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Duck hunting is a family affair
Read about a family that duck hunts together.
Ted Anderson
Last Updated: Saturday, October 09th, 2004 09:12:20 AM

With the duck hunting season in full swing in Minnesota, a Grand Rapids family uses the fall sport to not only provide meat for the table, but also as a family function to get family members together to do something they all enjoy.
Jim and Kathy Keller, together with their four sons, Matt, Andrew, Michael and Zachary, and their daughter, Laura, have been enjoying hunting together for many years.
Father Jim said he started hunting ducks more than 20 years ago while living in Indiana. He said that up until that time, he had hunted both large and small game, and had actually tried to stay away from hunting ducks because he thought it was just going to be another sport that would be expensive to get into.
“It was expensive to get into,” Jim said. “Friends started taking me along with them more and more, and I got used to all the regulations and techniques for hunting ducks. I started accumulating boats and decoys. I enjoyed duck hunting not only for the shooting, but it also was a time to sit in the duck blind and enjoy each others’ company.
“And, the kids were small at that time and it was something they could kind of grow into hunting with us. Duck hunting is not just a solo sport, it’s a sport where you can sit in the blind with your kids doing something outdoors.”
Jim said safety always has been a key concern while the family has been hunting.
“Every year, they look forward to the safety lecture they get by dad,” Jim said. “Duck hunting can be a dangerous sport. There is cold weather, you are in close proximity with each other when you are shooting. So, safety is really paramount in making sure that everybody has a good time.”
Mother Kathy said a tradition that has been ongoing in the family is “Duck Eve,” which is the night before the hunting opener.
“The adrenaline in the house is really, really high,” she said. “They are calling on their duck calls, and a lot of times we have other hunters over and we clean out the freezer and make hors d’ oeuvres so we can make room for the next ones. We name shells and come up with little slogans and things like that.”
Jim said it is nice is to bag some game, but it is not the main reason the family hunts together.
“Getting game is kind of the icing on top of the cake,” Jim said. “And we do get our fair share of ducks. But it really isn’t the key thing. The key thing is the camaraderie and having fun, just enjoying each other’s time in God’s creation.”
Added son Matt, “It is just quality time with my brothers and my dad. It is an opportunity to be in close quarters and enjoy the camaraderie between us. It is priceless.”
Jim said the preparation done before the hunt will lead to a successful hunt. That means driving around back roads and finding where the ducks are at, getting permission to hunt from landowners, and preparing meals for a boatload of five hungry children. In addition, being the first hunters to a specific waterhole means getting the best locations.
“We have gotten up as early as midnight, and as late as 4 or 5 a.m.,” Jim said. “If you can get the place where you want to hunt before the other hunters start filtering in, that is kind of important.”
Added Matt, “To be a good duck hunter, a lot of it depends on the amount of time you put into it. I drive hundreds and hundreds of miles a year to try to find places to hunt. It is a very enjoyable part of the hunt. The preparation we put in is the reason we shoot a lot of ducks and geese.”
Said Michael, “You never shoot the ducks while they are on the water. That is not very sporting. You let them get into the air. Most of the time, we don’t let them land in our decoys. If they land, they are belly-up. The first time you see the ducks come into your decoys, you kind of get addicted. It is kind of like duck hunters’ nicotine.”
Another key ingredient to duck hunting, according to the Kellers, is the ability to use a duck call.
“If some birds have been hunted for a while and they have heard a lot of calls, they won’t respond to a call as much,” Michael explained. “But if you get the birds coming from the north and they haven’t heard any calls, they will really respond.
“I think geese respond to a call more than a duck. It definitely pays to have a good call. You also have to be really practiced.”
Added Jim, “You can scare ducks and geese off with your calling as easily as you attract them in. So if you really don’t know what you’re doing, don’t do it.”
Jim said there is a whole different mindset on how decoys are set out. He said different patterns of decoys are set out, depending on the type of ducks being hunted, or how the hunters are situated as compared to the wind.
Son Zachary, the youngest Keller son at age 13, is enjoying his first season of hunting with the family.
“Now that I have been out a couple times, I am hooked,” Zachary said. “I have been able to shoot for the first time this year and I got my first banded goose. It felt nice to actually get my first banded goose. I was pretty lucky to get one of those.”
Zachary said it was frustrating watching his dad and older brothers go hunting because he was too young to participate. Now that he is able to go, he said he really enjoys the experience.
“I like all of it, just spending time out in the blind and watch the ducks and geese,” Zachary said.
Good blinds and camoulage are extremely important while hunting ducks, Jim said.
“Ducks and geese have extremely good vision,” Jim explained. “Especially, if you get a bunch of them coming in. That is 30 or 40 sets of eyes that are looking at you. I’ve seen them fly away just because they have seen spent shell hulls lying in the water.
“We do everything from camouflage clothing to paint on our face to making sure that everything is covered up over the top of us.”
The Keller family dog, Katie, who is 13 years old, is also an integral part of the hunt.
“You don’t have to have a dog, but it’s nice because you don’t have to push your boat out every time to go get that duck,” Michael said. “Probably one of the best parts about hunting is having the dog working out there. It is really nice to see. And, she is a good hunting buddy.”
Mother Kathy doesn’t participate in the actual hunts, but she is still an important part of the hunt.
“I help get the food ready for them to take out, including a lot of snacks,” Kathy said. “I also cook the meat. One of our specialties, that we usually cannot fix enough of, is what we call duck hor d’ oeuvres, and that is a family secret that we use. It is something that goes really quickly.”
Matt, who lives in Bemidji, said he doesn’t purchase beef during hunting season.
“We eat ducks and geese a ton,” Matt said. “If is prepared right, it tastes almost like steak. It is really tasty.”
Kathy says she does worry when the family is out in the blinds, but she knows they are well-versed in safety issues.
“They know that safety is really important and I always say a prayer for them for their safety,” Kathy said. “I just want them to have a good time. It is really neat to see them all enjoying doing something together. We have always been a close family.”
Jim said the family has always been active in church activities, and hunting has served as a sort of outreach ministry for the family by inviting other people to hunt.
Matt said he has introduced many people, both youth and adults, to the sport. In fact, seven of the at-risk youth he introduced to the sport are now hunting on their own.
“To be able to do that, it is really rewarding to see the smiles on their faces,” Matt said.
“Every morning, we will say a prayer at our hunt,” Michael said. “It is just something we do. God has given these ducks to us and we are going to thank Him for them and for the good time and the safety.”
Jim explained what he thinks are the keys to a successful hunt.
“I think you have to get over the mindset that I want to bring home a limit every time,” Jim said. “You are not going to do that. But if you can be a successful hunter by just being out there and enjoying the sunrise and the ducks and geese coming in, I think when you can get to that mindset, then you are a successful hunter.”

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