Duck hunting is more than a passion to some, especially when it comes to opening day. Our good friend, Dustin Schouest, shares with us his passion for duck hunting from his kayak in his home waters of Louisiana. Who said kayaks are only for fishing!
“Have a good and safe weekend Dustin,” came the parting words from my neurotic, overly friendly, but very helpful coworker David. He shook my hand with a vigor he hadn’t had when I first started working at Cabela’s. “I know you are excited for opening day.” He knew that from more than just the giant grin on my face: it was all I had talked about for weeks. The opening weekend of duck season for me is like a holiday. My decoys, shotgun, and call lanyard had been hung up for ten months now, and I was ready to greet my old friends again. “Trust me man, I’ll be safe. I didn’t request the whole weekend off just to get myself killed.” We shared a laugh before I took off my work shirt and began walking toward my fully laden Ford Explorer. Behind my seat were two decoy sacks, one case with a Mossberg 500 zipped up in side, a myriad of shotgun shells, duck calls, Hot Hands, and God knows what in a Tanglefree blind bag, an ice chest decorated in decals, and a custom made spotlight rig. The only thing missing was a case of cold Keystone Light to drink after the hunt, but, that was waiting along with a kiss from my lover.
The drive back home was uneventful: I had an audiobook going (A Desert Called Peace by Tom Kratman, one of the longest, most heart wrenching, beautifully written scifi military books I had ever read), but my mind wasn’t on the happenings of soldiers on a different planet than mine: it was on how well the system I had worked out would work. Would my Cabela’s Northern Flight marsh grass hide me well? Would the new call I bought be good enough to work birds? Would my aim be true and my pellets hit their mark? I’d know in about fifteen hours. I drove into the parking space beside my girlfriend Allison’s car. The best thing to come home to: a huge hug, a loving kiss, and the words “I hope you slay ’em tomorrow.” The support of a loved one: the strongest force that can keep anyone going. We spent the evening watching an old 1970’s sitcom, Welcome Back Kotter, and talking about how exciting tomorrow was for both of us. Not only was it opening day, but, it was Alli’s birthday.
Come nine o’clock, she had decided to do a little rearranging of the bedroom, and left me to sleep on the couch. When the Tylonal I took for a migrane kicked in, I fell into a mini-coma, and awoke at midnight to see she hadn’t woken me up to join her in the bedroom. My fears of upsetting her were for naught: she hadn’t wanted to wake me up and maybe make me miss more needed sleep. I climbed into bed with her, and got back to dreaming of cupped wings, atmospheric doom metal, and shotgun blasts.
Come 3am, a sound shattered the still of our sepulcre of sleep. It was a quack, then two, then a feeding chatter from a ringtone I had found. I stirred, showered, and got into my insulated bib, waterfowl jacket, and got in my truck. With the prospect of a good day, I decided on some powerful, beautiful music for the morning’s drive to my mother’s abode to pick up my kayak: Sonata Arctica. With fast double bass drums, keytar, and high pitched singing, it was just the thing I needed to get my sences to full alert (as well as the biggest damn Monster energy I could legally buy). I hooked up the trailer I had made for hauling my precious Priscila, as I had named my Vibe SeaGhost 130. Already in camo color and tested in shallow ponds, I knew this heavy yet stable boat would be perfect for getting in the ducky backwaters I needed to set up in.
Down old windy Highway 665 I went, also known as the Pointe Aux Chenes Road, well into the village named Oak Pointe. Loudly I sang songs about love and loss, empowered by the Finnish power metal blasting from my abused speakers. As I approached the infamous game warden camp set upon the bank of the St Louis Canal, I could see the line of boats and trucks leading across Bayou Pointe Aux Chenes on the new bridge, all of them heading onto the boat launch that allowed access to the Lafourche portion of the PAC Wildife Mangament Area. But with all that boat traffic and my personal motto, as Sonic the Hedgehog would say , “Gotta Geaux Fast!”, I wasn’t about to fight all the cooyons (Cajun for dummy, or drunk, both of which were actually launching their boats) at the ramp. So instead, I pulled up beside a culvert that many locals and even more out-of-towners regularly fished and cast netted from.
