Deeking Out Over Decoys

A metal ring in the base of the decoy holds the bottom open on the way down and then keeps it underwater, so the air can’t escape.

No Ordinary Rubber Ducky!

One of my earliest memories is being in the bathtub with my brother, Rick, and playing with inflatable ducks. That’s right, rubber duckies. But not just any rubber duckies. These were life-sized, and they were painted with life-like colors. Years later, it finally occurred to me to ask where they came from. Mom informed me that they were samples that my father used when they lived in Salt Lake City, Utah. Intrigued, I went to eBay to see what the antique deeks might be worth.

Not much, as it turned out, but I did discover something worth more than mere dollars. Our duck-hunting legacy had a name – Deeks. Armed with this bit of trivia, I did a Web search, but there the trail went cold. The Internet revealed nothing about our childhood bath toys. The next time I saw Rick I gave him half of the Deeks and hung the other three in my office.

A few years later, I found myself in need of a sheet of nice writing paper. I was out of my letterhead but remembered that when Rick and I cleared out Mom’s apartment I kept a box containing an odd assortment of stationery. I pulled it out and as I sorted through the contents came across four sheets of pristine Deeks letterhead. My curiosity once again piqued, I did another Web search that led to a surprising treasure trove of information on the ISA Corporation’s website.

ISA is the direct lineal descendent of the Intermountain Rubber Company, which began making Deeks decoys in the 1930s. Competition from manufacturers in other countries prompted ISA to discontinue Deeks production in the 1960s, but ISA is making Deeks once again. Even more interesting to me was the fact that ISA had put a bunch of historical information about Deeks on their website. Far and away the coolest thing on the website is a segment from the old “Industry on Parade” television program showing how Deeks were made. Seeing how much ISA valued its history, I contacted them and asked if they would like to have a couple of sheets of the old Deeks stationery. They accepted the offer and kindly sent me a dozen Deeks to show their appreciation. Their greenhead mallard model was out of stock, so they sent black mallards instead. It turns out they are a perfect match for those I played with six decades ago!


As an avid duck hunter, I could hardly have been more pleased with the arrangement. When I injured my back a few years ago, I sold most of my 200-plus decoys and replaced them with a dozen high-quality, flocked-head decoys from Cabela’s. I was hoping that quality could replace quantity. The notion has proved out pretty well, but there were still times when I wish for another dozen decoys. With my new Deeks, I have that extra dozen. Although the inflatables are far less credible to my human eyes, ducks don’t seem to notice the difference. Just last week I had a fantastic teal hunt over five Deeks and a Mojo Teal, and I used the full dozen Deeks in combination with my flocked-head Cabela’s decoys to good effect last year.


Setting out Deeks is simple. A 4-inch steel ring holds open the bottom hole, and you simply drop them so they catch air on the way down. The weight of the ring holds the opening underwater, keeping it inflated. The chest of each decoy has a small pocket into which you insert a glass marble, and you tie your anchor line around the outside of the marble. Deeks are dramatically more compact than other decoys. The steel, marble and rubber add up to four or 5 pounds per dozen, making they significantly lighter than plastic decoys, and a far lighter than my foam flock-heads.

Lightness translates into more motion in light wind, which is a good thing, however, it also means that a brisk breeze can tip they far enough onto their sides that they lose air. ISA solved this with rubber caps that slip over the outside of the steel ring, holding air in.

When I’m too old to hunt ducks or remember my name, I hope the folks at the nursing home let me take a couple of Deeks in the tub with me!


Tealgating – Outdoor Cooking for Hunters

You don’t need fancy gear or ingredients to prepare a feast fit for a king.

My first forays into cooking anything other than scrambled eggs often involved ground beef and cream of mushroom soup. Those dishes weren’t sophisticated, but they were fast, easy and sustaining for a college student for whom “middle-age spread” was still several years away.

Campbell’s got less and less of my business as my waistline expanded and my cholesterol level climbed. Until a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t remember the last time I heard the delicious slurp of a slug of condensed soup slid out of a can into a casserole dish. But as dove season approached, I was in the market for an easy, delicious way to prepare dove breasts in camp, and I reverted to old habits with a few twists acquired in the intervening decades. The resulting feast was so wonderful, I was eager to repeat it. I got my chance on Saturday, September 17, 2016, which was the opening day of Missouri’s early teal season.

