It's 3:30 a.m. The air is cold and brisk, and the parking lot is full of boats and camo-clad hunters. It's something only hard core, seasoned waterfowl hunters can appreciate, one of which I am not. But I'm getting there. I had an opportunity to hunt with my good buddy Nick Shafer on Rend Lake in Southern Illinois. The north-east branch of the north end of the Lake is open to the public on a "draw" basis. Hunters show up in the wee hours, put their names on a list, and at 4 am the fine folks from the management area begin to draw names. Once chosen, the hunters get to choose their sites, which are strategically placed and marked throughout the lake.
Out of about 80 groups of hunters, we were drawn about 12th. Beginners luck I figure. We were after diving ducks, so Nick had a good spot in mind. I brought my son Logan and my nephew Matt on their first waterfowl hunt. This was a new experience for them, as it was for me. I have duck hunted before for mallards, but had never hunted the "draw" on Rend before. Soon the parking lot emptied as various floating duck blinds disappeared from the ramp into the darkness.
The morning was off to a slow start, with a lot of ruddy ducks buzzing the outer edges of our spread, out of range. But soon we had some bluebills turn and pitch into our spread. With a brief volley from the boys, 3 birds folded and Koa, Nick's yellow lab was off to retrieve our bounty.
By 10:00, we had not seen too much action and the boys' enthusiasm started to dwindle. "I don't think we're going to see anything else," stated Matt, with a slight look of despair on his face. This was his first hunt. Without any previous hunting experience, he has yet to learn patience. That this is "hunting", not "killing". Nothing is guaranteed when it comes to hunting and fishing, but that is a reality that only comes with many years in the field and on the water.
Out of nowhere, as if the waterfowl gods has answered a first-timers prayer, a flock of canvasbacks circled overhead. "Get ready" hissed Nick as he belted out a series of calls that sounded more realistic than the ducks themselves. On the second pass they turned, cupped their wings and glided into our spread. Within seconds, gun barrels were smoking and it was raining ducks. We each dropped one bird, filling our limit for canvasbacks. What was moments ago a quiet and solemn mood in the boat was now a barrage of high fives, smiles and shouting. But Koa didn't care. He was already in the water scooping up the birds. "That's how quickly things change when it comes to hunting," I explained to the newbies. "Just when you feel like giving up, that's when the action usually starts."
We also took a few ringnecks that morning, and saw a variety of other cool diving ducks and geese. It was an incredible waterfowling experience that I know my boys will never forget. For me, the rush was not so much the action, but to see two young hunters take their first waterfowl. Had we not had to hit the road for a 4 hour drive home, we would have probably squeezed in some fishing.
The Rend Lake draw hunt will give hunters an opportunity to take some of the coolest birds in our flyway including Golden eyes, Blue Bills, Redheads, Ruddy Ducks , Shovelers and the prized Canvasback. There are also opportunities to hunt out of pits for snow geese, blues, and Canada geese. The "draw" hunt is open to the public. But you should bring a boat, most of the hunting is on the water. The drawing starts at 4 am, and you can hunt until noon, and need to be off the water by 1. Rend Lake is about 4 hours form Chicago, a straight shot down I-57, just past Mt. Vernon. For more information and a map, visit the DNR website HERE.
By the way, Nick is one hell of a crappie guide. If you're looking for some prime crappie fishing on Rend Lake, contact Nick at www.crappiepredator.com.