Category Archives: J.J. Kent

The Insanity of Late Season Duck Hunting

As we stood in front of the fire, steaming out our wet clothes, after having risked death by drowning, exposure, and pneumonia, after having been up since black night, after having rowed and poled miles, after having frozen fingers setting out decoys and having frozen feet from inactivity – after having been uncomfortable constantly in the quest for a few pounds of bird meat that I didn’t like to eat too terribly well, I concluded one thing: if you have to be crazy to hunt ducks, I do not wish to be sane.

Robert Ruark, from “You Got to be Crazy to be a Duck Hunter” from the book “The Old Man and the Boy

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In the outdoors realm, there are few things more disconcerting than sinking a warm, dry socked foot into a pair of frigid chest waders.

A set of waders that suddenly reminds you that one boot foot in particular took on enough water during your last hunt to sink the Titanic.

A boot that yours truly forgot to dry out. 

When the late season brings a shot opportunity at a prime goldeneye drake, don't miss!

Simply put, there’s no good time to discover that you are, in fact, a forgetful dunce when it comes to “Waders 101.”

But that is especially true when an Arctic blue norther has roared into North Texas overnight, dropping temps into the 20s, wind chills into the teens, and bringing a wind-driven drizzle that is freezing on contact.

What do you do in such a circumstance?

Simple…you stay on mission, especially when the 2010-11 duck season is about to sing its swan song.

So that’s what I dutifully did as I used my camera to record the early stages of a hunt that Pottsboro’s J.J. Kent and McKinney’s Kevin Harding were embarking upon yesterday morning on a beautiful cattail choked body of water.

Kent, a Mossy Oak and Buck Gardner Calls pro-staffer, and Harding, an enthusiastic waterfowler of some 20 plus years, go way back.

All the way back to Lubbock, Texas, in fact, where the two men met while students at Texas Tech University.

Except it wasn’t a class, a Red Raiders’ pigskin game, or a cross-campus hike that provided their first meeting.

Instead, it was while training their respective black Labrador retrievers on a local playa lake.

Kent, who owned a once-in-a-lifetime dog named Whiskey, and Harding, who owned an equally adept dog named Harley, became lifelong friends.

And card-carrying members of the Texas waterfowl hunting fraternity, a club that still lures grown men to the edges of insanity with pre-dawn gatherings interspersed with occasional bouts of frostbite in a good winter.

Or the beginning stages of hypothermia, an affliction that I was sure I was experiencing when the morning cattail action proved slower than expected.

And brought the idea of retreating.

But not for some place warm and dry.

North Texas duck guide J.J. Kent pleads with late season mallards on his Buck Gardner Double Nasty XL call.

  But instead for Kent’s big Xpress duck boat rig and a wind-tossed ride to a sheltered duck hole, a spot that should lure in all forms of flying fowl looking to escape the howling waters of Lake Texoma.

I guess my teeth were chattering too hard to offer much in the way of protest.

Besides, if I was going to die courtesy of Jack Frost, I at least wanted to trade in the Nikon for the Remington and go out in a blaze of glory.

So a couple of hours later, as I tried in vain to burrow deeper into space-age clothing supposed to keep one warm, I looked up just in time.

To see a spectacular hooded merganser dropping his flaps and putting down the landing gear as he reached for the decoy spread.

Cold or not, I didn’t miss that gimmee shot opportunity at a bird that is now on its way to my wall.

To be honest, the hope for a string of greenheads never materialized despite the fact that our trio saw plenty of mallards on the wing.

Even with Kent’s superb calling on a Double Nasty XL call, the greenheads had other ideas. That’s late season wise guys for you.

But as the Arctic blow continued, occasional shot opportunities would present themselves as a variety of duck species provided a mixed bag smorgasbord of shooting opportunity.

At one point or another, mallards, teal, gadwalls, shovelers, and even a plump late season goldeneye drake all came calling to our decoy spread as ice built on the tossing blocks.

And most of the time, one or more of those birds stayed behind for Kent’s current Lab, Bo, to retrieve after the smoke from spent gunpowder had been torn away on the wind.

For the record, Harding is a very good shot and he didn’t miss many shot opportunities with his Benelli.  

A late season goldeneye drake brings a warm smile to the face of Kevin Harding on a frigid North Texas winter day.

All except a canvasback drake, of course, a regal bull can that none of us is talking about anymore. 

Right, J.J.?

Also for the record, Kent is an equally deadly shot who seldom misses.

And then there’s me, a hunter whose shooting ability shined early on in the game, then proceeded to disappear faster than the Dallas Cowboys’ playoff chances did this last fall.

My shooting expertise was particularly embarrassing on the goldeneye drake that I had an opportunity to knock down.

I guess I can blame a sore shoulder. Or the supposed hypothermia. Or the teeth chattering. Or even the numb foot in a frozen boot.

