One of the things most fun about duck hunting is finding a new spot. Regardless of how many birds are in a given area there are a handful of places the ducks will go to right under everybody's nose. What makes finding a new spot even more fun is if it is within minutes of the house and so obvious or just obscure enough that most people stare right at it, including duck hunters, and never give it a second thought. Keep on doing this! Nothing is more exciting than to load up a small bag of decoys and the dog into the canoe and explore a small stream or secluded backwater and score on the local hideout. It may not produce a limit most times but for a few teal or a brace of fat mallards it’s worth it. More intoxicating than anything is the smell and sight of cottonwoods turning in autumn while the mid morning sun shines up the plumage on decoying birds.
Few things are as anticipated as eagerly in my circle of friends as opening weekend of waterfowl season. Equally as anticipated is the first hunt in new country. This year we struck out in search of new horizons. Rather than venturing to traditional haunts like Freezout we chose to explore the high mountain haunts of Red Rock Lakes. Situated in extreme southwestern Montana along the north slope of the Centennial Range, this high altitude wetland delivered on the birds. Initially low water as well as bird counts didn’t bode well for opening weekend but successive cold fronts the week prior provided ample shooting opportunity. We were told by one of the refuge wardens that this was a ‘slow’ opener in terms of crowds and birds. We wouldn’t know any different as birds flew all day long and we never ran out of shot opportunities until we finished up in the late afternoon. Water was definitely low. My black lab, Roxy, slogged through chest deep mud all day bringing in the birds. The highlight was a 100 yard retrieve in the quagmire on a gadwall drake. Species diversity was the order of the day. Gadwall took up the lion’s share of the bag but we had a fair amount of teal, two canvasbacks, pintail, widgeon, and mallard. Weather was mild on Saturday with temps rising into the 50s and mostly overcast. Things turned ugly towards the end of the day and overnight with straight line winds settling in and topping 60 mph. We had very few shots Sunday morning as most birds that tried to decoy in were scattered to the four winds, literally. Perhaps most unique about Red Rocks Lakes are the surroundings. The towering Centennials, Madison, and Snowcrest ranges can all be seen from the duck blind. Moose abound in the willow choked upper lake area and a grizzly wandering through the decoy spread is not out of the realm of possibility. Lucky for us we were able to experience it before the government shutdown. With the onset of that hunting was closed indefinitely pending a budget deal. Regardless of politics winter weather dovetailed on the heels of the shutdown likely freezing up the thin sheet of water that was on the lakes. Winter comes early at this altitude. For now we will head to non-federally controlled, lower elevation environs.