Duck opener has always been a “kind-of-a-holiday” weekend. The kind where everything else stops and you don’t plan another thing. Weddings, reunions, family gatherings, possibly even funerals…are not planned during duck opener weekend. There is no discussion when it comes to duck opener.
My father’s duck season began at about 11:55 a.m. That would be five minutes before the opener. We would trek down to the slough to see what might be flying by. The slough by the barn was green with muck. (The cows liked to cool off in that slough on hot summer days and their residue had piled up, so to speak.) Typically, my father would take aim at a flock of ducks flying over… and low and behold, one would drop into the slough. We had no boat, we had no hunting dog. I remember taking off my black rubber buckle boots, shoes and socks and wading into the muck to retrieve the duck. We now had duck dinner for that night, and dad’s hunting season was at an end. Dad’s duck opener was generally over by 12:01 p.m. That, however, didn’t mean the rest of the family was done, there was always commotion for the rest of the weekend, after all, it was a kind-of-holiday.
Mother would immediately clean the duck in the basement, and the mallard was on the table for dinner that night. Each year was different, depending on where the ducks on the table came from.
My sister, Louise, holding her duck of the day on opener weekend, in 1980. Contributed photo
Families and friends gather together on duck opener weekend. One year we all watched from our yard as a pick-up truck pulled up in front of our farm on the Grant-Douglas county line. Two hunters got out and took pot shots at ducks sitting in another slough on our property. Two ducks fell, and the two guys proceeded to retrieve the ducks…right in front of us, although they didn’t realize we were sitting on our lawn watching the whole thing. Before my father could even think of calling the game warden my sister jumped in the old ‘49 Ford and sped down the driveway, dust flying behind her. She stopped in front of the two bewildered hunters, who were by now each sheepishly holding a duck, and firmly stated, “Did you plan to hand over our ducks…or should I call the game warden?” We had two extra ducks on the table that year. We also had more “no trespassing” signs posted.
My Uncle Sidney, one of dad’s brothers, always came from Hopkins for duck opener weekend. He kept his boat up on the shore of Maurice’s Lake, (dad’s other brother, Maurice) on the family farm. He always brought a few ducks over after his hunt, and mother always obliged and also had them ready for dinner the Saturday night of opener. (And she always made him his favorite lemon meringue pie as dessert).
My mother seemed be the one who got the biggest workout during the hunting season, I guess because a holiday meal was expected. For me, helping her clean the ducks in the basement seemed to be an adventure. My poor mother never complained. For sure, there was always commotion and chaos at our place during duck opener weekend.
One memorable year, in the midst of that commotion and chaos, my sister’s wedding ring went down the bathtub drain. We now had to add the drama of retrieving her ring into the mix of making a delicious mallard dinner. The drain pipe was taken apart. Luck was with us all when the ring was found in the trap of the pipe. The irony…to think her marriage had almost gone down the drain during duck opener weekend.
As years passed we eventually left dad at home during opening weekend, and we depended on boyfriends and husbands to take us along on their duck opener. I remember when the weather was hot and wearing too much clothing, including long underwear and not needing it, and I remember cold and windy openers when long underwear didn’t seem like enough. Always, regardless of whether I went along on an opener or not, duck opener was, and still is, a holiday.
Duck opener, the holiday of all holidays, always called for a holiday meal, and that holiday meal was always on the table. Even though who we hunted with, and where we hunted at varied, mother still ended up with the task of making the dinner. Ducks were brought to her. We all watched and learned from her, the master, on how to make even a coot taste good.
The price of a good duck dinner has increased over what it may have cost when I was retrieving birds out of the slough. Dad’s cost was pretty low. For him it was his trusty shotgun and one loaded shotgun shell. Pretty easy. I’m not even sure he had a license.
Our dog, Coco, on the lookout, sitting on her chair in the duck boat….waiting and watching. Contributed photo
Today, when my husband plans his duck opener, I know that our holiday duck dinner will cost us roughly about $80,000 or more. Just to name a few of the so-called expenses…the pick-up truck, the boat, the trailer, the license, the decoys, the gun and the ammo, the camo gear and grass for the boat, the life jacket, the insulated camouflage jacket and the bibs, the boots, and of course, the dog. Worth every penny for the dinner, but more importantly, for the sportsmanship of the hunt. I love the passion my husband has for that hunt.
Take a minute to reflect on your stories and the joy of pursuing the hunt and celebrating the holiday. Sadly, our loyal chocolate lab passed away two years ago at the age of 14 years and 38 days…but back when she was in her prime she provided our best memories. She dictated all of our attention always, but especially during duck and pheasant hunting. She loved every minute.
So, for the hunter and his wife, the hunter and his child, or the hunter and his dog…duck opener weekend will always be a holiday weekend. The love of the hunt, and the memories that duck opener provides, will always be treasured.