Surely there would be rosybills this morning.
The walk to our pair of one-man pit blinds had been in total darkness along a slim, submerged rut through dense reeds. The walk had abruptly ended upwind of an opening about a half-acre in size, more long than wide. The water was about belly deep; deeper in places. The opening centered a 4-acre wetland. A good, deep duck hole, heavily protected by reeds and adjacent topography. Blinds well-concealed in a dense bed of reeds. Decoys 10-15 yards downwind. Five boxes of shotshells per man at ready. Surely there would be rosybills.
If the rosies make a showing, I said quietly, let them work right into the decoys. The first birds of the morning passed overhead, diminutive shadows far above us. White-faced tree ducks.
Bob had told me the night before, somewhere between the brick-sized filet mignons and several glasses of Malbec wine that followed, that he had taken up duck hunting in his 50s because in addition to shotgunning, he liked the company. I'd certainly seen his shooting prowess on several occasions while hunting perdiz, which is similar to his mainstay quail hunting in Arizona, and especially while hunting dove in Cordoba. The distinction between dove hunting and duck hunting, I opined, manifests in the shooting working birds: decoying ducks, snagging wild birds from the air and deceiving them nearer - is the essence of duck hunting. To greenhead purists back home, I had described, it is all about landing them among the decoys in flooded timber. The actual trigger pulling is sometimes entirely secondary.
The world over, watching ducks work is the heartbeat of the hunt.
A lone drake came in on cupped wings. A single shot and Bob folded it.
A pair of silver teal came quickly from behind us, abruptly turned an acrobatic 180 degrees like only teal - everywhere on the face of earth - can do. Our shots dropped them on the water. Some of ours shots did anyway.
A hectic flurry of birds through the decoys: a pair of white-cheeked pintails, a flock of speckled teal, a pair of ringed teal, a lone cinnamon. More pintail. Our barrels started warming from gunfire. And then the rosybills arrived.
Twelve O'clock, let them get in, right over the blocks.
Rosy-billed pochards lord over the South American wetlands. Hands down. They best define duck hunting south of the equator. By most accounts, rosybills are far from the most attractive South American duck species. That prize is more popularly awarded to several of the teal, notably the silver or ringed, maybe to the white-cheeked pintail or to the white-faced whistlers. Rosybills are best described as black, mallard-sized ducks. The drakes' onyx-colored topsides contrast with white underwings and secondaries. Its bright, rose-colored namesake is striking, even from a distance. They are strong fliers, oftentimes flying in v-formation. They decoy as well as - or maybe better than - juvenile mallards. They remind me especially of canvasbacks, especially when they decoy. As table fare, they are without peer. To duck hunters that enjoy shooting strong flying birds over decoys, they are king. Hunters returning to Argentina or Uruguay often ask not if the hunting is good, but if the rosybill flight has yet arrived.
Bob was situated to the right and I to the left. With the wind directly behind us, decoying rosybills would approach from out front, and run one of three patterns when they got to the decoys: swoop up to pass over slightly to the right, slightly to the left or split both sides. Sometimes they would work from right to left, over the decoys perpendicular to the wind, providing us maximum shooting advantage. Perfect.
The flight wasn't hectic; it was steady. It was the kind of morning duck hunters live for; the stuff dreams are made of. It was magical. We took turns shooting. We selected drakes only, their bright rostrums and black bodies commanded our attention. Singles, doubles, triples; four for fours, five for fives. With proper timing two birds were felled with one shot; three for two. Impossible to get a third shot off with an over and under shotgun! Still the rosybills came. Only the odd pair or small flock of teal or pintail lightly seasoned our morning feast of rosybill pochards. Eighty percent of our bag, we later determined, was comprised of rosybills.
Let them work, I whispered while watching them from beneath the shadow of my cap brim.
Sometimes flocks would circle wide or high, maybe having seen movement from our quickly loading guns, or having heard us shooting preceding birds. Or they would make an initial pass a little too high, too left or too right. Patience. We let them work. Motionlessly. We watched them work. Savored each play the morning offered. They might swing over either end of the marsh, or appear to have left entirely. But they'd eventually come back and into the decoys. Without hesitation; fully committed. The way ducks are supposed to do. Time and time again: right into the decoys.
Heads up, Bob!
Too little warning, too late. Bob had been concentrating on his side, and I had been working on my side of a large flock of rosybills. The second of my pair, a large drake, landed solidly on his mounted gun, inches in front of his nose. An awkward silence followed. Then we laughed. Had to time it just right to pull that one off, I said. Paybacks are hell, he replied. We laughed again.
Out front, low over the water. Rosybills continued to decoy.
In dozens of great Argentina ducks hunts, few rivaled that morning. Sure, plenty of shot ducks, every shape and size. That's standard for Argentina and Uruguay duck hunts. But rarely do rosybills make such a perfect showing. I don't really hunt ducks in Argentina; I hunt for that one, perfectly magical experience: rosybills.
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