A Daydream Come True
By: Jerry Costabile
Going back to when I was a young boy growing up on the shores of Lake Michigan, I was fascinated by the late season divers that would appear in late December and January.
Hunting in the southeastern Wisconsin, I saw and hunted mallards, teal and occasionally we would see a diver or two late in the duck season. But I couldn’t wait until those later months when the big water divers started showing up on the lakefront and in the harbors. Goldeneyes, Buffelheads, Redheads, and the duck that fascinated me the most, the oldsquaw.
When I saw a beautiful drake oldsquaw, I watched him dive and reappear 20, 30, 40 yards or better away from where he disappeared. I don’t know why, but I would watch him dive over and over, always hoping to one day to be able to hunt them.
By luck or fate, in early October, I met a gentleman while walking thru the fishing department who was looking at salmon lures. Being the salmon fisherman that I am, (and I love to talk fishing!) I approached him and we learned that we had a lot in common, including duck hunting. Within minutes of introductions, we were on the subject of hunting oldsquaw! Without a hesitation, my new friend, invited myself and my sons to hunt with him and his son in November. This was too much too believe, I wasn’t going to get my hopes up just yet. I have been here before and could only hope that this stranger was going to take us out on this duck hunters dream hunt.
Well, the first week of November I get a call and it is him with the invitation still alive, asking me when we could come up and hunt. I couldn’t believe it; I was going to get to hunt oldsquaw! When I got home that day, I told the boys that this hunt was on and we were going to go on the hunt in the next two weeks. I showed both of my boys what an oldsquaw looked like and how we were going to hunt them. You see this time of the year, these birds are miles off the shores of Lake Michigan and we would be hunting them in lay-out boats in the open water. This is something else that I have always dreamed of doing. Hunting divers from a boat that is about 10 feet long and is only about 6 to 8 inches above the waterline. Most of the boat is below the surface of the water, this allows the hunter to lay very low to the water and create a low profile helping to hide from the ducks. I was coming apart at the seams waiting for that day to come!
With a phone call the evening before we were leaving, I found out that we were going to have good weather and an ideal wind to hunt the big water. The Dodge Ram was packed and ready the night before and I got no sleep with anticipation of the hunt I have thought about every time I saw a drake oldsquaw swimming in the harbor during the winter for all of those years. We pulled out of the driveway at 2:30am and headed north to Two Rivers, Wisconsin. I had a cup of coffee and pure adrenaline to keep me awake for the 2 hour drive, this was it, I was going to be hunting oldsquaw and it looked like nothing was going to stop me!
Upon arriving at the boat launch, there was our crew setting up the boat and equipment for our hunt. To say I was excited was an understatement, I was beside myself! But I had to keep myself under control because I had two teenage boys who were also on a first time hunt. For my youngest son, this was his first real duck hunt, and what a way to be introduced to duck hunting! After loading our gear into the boat, we were headed down the ramp and launching the tender boat, a 25 foot Duck Water Ocean. This boat is a beast! Loaded on the tender, is a 10 foot Waterfowl-Works UFO layout boat and a 14 foot Bankes Hercules layout boat.
The boat was in the water and we boarded with excitement! Decoy bags stacked everywhere, camouflaged bags and cased guns tucked under the shelves that line the inside of the boat. There were milk crates lined up filled with anchor line and buckets loaded with 100’ and 50’ decoy lines. This boat was well equipped and ready for work!
With the sun just making a thin line to the east, we headed out for our spot already marked on the GPS. We were in a two to three foot waves and the boat was cutting thru them like a Naval U- Boat. I must have looked like a dog with its head out of the truck window, I had my chin up and my eyes closed. At that moment, I was thinking how lucky I am to be there and with a prayer and thanks to the man upstairs, I was ready!
Once we determined what the morning flight pattern was going to be that the ducks would use, we started to set up. Layout boats in and anchored, and then the lines of decoys were stretched out to form a perfect pattern that would later pull in hundreds of ducks. When the man said that I would be one of the first in a layout boat, my heart started racing! This was it, I was about to live out a hunt that I have daydreamed about since I was kid. I was watching thousands of ducks flying all around us and knew that we were in the right location. I want to confess that I studied Outdoor Life and Field & Stream while I was in school, like a valedictorian studied all of those other books! Even though I had never done this before, my long days and nights of cramming and memorizing was about to be put to a test. I knew I was going to pass this one!
I was given a quick rundown of how to enter the layout, and over the side I went. Once I got in and lay down comfortably, my gun and ammo was handed to me and that fast, the tender boat was gone. The other layout would be occupied by my youngest son Kyle. I was a bit nervous with him about thirty yards to my right and this being all new to him. I guess being a dad and not being there to guide him every step of the way, had me feeling a little uneasy. But within minutes, he showed me he was up for the challenge. He dropped his first ever duck, a drake oldsquaw at that, with a beautiful shot! Man was I pumped, now it was my turn, the first pair came in on my left and banked into the decoys perfectly. As they reached the decoy spread, I sat up, took aim, and missed. Not once, but twice! “OK Jerry, calm down and figure it out!” I said this out loud and reloaded. Then another pair came beautifully into the spread, and flying directly at me. When they got into about twenty yards, I sat up and followed the lead duck and fired. Bingo, first bird down! Just like Kyle had done, I radioed the tender boat that I had a bird down and they pushed the throttle of the 250 hp Mercury Optimax Pro X/S down and raced into scoop up my bird with a fish net and raced back out to about 400 yards to wait for the next downed bird.
This went on for about 45 minutes until we both had three birds. The last bird I shot was a gorgeous drake oldsquaw and when the tender crew picked up the bird, over the radio I heard “Jerry, you will want to have this one mounted, it’s a beauty!” If my day would have ended right then, I was happy. The one duck that I had wanted to harvest since I was a young boy was now waiting for me.
After the next two guys got in to the layout boats, and I was on board the tender boat, I held in my hand, this amazing bird that I had so much respect and admiration for. I bowed my head and thanked its creator for allowing me to fulfill a dream with this beautiful bird.
The morning finished with a limit of oldsquaw for everyone, and after the gear was stowed in the tender, we headed back to shore. Once pictures were done and everything loaded back in the Dodge, we headed north to hunt the next day in a new location and another species of duck. But that’s another story.
Thank you to my boys, Jake and Kyle, for living this lifelong adventure with me. As I get older, these times together mean a lot to me. I love you guys.
Mike and Greyson, you guys are true ambassadors to the waterfowl nation!
JJ, of JJ’s Guide Service, nobody works harder to see that the job gets done.