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Divers - The Historical Addiction
The first photos of the following six were not taken during hunting. There was a time later in the season when divers begin to arrive in the narrow bay just outside of the national refuge area. For about a week, the Canvasbacks' numbers build and form huge rafts in that bay right where duck camp was situated. I was there one week early and captured the event. That morning was almost mystical. They were everywhere and not at all disturbed. Many were right outside the door to my camp trailer (no one else was there and I remained well hidden to capture the first three photos.
Most think in terms of diver “rafts” in deeper water where food requires “diving” because their normal diet is not as shallow as mallards and other puddle ducks (not always).
The following photos dealing with diver hunting reveal that conditions vary considerably .
Not soon after on my second go in the Rat, a bluebill came buzzing out of the north with a strong tailwind and only a few feet off the deck. The bullet pass would be from left to right. This is my weak swing…..really weak. I swung anyway. As I rotated, the gunnel of the Marsh Rat was very much in the way and almost immediately I was awkwardly attempting to rotate past 90 degrees. The “Rat” gunnels are not designed for that. My left arm lost contact with the shotgun and it was swinging free (only in my right) like large, long barreled pistol…..when I fired. The bluebill folded up immediately doing a cool, bouncing cartwheel across the choppy water. To this day I am not sure how my Benelli M1 did not end up in the “drink”. I have very little recollection about how or when the two buffleheads were shot except one did not appear on the surface for several minutes.
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The Canvassback was first. I saw him coming from far away….alone and very high...out of the north. At first it seemed like was headed elsewhere as we were in the middle of a very wide section of the Mississippi River. However, he was alone. The suction of the decoys pulled him into somewhat of a spectacular, tight, spiraling dive with the final swing turn a few feet off the water in front of me going right to left. I did not think about the shot (which is a good thing) and it only to the one. As he splashed down I raised my shotgun up into the air with my right arm like a wild, arab tribesman. I was sure that moment would never be topped again. However, I was wrong.
During first exposure to a big river, diver hunt was mostly learning what not to do. A friend had a larger tender boat and used a Marsh Rat to hunt out of and his "Rat" was not exactly the ideal big river diver boat. The day was interesting, but nothing to write home about. I was not adept in the tender and his Marsh Rat was not exactly an ideal diver rig for a novice. Trial runs are sometimes better not discussed in detail.