Or better yet, I can blame the insanity of hunting late season ducks on the wings of an Arctic blow.

Cold or not, that’s a malady that I hope to never be cured of.

As long as ducks continue to fly on a north wind.

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Hunting the Eye of a Blue-Winged Storm

 

In September, there are few things better than hunting in the eye of a blue-winged teal storm.

In close to two decades of chasing blue-winged teal across the Red River Valley during the month of September, my success has been…well, it has been modest at best.

Each season has produced one or two teal here. And every so often, two or three teal there.

But never a four-bird limit of blue-winged teal.

A hunt years ago with Sherman, Texas attorney Craig Watson and former Austin College assistant football coach Vance Morris was simply a day late and a dollar short.

Watson had discovered a sizable number of teal on Lake Texoma a few days before our hunt. But an overnight cold front and the here-today, gone-tomorrow flighty nature of bluewings left us with only a bird or two in the bag.

A hunt with my old high school pal Mike Bardwell several years back produced a really good shoot when a couple of good flocks screamed into the decoys. With four hunters in the blind, our bag of 11 teal wasn’t bad.

But it wasn’t a limit.

A year or two, a jump shooting effort on a North Texas stock tank brought me as close as I’ve ever been to a limit of blue-winged teal.

When the shooting was done, a surprising triple had been scored by yours truly.

Back!

But it was still one bird shy of a limit.

All of which might help explain my skepticism a week ago when pal J.J. Kent of Kent Outdoors (www.kentoutdoors.com ; (903) 271-5524) messaged me with the following: “Lynn, please call me! I have permission to hunt THE SPOT!”

Now it wasn’t that I doubted J.J.’s ability to find the little ducks.

Hardly – the Buck Gardner Calls, Mossy Oak, and Tanglefree Decoys pro-staffer is one of the top waterfowlers and guides in the southern Great Plains.

But given my past history, I’ll admit that I did doubt that the stars would align the next morning and that bluewings would swarm around our decoy spread as Kent promised.

To hear him tell of his scouting find, our hunt would be on the proverbial “X” and the swarms of migrating teal would be buzzing around our heads like a scene out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

In essence, Kent told me to get ready for something like an outdoors television show on the Texas Gulf Coast where bluewings buzz around like mosquitoes and limits are all but a foregone conclusion.

So the next morning at O’Dark Thirty I found myself pulling up to a field with a good amount of sheet-water left over from Tropical Storm Hermine’s wet remnants as they passed through the region.

Teal Time! Texas waterfowl guide J.J. Kent uses a Buck Gardner teal call to try and coax a flock of September bluewings into the spread.

After covering up with Realtree Max-1 camo to match the green surroundings, I sprayed down with mosquito repellent, put on waders, and marched to the blind sitting in several inches of water. 

Despite my protests, Kent insisted that I shoot first and bag my limit before he did.

So as shooting time arrived, I loaded up.

And waited.

For all of 30 seconds before the first blue-winged teal buzzed by, circled hard and fast, put on the brakes and dumped into the decoys.

So quickly that I missed.

As I grumbled to myself “Here we go again,” a roaring sound filled my ears as a flock of 30 bluewings screamed by at Mach 1.

This time I straightened my barrel out a bit and knocked down the first teal of the day, a bird promptly fetched up by Kent’s young black Lab Bo.

This action was followed by an even bigger flock of teal roaring in as daylight gathered.

And while they were buzzing the decoy spread, even more teal joined the aerial circus. Followed by even more teal.

Soon, a swirling hurricane of wings – all tinged powder blue – were roaring by as I watched in amazement. In flocks of twos and threes, 10 to 15, and 20 to 30, the sky was soon a chaotic mass of one of the most beautiful duck species that there is.

Perhaps 200 teal were in the air at one time, so many that I was reluctant to shoot, afraid that I would knock down too many.

I should have known better.

But one by one, I began to make progress towards my four bird limit.

Finally, as a lone blue-winged rocketed over from left to right, my weathered Remington 870 pump gun followed the streaking form as I drove the bead ahead of the small duck and squeezed the trigger.

And just like that, all was calm – at least in my hunter’s heart and soul – as I sat in the eye of a bona fide Category 5 blue-winged storm.

Nice work Boss! Black Lab Bo and Texas waterfowl guide J.J. Kent admire a stringer of blue-winged teal.

With my first ever limit of blue-winged teal.

A limit that would be followed up shortly by Kent as he knocked down one, then another, and then a brace of bluewings to score his own four bird limit.

Less than an hour into the day, we were high-fiving, laughing, shooting digital photographs, and enjoying the glory of a Gulf Coast style teal hunt.

In a patch of tropical storm produced sheet-water right here in Texomaland.

As we packed up the decoys and left, I couldn’t help but think: “After all of these years, finally, I’ve got a limit of bluewings.”

Hopefully the next limit will not take another 20 years to come by.