Afield with Friends

When my friends from Saskachewan, Canada, stopped at the Big Horn visitor center in Montana, I knew our conversation soon would be about waterfowl.

After all, they lived and homesteaded in the heart of the most extensive breeding populations of mallard waterfowl in North America. My friend, John Wilbrecht, manager of the Jackson Hole Elk Refuge in Wyoming and an avid waterfowl hunter, and I were well aware of the potential for excellent shooting in that section of Canada.

It was then, many years ago, that we had the opportunity to visit, photograph and spend many seasons doing what we loved to do – hunting native waterfowl that were great to decoy.

It is a waterfowler’s delight and gives your Labrador retriever the opportunity and experience to blossom and exhibit their qualities of greatness.

The mallard, a dabbling duck, at maturity pushes the scales to slightly more than two pounds, depending on the food available, habitat and flexiblility in adapting to food variations.

I learned years ago that the most important factors for hunters to enjoy an endless population of mallards was, and are, lakes and potholes (and water) for reproduction, with foods that will grow a healthy bird.

The southeastern provinces of Canada are ideal for mallards to sustain the millions reproduced each summer. To understand that, you only have to hunt or visit those areas. Not only are there thousands of square miles of excellent habitat, but the basic crop is wheat – to the delight of waterfowl.

Asked how they did in the previous waterfowl season, my friends from Canada said, “We don’t hunt … we just pick them up after the mallards, overweight from gorging themselves with grain, kill or cripple themselves as they hit the ground while landing.”

That is difficult to comprehend, but the birds’ wing span is designed to support only so much weight, and mallards often have a desire to stuff their crops to over capacity.

Although the Canada plains of the western provinces have an abundance of food and habitat, Pennsylvania does not have to take a back seat when it comes to supporting a excellent population of mallard ducks.

We can show the facts that Pennsylvania has perhaps the greater amount of actual rainfall and thousands of miles of free-flowing streams. Big Pine Creek, which flows into the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, is just short of 100 miles in length. The state’s streams and lakes are bordered by millions of acres of grain fields that the mallard, and other puddle ducks, prefer.

We need to increase the populations of this magnificant bird by giving them a guaranteed nesting site, free of the most vicious predators such as snapping turtles, baby-faced raccoons and skunks that prey daily on newly hatched young and can devour a complete nest of eggs in a matter of minutes.

We need to encourage the development of wild breeding stock, divorced from pen-raised ducks for release by shooting clubs. Give them back the swamps and wetlands that modern developers drained for greed and the lack of common sense, and mallards can do it all.