sat no more than a couple hundred yards away and practiced my hail call for what felt like an eternity. However, I patiently watched as the Coots began to shuffle across the still water towards me. They swam over in droves of hundreds, gradually settling themselves amongst my decoys. I watched and waited for the ducks to follow. Like clockwork, they did, as I sat concealed amongst the brush and listened as the whistle of wings alerted me to the quickly approaching group.

Cupped and committed, I raised my gun as a group of Mallards dropped over my head and into my spread. I was jolted by my untested 3 1/2 inch Remington Hypersonic steel loads, and my first shot unfortunately missed its mark, hitting one of two hens in the group. I slid the pump down my Supernova and with a rhythmic hym my second shell was ready. Yet this time, I steadied my shoulder and picked my bird; finding my first greentop of the season with my second shell! Both birds folded and hit the water with a satisfying, resounding thud. I looked on as that familiar feeling of euphoria came over me that can only be found in moments like that. Like you all know, there is truly no better feeling than retrieving your birds after a successful volley.

I ran into the water, grabbed the birds and took a moment to admire the drake Mallard that I had killed. The duck was unlike any that I had seen before. On one side, it looked as if he was in full breeding plumage and on the other it looked as if he was just beginning to molt, with no uniformity to his plumage—a peculiar sight. I reloaded my gun, optimistic that another group would follow suit. Although they never did, later that morning a lone Mallard gave me a passing shot to finish off what was a slow but rewarding day. It wasn’t a day for stacking ducks on the tailgate, but for a google earth scouting session the night before, I’d say things worked out pretty well. Surprisingly, on this day, all thanks went to the cooperative Coots!

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-Thompson Long  

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