On the first day of January I went looking for ducks on some of the many ponds and ranch lakes in my region of the Ozarks. As one old-timer in the pool hall once said about honest politicians on the ballot… “They wa’nt none!”

I have never seen a time in 32 years of living here, that there have been no ducks here in late November and early December. Until this year! That is something of a catastrophe to me and other duck hunters who hunt in the Ozark section of the state.

Usually gadwalls start showing up here in the southern zone about a week before Thanksgiving, which is a week or so after the wood-ducks leave. Mallards usually right on the pale yellow heels of gadwalls, a week and a half behind them. I love to hunt the rivers of the Ozarks for ducks but the awful drought we have had made it next to impossible to float most of the stretches I like because of low water. What a fouled up fall and winter we have had.

Then the intense cold hit the Midwest in early January and the ducks came to the Ozarks, finally. But almost everything was froze-up, a duck-hunting term that means there ain’t nowhere to hunt. But experience has taught me that shoals and flowing riffles on the river never freeze, and there is food there for ducks. I went to the closest shoal on a nearby river and there they were, about a hundred mallards and gadwalls and even a few green-wing teal. The thing I have learned to do is, go in and flush them and throw out a few decoys and wait, because quite often the flocks will return in an hour or so. But really, you don’t need the decoys and you don’t need a duck call. Without using either, I waited in the weeds high on the bank and they began returning, a flock of 20, then 6 or 8, then in scattered pairs.

You should have seen the shots I made on a pair of mallard drakes! Finally about 2 months after the start of duck season in the Ozarks, I got some mallards for supper. And later I dropped a drake gadwall too, which is an algae-eating duck not nearly as good to eat as mallards or teal.

That last greenhead came back up over me and fell in the weeds behind me. Both were stone dead. I hate to cripple a duck, which is what happens if you don’t lead them well. You might deduce from that, that I am a good shot, which I sometimes am. I never write about the sometimes that I are not, which is far too often.

I know there are those readers who feel sorry for the ducks I brought home that day, but you have to realize that each winter, duck steaks grilled on a spit with onions and green peppers is a big part of my diet. My daughter, who is a doctor, told me that in order to stay healthy, I have to eat a dozen or so before February is over because it is good for me. Not necessarily the duck meat is good for me, but the exercise I get building blinds, struggling through the water in hip boots or waders, and trying to get a fire built when I trip and get a boot full of cold water.

At School of the Ozarks College a lady botany professor, Dr. Alice Allen Nightingale often talked to me about plant evolution being a slow change, which she believed, was only God continuing His creation. I think I see that in nature often in other wild things. Ducks are a good example. How they have changed since I was a boy hunting them on the Big Piney. I will go into that in a later column, but the change I see is tremendous in waterfowl.

Here is another question for readers, which I will answer in the next column. What is the fastest flying duck, with speeds clocked at about 70 miles per hour?

Answering last weeks question about the skunk’s greatest predator… it is the great-horned owl. Birds do not have any developed sense of smell so I guess that is understandable. But why it doesn’t affect an owl’s eyes I cannot understand. I once had a pet owl and its eyes were huge. If anything else gets skunk scent in the eyes, it is torment.

I have written more about skunks and owls on my Internet site… larrydablemontoutdoors. Go there if you are interested. And I will finish the duck story in next week’s column and tell you how the Missouri Department of Conservation is giving 18 million dollars to a private company to try to refurbish one duck marsh! Unbelievable story! Email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com or call me at 417-777-5227. I usually get in from duck hunting about dark.