By Kyle Wintersteen, Managing Editor
An early cold snap drove wave upon wave of mallards into western Missouri in time for the opening day of duck season on Saturday, Nov. 4. Tens of thousands of greenheads filled the skies, along with gadwalls, teal, shovelers and a few hardy, remaining pintails. But as Tuesday, Nov. 7, dawned cool and cloudy, all Delta Waterfowl regional director Garrett Trentham could do was listen to the shooting.
“We’d had some exceptional days of duck hunting on a public moist soil unit (fields flooded and managed by the state) that requires hunters to draw for the various pools,” Trentham said. “But that day, out of 20 parties, my buddy pulled number 17. Normally we would’ve been out of luck, but there were so many birds that all the pools were producing.”
Trentham was second in line to hunt a pool drawn by Delta Waterfowl volunteer Dean Baldwin. Fortunately, Baldwin’s group decoyed a pile of mallards and had shot well. By 9 a.m., it was Trentham’s turn.
The ducks were on him and buddy Steven LaFevers of North Carolina almost immediately. However, with one duck left for his limit, Trentham lacked the bird he wanted most.
“I had a spoonie, a couple teal, a gadwall and a hen mallard,” he said. “It was really overcast and tough to pick out drakes, but I told Steven I wasn’t firing another shot unless it was at a greenhead.”
Minutes later, a single duck worked off Trentham’s side and exposed its chest in full committal for a 20-yard chip shot.
“I saw it had a green head, and after I shot it, I said to Steven, ‘That was a drake mallard, right?’ He said, ‘Oh yeah, definitely.’”
The bird had fallen headfirst into a clump of flooded grass, with just its tail exposed.
“I was about 10 yards away from the bird when I said, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me, it’s a pintail,’” Trentham recalled. “But when I grabbed it, I noticed its orange feet. And when I lifted it up, wow, it was just one of the craziest things that’s ever happened to me. I shouted, ‘Oh my gosh! Steven, I just killed the bird of a lifetime!’”
The exceptionally striking mallard/pintail cross sports numerous characteristics of both species, including a pintail’s blue bill, a pintail-like tail sprig that’s also suggestive of an elongated mallard “curl,” the orange feet and green head of a mallard, a pintail’s white neck stripe, which transitions to a mallard’s chestnut breast, and wings outfitted with a mallard’s tertiary feathers and pintail speculums of dark green (rather than olive).
Better yet, despite being shot at rather close range, the remarkable hybrid is in pristine condition.
“The fact it doesn’t have a busted wing or missing feathers is beyond me,” Trentham said. “I took it to a popular taxidermist the next day, and he said it’s one of the best specimens for mounting he’s ever seen.”