The art and mystery of ducks and geese

The surprise of mallards adds to the art and mystery of hunting geese and ducks

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Guide Jason Polowy carries a retrieved Canada goose out of the field.

Dale Bowman

We bumped across the harvested cornfield near dawn in mid-November. Four of us sat on variously colored lawn chairs, which cushioned the bumping, in a trailer hooked to an ATV. Prima facie the scene could have been absurdist art.

Then Frank Lagodny pointed above the thick ground fog. Mallards, about two dozen, banked overhead in two groups. Mind you, we were heading out to a goose pit to hunt Canada geese, mallards a bonus. There’s a good reason they’re the No. 1 duck for Illinois hunters.

Duck season ends Tuesday in Illinois’ northern zone.

It has been an odd year for waterfowl in general, especially for ducks.

The early arrival of winter in late October and early November brought hope for a big push of ducks. But, that push of ducks either wasn’t that big or they pushed right on through south.

Aaron Yetter, who flies the aerial waterfowl surveys for the Illinois Natural History Survey (whose blogs I post online, usually on Thursday or Friday), dropped this tidbit in his Nov. 27 blog, “I am not sure where all the ducks are.’’

Though on his Dec. 2 survey, he noted that the winter storm in the upper Midwest pushed some new ducks south. The Illinois River held 162,825 total ducks. The upper river lost some and the lower river gained some. Even with fresh ducks, numbers were 33 percent below average for mallards on the Illinois River.

The Mississippi River held an estimated 342,175 ducks, 28 percent below average, but up 49 percent from the previous week. Most of the increase on the Mississippi came from the more than doubling of mallards to 287,800.

You expect or hope for ducks, especially mallards, while hunting along theIllinois and Mississippi. Going out to a goose blind in the western suburbs is another matter, there mallards are a bonus.

Lagodny dropped a goose off the first pass of geese. But, in the utter calm of a morning that stayed foggy until late, lots of geese flew though few committed to the decoy spread.

The mallards, feeding in the field, buzzed the pit regularly, keeping guide Jason Polowy moving. The union carpenter from the Northwest Side started out as a customer of Jeff Norris, owner of Fox Valley Guide Service, but soon became a guide.

At one point, when mallards wheeled out of the fog again, Polowy began calling to them as we hid behind the sliding doors in the blind roof, then Canada geese sailed toward us, low enough that Polowy quickly switched to calls.

“It is like [freaking] Canada with all these ducks and geese,’’ Polowy said.

That’s a good comparison

When the fog burned off, we called it a morning with four geese and two mallards.

For information, go to

†Hunters at William Powers SRA bagged nine geese and 12 ducks over the weekend, hunting heritage biologist Nicky Strahl emailed. That followed the final weekend in November when 10 geese and 24 ducks were bagged.

Illinois deer

Harvest for Illinois’ second firearm deer season, which ended Sunday, will be posted at when available. The first season saw a 15-percent drop from 2018. . . . Muzzleloader deer season is Friday through Sunday.

Stray cast

Consistently kicking field goals becomes as lost an art as triangulating fishing spots.

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