It was late in the duck season, and for several weeks there had been few birds in the area. Rumor had it that “our birds” were staging about 100 miles to our north, in Quebec. We knew one thing that might bring them south was a weather pattern of monumental proportions. On the weather maps all week I watched the powerful front move up from the southeast, spinning counter-clockwise, accumulating strength and humidity over the Atlantic. It was shaping up to be one of those epic Nor’Easters. It was due to hit us hard on a Saturday afternoon, and, we all hoped, would blow the the ducks down from the St.Lawrence and Richelieu rivers
On Saturday morning I drove my truck around surveying all the access points to the lake that could be used with a northeast blow. Most of the accesses were already frozen in. Those that were still open were blocked by drifts of snow too deep for most boats and trailers to penetrate. I found only one that might be negotiated, and it had to be prepared by ramming through some deep drifts that had been plowed up onto the end of a street of summer cabins. The water just past the drifts was full of slush from the snow that had started falling. I started calling around to find trustworthy partners for the trip, preferably ones I could count on in an emergency. My friends John and Eric, my two best hunting partners, signed on. John is a middle-aged well-cultured and dependable friend who has shared many harrowing outdoor experinces and maintains his calm demeanor when faced with challenging conditions. John’s yellow lab, Remi is equally as dependable and a methodical hunter, calculating in his reserved style of retrieving. Eric, a young man headed for the Marines, is a thin, strong and quiet character who takes orders well and anticipates what needs to be done before anyone asks. These are the kind of partners with which you feel confident taking chances. We watched the wind and weather carefully.
At noon the snow and wind tapered off, giving us a short window of time in which to launch our flotilla of handmade sneakboats, bags of decoys, 2 dogs and thermoses of hot coffee. The boats were built to handle extreme weather. Barnegat-style sneakboats have long covererd foredecks and combing encircling the cockpit to keep water out, and with a traingular spray curtain on the deck in front of the cockpit, most of the water rolls off the curtain and back into the lake. Our goal was an island offshore about 400 yards, the first 200 of which were icy slush before we broke into open water. We headed for the southeast, leeward side of the island to set up under a big oak tree that wrapped it’s strong legs around the rocky shore. Then we spread our decoys out to our east with two-pound “H”-style anchors. Finally, we wedged the boats securely between the gnarly old oak and some shoreline shrubbery, then hunkered down to wait for wind-beaten birds to circle the island from the west and come barreling around the corner, seeking shelter in the cove.
At that precise moment it began to snow, hard. The wind ramped up, creating waves three to four feet high. Boone had nearly reached the bird, and when they both crested a wave, the bird dove. Boone circled in the trough, the whitecap spray flying over his head. This Chessie was not giving up.