At the best duck shacks, life takes on its own pace. And that’s just fine
Years ago, my buddy Joe rolled out of bed before daylight, stumbled into the kitchen of the tiny South Dakota farmhouse and raised a John Belushi-esque eyebrow at the cluttered table.
“High-fiber breakfast bars,” he muttered. “These have absolutely no place in duck camp.”
The bars, packed by my health-conscious mother for my dad, were conspicuously out of place in our ramshackle lodge. To punctuate his displeasure, Joe poured himself a cup of cowboy coffee and began making several ridiculously large omelets.
Joe might’ve been joking, but he wasn’t wrong. Duck camps from prairie Canada to the Mississippi Delta all have a unique atmosphere, and it’s one that’s blissfully different from everyday life. Duck camps feature iconic sights and sounds you’ll never experience anywhere else. Odd and annoying though they might be, it’s hard to hate them.
Consider these examples.
1. Dirty Dogs
Retrievers often get caked in muck during puddle-duck hunts, and even a swim in a clean lake and a quick towel-dry won’t completely remove the dirt. That’s when you begin to notice muddy butt prints in your truck and brown tail prints on white kitchen appliances. Don’t worry, though. That muck eventually dries into a fine dust — which you’ll notice in clouds every time you pat your pup for days after the trip.
2. Down and Fuzz
Cattail heads are loaded with fuzz, which contains thousands of tiny seeds designed to disperse on the wind. That fuzz also has a remarkable tendency to cover your camo, blind your vision and get sucked up your nose when you walk through a dry cattail patch. Much of that fuzz returns to camp, where it adheres to furniture and sometimes food. Don’t confuse those tiny seeds with another common camp invader: duck down. It doesn’t seem to matter where or how you clean ducks. Somehow, tiny specks of down will randomly float through camp buildings and cling to the windows. We don’t give them a second glance.
3. Odd Condiments
The kitchen table at duck camp usually does double duty as a buffet and a workbench. So, it’s no surprise that lunch and dinner spreads often mingle with bottles of CLP, gun oil and Hoppe’s No. 9. Careful, as those don’t taste good … and really aren’t edible. And try to avoid knocking over the gas piston and trigger assembly near the back of the table. You’ll need those later.
4. Optional Laundromats
I won’t say that duck hunters are slobs. Rather, we clean and dry our clothing as opportunity allows. Corner outlets are perfect for plugging in wader dryers, even if they do block the door a bit. And those socks, gloves and hats hung near the furnace register should dry by morning. The smell might take a bit longer to fix.
5. The Programing
This is probably unique to the many Dakota duck trips I’ve shared with my buddies, but I’m sure you have your own favorite show to relate to. Those camps are the only places I can consistently catch black-and-white reruns of The Lawrence Welk Show. This is especially enjoyable when the episode features local hero Myron Floren, the accordionist on the show from 1950 through 1980. Floren, known as “the happy Norwegian,” was born in Roslyn, South Dakota, where we’ve experienced too many great duck hunts to count.
6. Sleeping Arrangements
You’ll usually find tired duck hunters sacked out anywhere and everywhere in camp, including couches, recliners and even the floor. That isn’t because they prefer odd sleeping arrangements. Their dogs are simply hogging the beds. Trust me. My Lab weighs 55 pounds, and I can easily lift her with one arm. But try to move her a few inches so I can access my sleeping bag? It’d be easier to trailer my 20-foot boat by hand.
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.