BANNER, Ill.–A wise guy among the 15 camouflaged duck hunters clustered in the check station opined on when the big push of ducks would arrive, “Saturday, Sunday, Monday or Tuesday. One of these days, it’s going to happen.”
I was hoping the big push–when weather and instinct tell ducks it’s time to head south–would come Thursday when I had a permit for Banner Marsh State Fish and Wildlife Area.
Traditionally, the big push arrived in Illinois around Veteran’s Day. In recent decades, it stretches toward Thanksgiving. Early last week, Gary Forlines said not many ducks were around.
Jeff Lampe introduced the Toulon farmer to me. For years, we got a permit the Wednesday after Election Day. The most memorable came in 2000 when we sat in a blind not knowing whether George W. Bush or Al Gore would be our next president.
It’s important for our country that duck hunters with loaded guns and differing views sit in the same blind and discuss politics and other “blind-foolery,” as Forlines puts it.
Forlines said I should make the drive even if the ducks weren’t flying. He wisely knows shooting a duck is important, but sitting in the blind even more so. Lampe couldn’t make it, so Forlines asked Mike Thor along.
At the old farmhouse (check station), site tech Moe Sisson put folded cards into turning barrels. Permit holders in a red barrel were drawn first. The walk-ins in a white barrel were drawn second. As Sisson pulled cards, Thor flipped flaps on selected blinds.
It’s $10 per hunter, up to four to a blind. Banner Marsh has both boat and walk-in blinds. Hunters can rent a sack of decoys, including a special sack with extra long strings for the deep water around Blind 25.
When my draw came, Thor signaled for 22, a short walk in with the north wind to our right. Some years when setting decoys in the dark ducks buzzed us. Not Thursday.
But surprisingly, ducks flew from the beginning, enough to keep us paying attention. Teal wheeled tightly. Fewer wood ducks than usual flew. Swans sailed back and forth. Gulls coasted overhead. Canada geese honked down the lake. Lots of grebes floated around and dived.
Forlines and Thor called two early groups of ducks in to work the decoys, but they stayed at 75 yards, out of shooting range. Finally a pair of buffleheads buzzed the blind and Forlines cleanly dropped one.
“I think it is time to eat,” he said. With a duck in the bag, Forlines doled out the legendary muffins made by his wife, Ginnie, made with “love, lots of love,” as Thor said.
Forlines and Thor got three other groups to work, all stayed out of range. Forlines dropped one more duck that buzzed the blind.
A drake mallard flew in off my right shoulder, unexpectedly, instead of into the wind. That’s known as being a millennial duck. He swam around out of range for the remainder of our hunt. A coot swam literally within an arm’s length.
When the ducks stopped flying, so we set a deadline of 11:30 a.m. On the morning, at least 60 ducks flew within 100 yards, more than 100 overall. Not bad on a slow day.
“One thing about this, it is always a good day on the marsh,” Thor said.
It was time.
Banner Marsh SFWA is south of Peoria along Route 24. Click here for more information.