You’d be surprised what a problem it is, backing a pickup truck down an icy ramp to launch a boat that’s frozen to the trailer. The treachery of a 45-degree slab of concrete that’s skating-rink slick and ending in a flowing river aside, the ice makes the boat stick to the trailer bunks. The procedure goes: One man stays in the truck to keep the wheels straight, ready to feather the accelerator when (it’s definitely “when” and not “if”) the truck slides. Hitting the brakes basically creates a sled. Two other men, wearing chest waders, stand in hip-deep water and rock the bow of the boat until it busts loose and floats away from the trailer. That they’ll be the first thing the truck runs over, should it slide out of control, isn’t a lost thought. Yet, there’s no reason to leave a warm bed if you can’t get the boat in the water.
It’s been this cold for three straight days. The river is the only open water left, and it’s where the ducks are. But we need a boat to hunt it—one that floats and starts and runs without fail and isn’t frozen to a trailer.
After our morning hunts, I’ve been driving into town to fill up fuel cans with kerosene. Once home, I back my truck into the shop, light up my kerosene heater, shut the doors, and pray nothing catches fire. Clean ducks. Thaw my waders in the shower. At least once during the night, I get up, plod to the shed in my pajamas and insulated Crocs, top off the heater with more kerosene, and then head back to bed, only to wake up a few hours later and rehitch the trailer. The boat and the decoys inside it will be nicely thawed and seemingly dry, but inevitably, there’s still enough moisture on the trailer bunks that the boat will be stuck to them by the time we get to the river.
The icy boat is far from the only hassle. We’ve been using drops of zero-weight motor oil to keep our autoloaders cycling. Decoy bags freeze solid. Wing-spinner batteries stop working. Yesterday, my buddy Tim stood to shoot a goose and his folding stool was frozen right to the ass of his waders. As he straightened, the stool broke loose in shards of ice like a shattered mirror. Down went the goose too.
Truth is, everything about hunting is more difficult in weather like this. All duck hunters know it gets good when it’s cold. But not many people are out here with us, despite the fact that we’re hunting a public shoreline, wide open to anyone. The late season takes its toll on enthusiasm as much as anything. But it has its perks. To see a goldeneye drake—a bird of almost impossible beauty born in some boreal forest marsh that probably no man has ever set foot in—scream into the decoys at 10 yards makes it all worthwhile. It’s why I love this time of year. Weather that gets vicious enough to make the news and thin the competition can also set up some simply outstanding hunting. It forces game to move, feed, and seek company. If you enjoy coaxing critters in with calls and decoys—and measuring the shot distance in feet—there’s no better time to be out there.