11/10/2017 7:25:00 AM traveling trails less traveled Before freeze-up memories
"Buckshot" Anderson Columnist
In my recent series of articles, "My Top Ten Lakes," I highlighted a few of my memories from times I fished Escanaba Lake, which was a whopping 275 times. But besides being one of my favorite fishing lakes, Escanaba was for many years one of my favorite late season duck hunting lakes.
Being a fairly large lake and very remote and pristine, it was a magnet for many different species of waterfowl as a resting and feeding location during the late phase of the annual fall migrations. Back in the early 1950s, when I began hunting ducks at Escanaba, it was not unusual to see rafts of ducks resting in the middle of the lake numbering in the hundreds during the period shortly before freeze-up.
Most of the late arriving waterfowl were divers, greater and lesser scaup, ringnecks, buffleheads, golden eyes, red heads and canvasbacks. Occasionally, hunters would also bag a few late migrating mallards or black ducks.
The four islands on Escanaba offered waterfowl hunters a number of perfect locations for making a blind, no matter from which direction the wind might be. Hunters must select a location where they can "set up" their blind and decoy spread where the wind is at their backs, as ducks, like aircraft, have to land into the wind (Duck Hunting 101).
One of my earliest memories, dating back to the time I was in high school, was the morning my pal, Roger Stoeckmann, and I arrived at the launch site at the shallow south bay and discovered the bay was covered with ice more than an inch thick! We knew the main basin was still ice free, as a stiff north wind was bringing the sound of waves crashing on the south shore to our cold ears.
At the time, one of my uncles had boats to rent at Escanaba, which he stored there for the winter. One of the boats was a flat-bottom scow constructed of thin steel, which Roger and I had permission to use. We broke enough ice next to one of the docks and dragged the boat into the small patch of open water. We attached my small three horse Johnson outboard motor and as the motor pushed the bow of the boat up on the ice, Roger would jump up and down on the floor of the boat to break the ice. This we did all the way across the bay until we reached open water in the main basin. I do not recall what we bagged that bitter cold morning, but I do recall seeing very few ducks, as most of them had probably already headed south. But - boys will be boys!
Another pal of mine, Tom Dean, and I had a very productive day hunting ducks on Escanaba Lake the weekend prior to deer season in 1956.
We "set up" on one of the largest islands, and when daybreak arrived we noted a large, black mass of ducks sitting in the middle of the lake, but after an hour passed, none of them seemed interested in flying around the lake.
So, we tried an experiment. By shooting off a couple rounds from our shotguns, we were successful in getting part of the flock to rise off the water and fly around for a few minutes before they re-joined the resting flock. A few of those that took wing also took time to give us a "fly-by" over our decoys, allowing us to bag a few.
Within a couple hours we had our combined limit of eight scaup, and it was time to pick up our decoys.
I was the only one wearing hip waders, so it was up to me to wade out and collect our fake ducks. In doing so, as I strained to reach the last decoy, my feet slipped on a large rock and I filled my hip waders with ice cold lake water!
For those of you who have never had the opportunity to experience what that does to one's already chilly body - well, my advice is - don't bother to try it!
By the time we motored back to the landing I was shivering uncontrollably, and yes, teeth do chatter. I started the truck and by the time we put uncle Bud's boat away and loaded all our gear, the interior was warm with the heater's blower set on high! But, we had fun and our plan worked!
My final story and memory from a duck hunting trip to Escanaba with another pal, Hank Maines, is in poetry form, which I penned shortly after our final duck hunting outing at Escanaba Lake in November 1970.
I've known a lot of pleasures, and a lot of heartaches too, I've made my share of beautiful shots, and missed on quite a few!
It wouldn't be much fun at all if I scored on every blast. A sportsman would tire of the hunt if a limit was filled that fast.
So, here it was, November 10th, with a single day to shoot. Most ducks had long since gone with the gallinule and coot.
The air was cold and frosty, the ponds were thick with ice, the muskrat houses stood somber among the frozen rice.
But upon the open rivers and a few of the larger lakes, were still some hearty goldeneyes, mixed with bufflehead drakes.
Our plan was really simple, to Bluebill Point we'd go, and put our hopes upon the birds seeking shelter from the snow.
Snowflakes spattered our windshield on the short drive to the landing, my buddy, Hank, expressed some doubt our blind would still be standing.
The canoe crunched through some shell ice as we paddled up the bay, my lab was slightly panting as on the floor he lay.
Across the east horizon, which was black instead of pink, we paddled hard quartering the wind and prayed we wouldn't sink.
Finally, after seeming like ages of paddling through pre-dawn groom, the familiar shape of Blue Bill Point ahead of us did loom.
The decoys were placed with utmost care, the canoe was hide from sight, we crawled into our makeshift blind to await the morning flight.
The north wind cut right through us while snowflakes stung like sand, we stared through brightening darkness as the cold air numbed our hand.
Then came that special moment that only a duck hunter knows, the whistling wings of morn's first flight, though it only comes and goes.
It was still too dark to see them or know from where they came, they didn't see our decoys, but that's just part of the game.
We crouched in muted silence and strained our eyes in vane, and wondered with our silent thoughts, "Are maybe we insane?"
I was jarred back to the present by a muffled sound from Hank, "Some comin' in," I heard him say and then I saw them bank!
They looked as big as box cars as they hurtled through the air, we waited till they were in range, then stood to make them flare.
The morning air was filled with flame, and noise and smoke and shot, then crashing downward from the sky came black ducks for the pot!
Now Duke sprang into action and with a blinding dash, hit the icy water with a terrifying splash!
The retrieve was not so easy on the last bird that was downed, but old Duke finally found it, 'neath a muskrat's feeding mound.
We pounded each other on the back and jabbered about the quest, and tried to make each other think that his shots were the best.
But the morning flight was over, a few goldeneyes passed us by, we knew that we had had it and unloaded with a sigh.
We picked up all our decoys while our fingers turned to sticks, I thought ahead to winter and the decoys I must fix.
With that the hunt had ended, and the gear was put away. Do you know what I was thinking? "Can't wait till opening day!"
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