THE WALPOLE EXPERIENCE
Published in the South Carolina Waterfowl Association's WATERFOWL & WETLANDS Magazine,
Winter 1998, Issue 45
It was dark when we pulled out of Manning, SC that Sunday morning. We were headed for Walpole Island, Ontario, where we would be hunting ducks for two days with Kris Jacobs Guide Service. A fifteen-hour drive awaited us, but we were full of anticipation. Just the thought of whistling wings overhead in October made my heart leap. My friend and I were headed for heaven, or so we thought. It would be nice to go ahead and get the first ducks out of the way for the 1997-98 season. Robby and I could talk of nothing else for the past two weeks. What kind of shells did we need, warm or cold weather clothes, and did we need to buy new waders or tough it out with the ones we had. These are but a few of the questions, which came up during the many nights of conversation leading up to the trip.
On the drive up, our conversation took on a different tone. “Do you think we will see many Redheads and Canvasbacks?”, Robby asked. “Boy!, I sure would like to get a nice Redhead. You know I never did pick that one up I shot last year.” Our goals had been set. Robby wanted a nice redhead drake or canvasback, or both. I just wanted a nice bull black duck. I had heard there were a few in the area of Lake St. Clair, and I couldn’t get my mind off it. The ride up to Detroit wasn’t as bad as I had expected. I think the expectations of duck hunting helped somewhat to ease the long drive. We had left the little town of Manning at 6:00 AM and were now arriving in Detroit close to 8:00 PM. I won’t talk much on Detroit. Boy, did that place stink! Foul odor!!
We reached the end of the line in a small town called Algonac, Michigan, just about 45 minutes on the other side of Detroit. There, we boarded a ferry, which took us across to Walpole Island. Once on Walpole Island, we made a quick trip through customs, which consisted of two main questions: “What are you doing?” and “Do you have any handguns with you?”. The latter would have been a major problem had it not been for the U.S. Customs officer who kindly reminded me to let them hold my 0.357 revolver in the safe while I was in Canada. (Handguns are illegal in Canada). Whew!!!, that was close. From Walpole, it was a short 15-minute drive to Wallaceburg, where we would be staying. We were greeted with smiles as we ambled into the front lobby of the Oaks Inn. After checking in, the kind lady informed us that Kris Jacobs, our guide, was waiting for us in the lounge. We met Kris in the lounge along with another rather large Indian guide named Nathan surrounded by some questionable looking Waterfowl members from Newberry, SC. Yes, we would have the pleasure of hunting with the famed Thad Mays and company.
Our first question was of course, “How many birds?”. Kris’s response was positive, yet not reassuring: “Some”. It looked like the warm weather might make things difficult for us, but our hopes were still high. We would be hunting the Walpole marsh for the next two days. The Walpole marsh is a 17,000 acre wetland situated in the middle of the Walpole Island Indian reservation. It is one of the largest undisturbed marshes left across the entire U.S./Canadian border, and it is extremely important to migrating waterfowl in both the Mississippi and Atlantic flyway. Ducks come from the prairies and stage on the Walpole marsh before continuing down the flyway into the United States. After deciding our departure time for the morning. Robby and I settled into our room for the night.
The next morning came quickly. Robby and I quickly gathered our things and headed for the lobby. Kris awaited us in the hotel’s cafeteria where we were treated to a family style breakfast. After washing it down with coffee, we headed for the trucks. We were hunting the public marsh with Kris this morning. At the landing, Robby and I loaded our things into Kris’s boat ad off we went into the night. One thing caught my attention immediately. Where were the running lights? We ran the entire five-mile trip into the open water without a light, except for the occasional (and I mean once or twice) spot light check to make sure we were headed in the right direction. Kris settled the boat down along a grassy finger on the far side of the marsh where it borders Lake St. Clair. After helping him throw out about a dozen and one half Restle mallard decoys, we settled back into our seats and awaited morning. I eagerly awaited the first drove of birds as the sun began to rise across the bay. It was when the sun fully rose and my jacket started to get hot that I got a little worried. Where were all the birds? Had El Nino struck here? After a few more dry minutes that seemed like hours, Kris decided that we needed to move. Robby and I couldn’t have agreed more. We quickly gathered the decoys and headed back into the open flat of the marsh.