Even more than most waterfowl hunting, teal season is a crap shoot. It lasts only 16 days and if you don’t get a substantial cold front to push birds down from the Dakotas, or if you can’t be in the marsh when a migratory pulse occurs, you will spend the morning looking at empty skies. That has been my experience for the past few years. This year’s season opener, however, was the kind that sustains the zeal of teal devotees through the lean years. We saw more teal before sunrise than we had during the entirety of the previous five seasons combined. When the morning flight petered out around 10 a.m., I had five blue-winged teal to work with.

Browning meat develops savory flavors you can’t get any other way.

Back at camp, I fired up my Coleman propane stove and browned the breasts in olive oil in a cast iron Dutch oven. When they were on the dark side of golden, I set them aside, added another two tablespoons of oil and four medium-sized, sliced onions.

When the onions started to caramelize, I added some garlic powder, salt, pepper and cup of full-bodied red wine. I stirred with a steel spatula, taking care to scrape the goop off the bottom, then stirred in two cans of cream of mushroom soup and a can of water. I kept stirring the mixture on high heat until it started to bubble, then turned down the burner as low as it would go and placed the browned breasts on top of the onion-wine-soup concoction. I sealed the Dutch oven with its tight-fitting lid and set my cell-phone timer for 45 minutes.

Cook onions until they begin to caramelize, leaving some slightly crunchy.

Before starting this process, I had lit half of a small bag of self-starting charcoal in the fire ring. It was now covered with gray ash and ready to cook. After spreading the coals out in a flat bed, I peeled and sliced a large sweet potato and put the slices on a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil. I salted the potatoes, added some squeeze margarine and a liberal sprinkling of real bacon bits, then folded the foil over and sealed the package. Then I laid out another sheet of foil, laid the packet top-down on this second sheet and sealed it snugly. This inverted double wrap makes it possible to turn the packet over and cook both sides without spilling the liquid inside.

When 45 minutes were up, I checked the doneness of the breasts. The larger ones were still a little rare for my taste. The last thing you want to do to waterfowl is cook it beyond medium-rare. The result will be tough, dry, livery-tasting meat. However, duck tartar is not my cup of tea, either. The sweet potatoes were perfectly cooked at this point, so I took them off the coals, wrapped the two too-rare breasts in foil and finished them on the coals. Fifteen minutes later, I was ready to eat. OMG. Medium-rare teal breast and potatoes smothered in mushroom gravy. Heaven.

Simmer until the meat is rare or at most medium-rare.

I ate until I was stuffed, then continued to snack on potatoes and gravy as I cleaned up the kitchen area, set up my tent and savored the left-over wine. That combination, plus having been up at the crack of dawn, beats any sleeping pill on the market. I read only half a page of my book before falling sound asleep. The glow of sunset hadn’t even faded from the western horizon. Perfect timing, since I planned to do it all over again the next day.

Who cares if this cholesterol fest shaves a few days off the end of my life. By then I’ll probably be in a nursing home, eating hot dogs and pureed spinach. It seems like a good trade-off to me.

I like sweet potatoes, but this recipe is equally good with Idaho potatoes.

Hunter Preparations – Mixed Bag


-Doves, Ducks and Deer are sure to be on hunters’ minds this week
-Missouri Hunters Smile and Say, “Whata’ We Hunting Today?”

We made it! The long dry spell for hunting is nearly over, and Show-Me State hunters once again will be savoring the piquant smell of burned gunpowder and the twang of bowstrings.  Some of you will have taken the hunting monkey off your back by pursuing squirrels or woodchucks for the past three months, but that’s cold comfort for those whose favorite pastimes involve winged game or deer.

Dove, snipe and rail seasons lead the way, opening September 1.  Waterfowl are next, with this year’s early teal season opening September 10.  Archery deer and turkey season launches Sept.  15, followed by rabbits, firearms turkey hunting and the early Canada goose season October 1.  One of my favorites, woodcock season, opens October 15 and duck season gets under way in the North Zone October 29.  Quail and pheasant seasons open November 1, and firearms deer season isn’t far behind.
Here are some random thoughts about this panoply of autumn excitement.


I previously covered safety considerations and the abundance of hunting opportunities in hunting areas managed specifically for doves and dove hunters by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC).  So here’s a tip to killing more doves: Go snake-eyed.  Nothing makes hitting a dove harder than not spotting the bird until it’s on top of you.  Because they can come from any compass point or elevation, our hunter natural tendency is to constantly swivel our head in all directions.  Don’t do it.  Motion registers in our brains when the image of an object moves across our retinas.  Putting your retina itself in motion by turning your head or cutting your eyes left, right, up and down only makes it harder to see the tiny motion of an approaching dove 200 yards out.

