The river that slides away behind my johnboat holds many memories. In every little eddy, past every shoal, there’s something to recall from hunting or fishing trips in years gone by.
When I was a boy, we floated the river in wooden johnboats with boughs of oak, maple, and willow woven into a welded wire frame attached to the bow of the boat. It made a great floating blind. I still use the same type of blind, but now I hunt from an aluminum johnboat made for Ozark rivers and designed after old-time wooden river boats. It’s safe and stable and the blind makes the quietly floating johnboat nearly impossible for ducks or wild turkey to detect if you are a good paddler.
The greatest enjoyment in river hunting for me is the stalking. I get more of a thrill from paddling slowly into a big flock of mallards or wood ducks than I do from shooting. There are times when you spot a flock of ducks nearly a quarter mile away, and moving slowly, it may take 20 or 30 minutes to get in range. You have to go slowly. If you get in a hurry, your chances are greatly reduced.
The inexperienced boat paddler usually won’t be able to maneuver within range of many ducks. Even a good boat handler fails much of the time, which is why I find it to be such a great challenge.
Years ago in southern Missouri, I was floating a small stream when a drake wood duck saw me before I saw him. He eased off a log 50 yards ahead of me and began swimming downstream, easily keeping a good distance ahead of me.
I followed him through the eddy and over a shoal. He continued on through another small eddy and into a long stretch of narrow flowing channel. Through that stretch of water he remained just out of range; then he entered a bending shoal and went out of my sight downstream. I paddled through the shoal and into a long quiet eddy, but the wood duck was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly I heard the beat of wings, and I turned to see him leaving a small pocket behind me just below the shoal, swinging back up river. I got off one hurried shot, but forgot to lead him. As he winged away upriver and my shotgun blast echoed across the valley, I heard a muffled roar down at the lower end of the eddy. I turned to watch 50 or more woodies rise from the water and beat a hasty retreat. That’s the way river hunting sometimes goes.
Larry Dablemont currently writes a weekly newspaper column for 35 newspapers, publishes the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal, has written seven books, and can be heard on KWTO AM 560 Radio Springfield each Sunday morning on The Larry Dablemont Outdoor Program. He and his wife reside in Bolivar, Missouri. You can read some of Larry’s current and older posts at his blog, Outdoors with Larry Dablemont, and visit his Lightnin’ Ridge Facebook page.