During duck season, I dread reading any text messages received between the hours of 7 and 10 a.m. This owes entirely to the fact that I've never killed a truly prime drake canvasback, and my friend Erinn Otterson—who hunts the Currituck Sound, a major wintering area—knows it. About two dozen times per season I'm greeted with a photo of Otterson holding the crimson-headed drake of my dreams along with the caption: "Good morning from King Can. Have a great day!"
You might say a mature canvasback is my "White Whale." There have been close calls. I've missed them. I've seen them but failed to lure any to the decoys. I've shot juvenile birds. And, most frustratingly of all, a friend and I incorrectly identified a group as bluebills—a limit of which already lay in the boat—only realizing our mistake once it was too late.
How one can confuse a small, round scaup for a big, long canvasback I do not know. Perhaps it was the cold or a moment of inattention. Or maybe that just wasn't the day I was supposed to bag my White Whale. But the search continues, and isn't that part of the fun? Every day I hit the river, I know it could be the one when I finally go home with that long-awaited trophy.
There are other ducks-not-taken that rank high on my list as well. I do not mean those requiring international travel, but those birds that keep me dreaming because they might arrive over my local honeyhole on any given day: A mallard with 3+ curls, a Brewer's duck, perhaps a very lost eider--you never know, right? The list goes on. I know (or at least, I think) that one day I'll even take a bull canvasback to photograph for Erinn. I look forward to it, but I'm enjoying the chase as much as anything waterfowling has to offer.
If you could take one trophy duck this season, what would it be?