By Mike Everett Explore Big Sky Contributor
There are few moments that can best a southwest Montana sunrise. One such moment is sitting in an early morning duck blind with a good bird dog that’s shivering from excitement and anticipation. You warm with a thermos of hot coffee and hear the unique whistling that only duck wings can make. The pinnacle is the smell of burnt gunpowder from an empty shotgun shell, the contents of which were just discharged at a passing gadwall.
The first Saturday in October begins opening weekend for Montana’s waterfowl season. Brian Taylor, Joe Hoffman and I made up the crew filling the blind that morning. The week prior, Joe and I built a handful of blinds to be fully prepared for opening day.
In years past, we were often the only people hunting on this lake, which is located south of secret creek, behind no-tell mountain (a wise hunter never divulges his prized hunting spots). This year it was different. We awoke at 3:30 a.m. to the sound of a long line of trucks waiting at the boat launch. Legal shooting light began at 6:56 a.m., 30 minutes before sunrise, so we decided that a 5 a.m. wake up would provide ample time for us to get dressed, feed the dogs and percolate some coffee.
We would regret this wake up time, at first. Across the lake, we could see the faint glow of headlamps where we had built a blind the previous week. That’s public-land hunting for you: The early bird gets the worm, which in this case, was the best spot on the lake. We made a quick decision to load up and head to a secluded bay on the south end of the lake where we hastily built a blind and hoped that it would provide enough concealment from the sharp-eyed fowl. It turned out to be a wise decision.
On the way to the area, we saw more than 1,000 geese roosted in the bay. We built the blind then threw out two dozen duck decoys and a dozen full-body goose decoys. As we sat in the blind before sunrise, we could hear thousands of birds quacking and honking all around. We were on the “X,” as water-fowlers would say.
The first couple of flights soared past us, wings whistling, and didn’t pay much attention to our calls – the dogs were more upset than we were. But soon enough a large flock of mallards cupped their wings and set among the decoys. I called the shot and after the smoke cleared, five birds were left floating in the spread. Bell – my dog and best friend – made her way out to the birds and retrieved them all. We ended the day with five geese, and 14 ducks.
It was a great hunt with great friends, and I hope to witness more sunrises in the coming months of Montana’s waterfowl season. Hopefully I can have just as much luck, too.
This is a simple duck dish to prepare. I aquired the recipe from a chef friend of mine who specializes in Italian cuisine. The Marsala wine highlights the naturally sweet taste of the duck breasts.
4 duck breasts
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon thyme
¾ cup heavy cream
11/2 cup Marsala wine
4 cloves garlic
mushrooms (as many as you like)
parmesan cheese, grated
salt/pepper to taste
Season flour with salt and pepper and dredge the duck breasts in the seasoned flour until thoroughly breaded. Brown the breasts in olive oil in a 7-quart Dutch oven until golden brown. Remove breasts, add onion and cook at medium-high heat until onions are soft. Add garlic, thyme, duck breasts and mushrooms. Deglaze the pan with all of the Marsala wine. Let wine reduce for five minutes then add heavy cream. Finish the dish with parmesan cheese and serve over any pasta, rice, or potatoes.