I dumped my kayak, my decoys, and the rest of my heavy gear from my truck and quickly about faced and parked across the PAC road from it. The reason for this is the high, rock shoulder on the outbound side of the road, and the muddy slope on the other side that I had gotten suck in previously. With my spotlight rig in my hand (a deer feeder battery in a waterproof box, fixed to a cigerette plug in with a spotlight plugged into it), I got to my boat, put on my head lamp, got my gear positioned and indexed, and casted off into the darkness. Mullet fry by the thousand jumped anywhere my light touched. Almost like a chorus of slimy creatons they would jump and give the telltale splash that accompanied my paddle strokes like insturments in an orchestra. Megadeth had once wrote a song called Symphony of Destruction, and this I was seeing was an accompanying version of it: a dirge for the ducks who would fall today.
I got to the levee I would have to cross. All I could think of as I lugged my 200 pounds plus of boat and gear over the ten foot ungodly obstruction was of a game from my youth: The Oregon Trail. “Think of this Schouest,” I said to myself between hard, labored breaths, “would you rather ford the main bayou full of boaters you don’t trust, chalk the wagon and float two miles across water to the spot you picked, or cross this levee without the aid of oxen to pull this load? I think I’d rather die of dysentary than have to do this again.” The burden was tough: tougher than I had thought, especially with the previous back and arm injuries I had endured last year. This would be my last time (for a long time) of dragging this all to the marsh on the other side.
I finally got the kayak across and in the water, along with getting water inside my boots, finding the only way for my wallet to fall out of my blind bag and into the mud for a shallow burial, and begining to feel a tingle in my shoulder. I lit the spot light and pointed it all along the sides of the marsh, looking for people who might be setting up or already set up. Thankfully, I saw no one, and found a great place to get my gear in place: a huge bow in a tranosse (Cajun for a cut in the marsh that is too big to be called a slip and too small to be called a navigable waterway) that equated to a small pond that intersected a tiny bayou.
Pushing the bow of my kayak into the marsh I selected for a hide sight, I threw the Cabela’s marsh grass sheets I had rolled up for storage onto the bank, and reached behind me to the decoy bags. Inside were a dozen teal, five dogree or scaup, four pintail, six gadwall, and three coots. Attached to those decoys was the greatest weight system I had seen for use in duck hunting: the DukNutz decoy weights. PVC-made cords with a sliding hex-shapped weight were tied or clipped to the dekes, and because the weights weren’t free to sling and get caught up in the bag, the system was virtually tangle free. I had the weights right against the decoys, with the loops at the end sticking out of the decoy bags and gathered up in a carabiner. This allowed me to easily pull the decoys out one by one, push the weights as far up the cord as I wanted, and toss them out into the water.
The system proved to be perfect for me: I had no problem getting my decoys set up in two V’s, a J hook, and the coots blocking one part of the canal that came up the side of my set up. With that finished, I hurried up and pulled the boat into the marsh, covered the bow and midships portions with the five foot long sheets of grass and palmetto leaves, and switched the seat in my Vibe from facing forward to aft. I grabbed my shotgun, loaded it with three shells of Winchester Xpert, covered myself and the tankwell up, and waited for shooting time. You can always tell when shooting hours start in the PAC reserve. Did you ever play Super Mario Bros 3? If you did, you most likely remember the air ship boss levels at the end of each world, where the children of Bowser would fire hundreds or thousands of cannons to try and kill the plumber menace of Mario. The 8-bit system would almost be bogged down with the crashes of canons firing. This is an accurate description of the air around the reserve.
One ka-boom turned into five within the second, turned into a hundred within the minute, and cressendoed into a thousand within the hour. Louder burst came from closer by. Softer, yet more echoing blasts signaled hunters farther and farther away blasting teal duck and coot. I myself was gripping my boomstick tightly. As the skies began to glow red with the anger of a star so many millions of light years away, the first flight came in: a single teal. Right into the decoys she came from my 2 o’clock, cupping up and committed. A single report from my Mossberg placed her into the afterlife. I pushed the boat in to retrieve her, and just as I did, a flock of about ten teal flew overhead. I cursed audibly, the vapor from my lips forming the explictive in solid form. I pulled the kayak back up, and within five minutes two more birds flew in. Quickly, I drew the gun and fired once, twice, lead a little more, thrice. The one bird flew away, but the other began a barrel roll and fell into the water of a pond behind me. I nodded with a grin, loading another #4 shell into the chamber.