As we entered an area Kris called Grassy Flat, we began to run up some rafts of canvasbacks, redheads, and even mallards. As the birds traded back and forth in front of us, Kris quickly picked out a small island in the middle of all the commotion. We settled into the dense grass and began throwing out diver decoys along with some mallards to try and decoy a few birds close enough for a shot. Within minutes of getting things out, we had a group of redheads trying to work the decoys. Kris whistled to them from the boat (something I found quite odd, since he was using his mouth). It sounded a lot like whistling at a pretty girl on the beach, but it worked. The redheads swung wide once and began to move on in. After another quick pass, they got close enough to reveal a few canvasbacks in their midst. That’s when I got excited. Kris told us to get ready as the birds swung round again for one last dive at the decoys. “Here they come,” Kris said, as the birds shot a straight line across the first decoy. At the sound of “Take em!”, the guns shattered the silence. Well, at least two guns did. You see, in the excitement of pulling up my gun, the front bead on my Wingmaster had gotten hung up in the fast grass matting, which camouflaged our boat. One bird splashed in the volley, and Robby was quick to point out that he had been successful. “That’s one!”, he exclaimed as Kris sent his dog after the fallen bird. It was a nice drake Redhead in almost perfect ploomage. Except for a little mottling at the base, he had a beautiful rusty, redhead. It didn’t take long for me to get over my misfortune, as birds were working the decoys again. This time, it was a lone mallard hen. With little else in the boat, Robby and I doubled on her and were happy to add another bird to the bag. Before leaving, I was able to take a hen bluebill that snuck into the decoys to bring out total to three. To be honest, I was a little disappointed on the ride back to the landing, but that changed after we got there and spoke to everyone else. It seems that we were the only ones who really shot anything at all. That made me feel a little better. Before returning to the hotel, Kris looked at me reassuringly and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll get on them tonight”.
That afternoon around four o’clock, we all met a Kris’s house and prepared to set off into the “private” marsh where Kris held some traditional holes of his own. On Walpole Island, some Indian families have traditional hunting areas in the marsh where they have hunted for generations. There areas are “private” in that each family has a given number of “holes” in the marsh. These openings must be maintained each year or the marsh grass will inundate the open water, and they will lose their hole. Kris took us to the edge of one of his holes in the marsh, just off the St. Clair River. We didn’t see a whole lot during the first hour, but things began to pick up as the sun began disappearing behind the marsh grass in the distance. Before long, Robby and I each had a nice mallard drake. As darkness approached, all three of us bagged a long distance gadwall. The sun fell behind the marsh grass and Kris proclaimed, “It’s time for shadow shooting”. For those who may not remember, “shadow shooting” is when one shoots ducks after the sun has set beneath the horizon. Timing is everything as you wait for the birds to pass through the evening glow where there is enough light to pick out the duck’s shape. I imagine it would be much like what many of you experienced during the good ‘ole days in Sparkleberry Swamp. For two Carolina boys, Robby and I were able to hold our own in these conditions, dropping two more greenheads that passed into range. I could have sworn that I shot a black duck down too, but we never found it.
That night, Kris treated us to a fabulous dinner at the Rice Bowl, a small Chinese Restaurant in downtown Wallaceburg. He had taken some ducks by the place earlier in the day, and the cook had prepared over ten Chinese dishes for us to enjoy. There was sweet and sour duck, duck fried rice, duck drop soup, duck chowmein, and stir fry duck just to name a few. I would recommend this treat to anyone who visits the area. I don’t think I have ever had duck cooked in so many different ways.
The next morning, Robby and I joined Kris again in the blind. This time, we were hunting one of his private holes on the other side of the marsh. We only bagged two drake mallards that morning, but that was more than everyone else. Tensions were high in the group after three hunts and very little birds, so we bowed gracefully and let Kris spread his luck with someone else. Our final hunt was spent with Nathan and Matt, two fine Indian guides who work with Kris on a regular basis. They took us to another one of the private marsh holes where we shot two mallards and three ring necks. After returning to the house, Robby and I said our final farewell and thanked Kris and his guides for their hard work on the hunts. We truly enjoyed our visit with them, even though the birds weren’t very cooperative.
I would recommend this hunt to anyone. Within about the same driving time as Arkansas, you can have a Canadian hunting experience. Kris told us that his best hunting is offered in November, when the real concentrations of birds stage in the marsh. At that time, it is not unreal to have a draw or over a thousand mallards at one time. Also, the cornfields have been cut by then, so you can enjoy shooting ducks and geese in the fields. The Oaks Inn in Wallaceburg is very affordable at around thirty dollars Canadian. This includes a full breakfast in the morning before your hunt. The rooms are very comfortable and the staff welcomes hunters. They will even arrange to have your ducks cleaned at the front desk if you like. Kris Jacobs Guide Service provides a quality experience with professional guides. I cannot say enough about how hard Kris worked to get some birds in the decoys. At $125 per man per day, it is hard to find anyone else anywhere that can give you the experience that Kris can. All of his guides are good duck callers, and Kris’s retrievers are among the best. If you have any questions or would like to book a hunt, call Kris at 519-627-8651.
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