"Is John Martin coming over?" Ginger asked his dad, Johnny McLeod. "No, he's not going to make it," Johnny answered. We were having an extended family dinner, and our nephew was missing. Then Johnny leaned over to me and said in a whisper, "They're on a bunch of ducks on the lower lake, and I think they're going back later this week to camp out til opening day."
I've missed a few family dinners myself, and I know the anticipation of opening day in a duck hunter's world. My thoughts drifted back a few years to another opening day.
My brother-in-law Johnny Harrington and I were running up the river from Packs Landing just after daylight one morning, looking for ducks. It was our last chance to scout before the season opened. After a couple of turns up the river from the railroad trestle, we saw a big flock of mallards sail over up high and drop below the tree line into the Bog Hole. Johnny cut the motor, and we drifted along with the current, watching as other flocks approached, circled and sailed in.
After a little discussion, we decided to split up. Johnny put me out on the bank near the creek going into the Bog Hole, and he went on up the river in the boat to look at other areas.
I had on waders and had no trouble easing through the swampy flat toward the sound of feeding ducks. It sounded like hundreds of them splashing around and quacking just ahead in the big oxbow lake. I was stunned by what I saw!
Out in the lake a big group of mallards were diving. There were at least 200 ducks bunched up into a tight little wad right out in the center of the lake, and they were diving like a bunch of coots. Mallards are puddle ducks and don't usually dive unless they are playing or escaping from danger, but these ducks were doing neither; they were feeding on something. There were hundreds more scattered up and down the lake, loafing and resting. I backed out quietly and carefully and made my way back to the river.
When Johnny got back we decided to go in and investigate. I hated to run those ducks up, but we needed to see how many were there and what they were feeding on. We took the little creek in to the big flat and turned in to a narrow trail that ran through the big reeds toward the first oxbow lake. The Bog Hole is a series of oxbow lakes that line the inside bend of the Santee River on the Calhoun County side. Before we got to the first lake, the sky started to fill with ducks, hundreds of them, thousands maybe. They could hear our motor as we approached and were flushing wildly.
We cut the motor and drifted out into the lake watching mesmerized as hundreds of mallards circled overhead. Little groups started dropping back in on some of the other nearby lakes.
We thought that this first lake was likely baited and wanted to look at some of the other nearby lakes before making a decision on where to hunt. The next lake over was landlocked by brush and reeds. The only way to get in there was from the sky. Access to the third lake over was open. It looked promising, but we pushed on to the next. Groups of mallards had resettled into all the nearby lakes after being run out of the first lake.
We finally found a little open lake toward the back of the Bog Hole and decided we were far enough away from the first lake to be legal - if it was baited. By now some other hunters out scouting had seen the ducks and were in there keeping them stirred up. We decided to come back the next day and spend the night in our spot. It is public ground and is first come, first serve. The following morning would be opening day.
We brought some friends and had a great hunt, limiting out on mallards. I was younger then and thought nothing about spending the night in a boat out on the lake or in the swamp. Those days are gone now, with my old bones aching too much to spend a cold night in a jon boat and with few big ducks coming to upper Lake Marion.
The continental population of mallards is at an all-time high, but sadly we just don't get them here anymore. Short stopping, over shooting, low water levels and milder weather has caused migratory trends to change.
I haven't been to the Bog Hole in years, but I'll never forget those days, and the cold nights huddled in the bottom of a boat, waiting on opening day.
Reach Dan Geddings at firstname.lastname@example.org.