A splash to my left side caught my earball, and I watched the pouldeaux, or coot, swim from my teal decoys. As soon as the bird was free of the plastic Higdeon and Game Winner imitations, I dropped it like a DJ dropping bass. With the frequency of flights, I decided to wait until I dropped another bird to retrieve the lot. And that came soon enough: A single teal flew in straight at me, and it took me two shots to place the bird in its place. I switched the seat placement, pushed the boat back out, and took my time retrieving the three birds. Soon 9 o’clock came, and it was time for me to begin to pick up. I had my girlfriend’s birthday celebration to make, and I would not be late. And as I learned quickly, God has a sense of humor: right as I had half my decoys in their sacks with the DukNutz pushed up by the keels, a flight of almost twenty dogrees flew right over my head, and I shouted in frustration as they flew into the spread of a nearby hunter.
I found my way back to the levee, and with great pains in my arm and back, I got my gear and boat across and at the launch point. My truck found its way to the side of the road, the boat found its way onto the trailer, and my four kills found their way into my Ozark Trail cooler. I embraced my inner blue hedgehog and rushed back to my appartment, and slowly got myself and Allison to a local Cajun restaruant to destroy some fried veggies, a shrimp poboy, and lots of goodies.
That evening my mother came by and we destroyed a home made Hello Kitty birthday cake, played Seinfeld trivia, and drank some rootbeer flavored adult beverages. The pain in my shoulder got worse, and Alli suggested that I put on a heating patch. Little did I know, my body has an allergy to capsaisin, and within fifteen minutes I was greeted with a beautiful chemical burn that made the agony of muscle pain a distant memory. Indeed, I was in so much discomfort and unhappiness I could have written the next great doom metal album. That being said, come 3am, I was ready to go back out into the marsh of darkness. My good friend Rob Bergeron was going out with his uncle and his good friend, and we decided to set up nearby each other. I set up in a nice cove: a small slip to my left, with a far reaching bank that gave me roughly 50 yards of open pond around me, with broken marsh bordering the main body of water.
The dogrees went to the right, the teal out front again (I found most ducks will decoy to teal more than anything), and the other two duck species to the left. The coots went right next to the blind, to show the landing vicitums there was nothing to worry about. That they needed to know about anyway. This time, the action was a little slower in the begining. The first duck I saw/dropped was a single teal that flew right at me come 6am. It was perfect: feet down, wings up. That’s the way I light ’em up. Another retrieval, another missed opprotunity at big ducks. It is a certain in this world: the moment you leave the blind, is the moment you miss good shots. A flock of teal worked behind me going toward Rob and his cohorts. Five blast later I got the text from my friend: two teal down, including the most beautiful green wing drake we had ever seen. I grinned at the skies as I watched a few more flocks work. The thing about hunting a public area is that after the pressure of opening day, and until more cold fronts come, the birds are usually very skittish. As more birds come, the birds will get over their fear of decoys and calling, and those of us still hunting will be able to blast them.
The flights came in fast as usual. However, there was a caviat to the next four flocks that came in: misfires. Somehow, the ammunition I was using had been a bad batch. Somehow, ever round that I put in the chamber would not fire, even though the firing pin struck the primer on each one. It was insane: I would have had a limit of teal easily if my ammunition would have cooperated. Frustrated and with the flights slowing down, I slid the Mossberg in the soft case and got the boat in the water. I started picking up the gadwal/pintail/coot first, and as I finished up with that lot, a flock of about 15 dogrees (of course!) flew over my teal before swinging away and heading to Rob’s spread, where I heard two shots and a shout of joy. Rob had gotten himself a cute little hen dogree. I finished with the decoys, went back to grab my rolled up marsh grass, and let the wind drift my boat and wounded shoulder back to my truck. I pushed the boat up on the trailer and nearly passed out from pain. Quickly I drove to the main launch where Rob and his party were picking up. We talked about the morning, the flights of ducks, and our set ups. After a little while we parted ways, and I headed back to mine and Allison’s home.
It was a fun opening weekend, with five dead birds for me to clean and a birthday that needed celebrating. I saw how my skills had improved, how my new toys had proven to work, and how fragile my body was becoming. The fun of the season was just getting warmed up, and I was ready to get back at it!
About the Author
Dustin Schouest is a veteran angler from the small disappearing village of Pointe Aux Chenes, La. When not fishing, Dustin is usually found tying flies, editing video, or writing about his adventures from his Vibe Sea Ghost 130. He is a member of the Hook1 Fishing Team as well as a member of Team Filthy Anglers.