Michael Pearce

Duck season ends with many bangs

Hunting together the closing day of duck season has become as much a tradition as opening day for, from the left, Andy Fanter, Ed Markel, "Boomer" Bremer, Landen Snyder, Bob Snyder and Russ Snyder. Not pictured, Michael Pearce. They shot 34 mallards and four geese before 10:30 a.m. on Sunday.
Hunting together the closing day of duck season has become as much a tradition as opening day for, from the left, Andy Fanter, Ed Markel, "Boomer" Bremer, Landen Snyder, Bob Snyder and Russ Snyder. Not pictured, Michael Pearce. They shot 34 mallards and four geese before 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. The Wichita Eagle

The opening weekend of about any upland or waterfowls season is a really big deal for a lot of hunters.

For some real die-hards, the closing weekend is just as big. I’m one of those guys, for sure.

Part of it is to milk as many minutes as possible for a season that’s more than 70 days long. It’s also a chance to end another good season with some really great friends.

For about each of the past 14 seasons I’ve closed the ducking out with friends Bob Snyder and Ed Markel. Russ Snyder, Bob’s son, has been there for quite a few final days, as has Andy Fanter.

We’ve gone when Bob’s scouting and previous hunts have shown barely any ducks around the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. And then there was Sunday’s hunt.

Bob and Russ had predicted a good finish to the season based on the number of migrating ducks they saw while hunting on Saturday. Raised amid Quivira when his family managed private waterfowl clubs on the marshes, Bob’s predictions are usually correct.

The were on Sunday, for sure.

Seven of us met at a sizable pond Bob has managed for many years in western Reno County. As soon as it was light enough to see, we saw flocks of mallards coming from the south, fighting the day’s rugged northwest wind.

As soon as it was legal shooting time, Landen Snyder, Bob’s grandson and Russ’ son, dropped the first greenhead of the day. From then on the action was steady.

Flock after flock dumped towards the private marsh, working around and around trying to fight the wind. It was some of the best decoying action of the season.

We only got a couple of sizable flocks in range, but were happy to take the mallards one to four at a time. We ended with 33 mallard drakes and one mallard hen, of which nobody admitted shooting. We left the field one duck shy of everyone having their limit because Landen, a good shot, ran out of shells for his 20 gauge not long after he shot his fourth duck. Decoys were being bagged by around 10:30 a.m.

Then we were on to another tradition for the last day of duck hunting season, - fried chicken buffet at the Wheatland Cafe in Hudson. Wow, is it ever great.

The chicken is fried in skillets, heavy on the breading and cooked so it’s pull apart tender and perfectly flavored. It honestly reminds me of the homegrown fried chickens we had on my great-grandmother’s farm. It’s a far cry from chicken nuggets or the flash-fried chicken you get at several fast food places.

The buffet comes with ham and a selection of side dishes. Every year, though, I eat less and less of them and more and more of the friend chicken. I’ve actually never even tasted the ham, not with mountains of real fried chicken around.

Sunday I ate nine fried chicken wings, had seconds on homemade mashed potatoes using creamed corn instead of gravy and a nice slice of coconut cream pie. I’ll be hitting the gym extra hard these next few days trying to burn off a few thousand of those calories.

That’s OK, though. Special days call for special celebrations.

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