Instead, when waiting for a shot, pick a spot near the center of the horizon where doves are most likely to appear and settle your gaze there, as if you were a snake waiting to ambush its prey.  Don’t maintain focus on a particular spot.  Let your eyes drift apart, go a little walleyed.  Sitting with head and eyes still, you will be amazed at how easily you notice the movement of an incoming bird.  You won’t be able to see birds that are out of your peripheral vision, but that would be equally true if you were rubber-necking.



This works equally well for teal, which often fly low and fast and are on your decoys before you have time to blink, let alone raise a gun.  Speaking of teal and guns, these early migrating speedsters call for slightly different hardware and ammunition than full-sized ducks.  Teal – especially green wings – tend to fly in tight little flocks.  As a result, it’s easy to knock down more than one with a single shot.  I have killed as many as three with one trigger pull.  I was elated about that.  I did it deliberately and was over the moon at the result.  However, the intervening years have landed me in a place where I like to savor a hunt for hours, rather than end it in minutes.  Also, as you approach a limit, the possibility of killing more than one teal at a shot becomes a liability rather than an asset.

That’s why I now use a tighter choke during the early teal season than I do later in the year.  I use a full choke in my autoloader and choose an ancient Merkel side-by-side choked full and extra full or an Antonio Zoli over-under, choked full and modified.  Because maintaining adequate pattern density isn’t an issue with these chokes, I now use Number 4 steel instead of Number 6, as I once did.  The combination of tight choke and large shot size translates into many fewer birds crippled or lost.  If you hit a bird with a full choke and Number 4 shot, it’s going down for the count and the tight pattern allows you to target one bird out of a compact flock.



The regular waterfowl season is what I dream about the other nine months of the year.  To maximize my chances of getting some good hunts, I never miss a chance to apply for reservations at MDC’s 15 intensively managed wetland areas.  Throughout the season, I apply twice a week for reservations at Grand Pass, Eagle Bluffs or Otter Slough conservation areas through the Quick Draw system.  The first year I drew an astonishing four reservations.  For the past two years, I’ve come up with goose eggs.  Fortunately, I have friends who also use Quick Draw and since as many as four people can hunt on one QD reservation, I have gotten to hunt these areas every year.

The other opportunity I never miss is applying for a hunt under the regular waterfowl reservation system used to allocate hunting opportunities at MDC’s other 12 managed wetland areas.  MDC accepts applications for these areas from September 1 through 18.  Successful applicants receive notification October 1.  Finally, I take my chances at the slots allocated for hunters without reservations.  This involves arriving early at my chosen area and standing in the “Poor Line” with other reservation-less hunters in hopes of pulling a low number and getting to hunt.  When I strike out, I go to Plan B, driving to an open-hunting area with wetland habitat or taking my small boat to a sandbar on the Missouri River to hunt.


As Show-Me State deer hunters know, Missouri is in the early stages of a slow-moving epidemic.  Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a brain-wasting disease of deer, elk and moose caused by malformed proteins that are too primitive to even be called organisms.  That doesn’t prevent them from killing every deer they infect.

In an effort to slow the spread of the disease, MDC has instituted several measures to track the spread of the disease and reduce risk factors for spreading it.  In the past year, the number of counties where MDC is conducting CWD surveillance has increased to the point where it is no longer logistically feasible for the agency to cull deer for testing.  In order to continue surveillance, MDC is requiring hunters to submit for tissue sampling any deer taken in the 29-county CWD Management Zone during opening weekend of the November Portion of firearms deer season – November 12 and 13.  You can bring the whole deer or the head only, as long as you leave it attached to at least 6 inches of neck.
MDC will maintain 75 sampling stations in the 29 counties of the CWD Management Zone.  They will be open from 7:30 a.m. until 8 p.m.  November 12 and 13.  Their locations, including directions, are listed in the 2016 Missouri Fall Deer and Turkey Hunting Regulations booklet, which is available wherever hunting permits are sold or online.

I have already been fiddling with decoys and have inventoried my ammunition so I can fill any gaps during fall sales.  I even put on my muddy waders and climbed into the jet tub to pinpoint the source of last year’s wet crotch (I have a very patient wife).  The weather forecast shows high 70s for the dove opener, which means that teal will be filtering down from the Dakotas by September 10.  Lord, how I love this time of year!  At this point, it’s all promise.