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Duck Opener: A Special Place on Stoney Lake

By: Doug Smith, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

NEW LONDON, Minn. (MCT) - Roger Strand slipped out of his sleeping bag in the darkness Saturday, dressed and loaded the woodstove with logs, kindling another duck hunting season.

Soon, five other hunters stirred in the little cabin, beckoned to the breakfast table by steaming pancakes and the anticipation of a new season. Outside, Canada geese honked on the lake as darkness gave way to dawn. Decoy bags, duck boats and hunting dogs were ready to go.

Welcome to Stoney Lake Cabin and the 2008 Minnesota duck opener.

For more than 50 years, Strand, 72, and his family have launched their waterfowl hunting seasons from the picturesque cabin in the woods overlooking 30-acre Stoney Lake. The place is a classic: Deer heads, wildlife art, old decoys and photos adorn the place. Log books jammed with photos document hunts back to the 1950s.

Four generations of Strands have called this unique, cement-block cabin their hunting shack.

It's a fortress that holds a wealth of memories.

"We hunt deer, turkeys and ducks here," Strand said. "These openers are special."

And the tradition continued Saturday.

Strand was joined by two nephews, three of their offspring and a friend_seven hunters_plus two kids too young to hunt who already are learning about the Stoney Cabin mystic. Log bunk beds sleep 10, and there's room for more.

Sometimes the place is filled.

"It's such an important thing for our family," Roger Strand said.

"My father grew up in New London, and he loved to hunt ducks," said Strand, a retired doctor, longtime conservationist and member of the Wood Duck Society. He is well-known in waterfowl circles. He has 100 wood duck boxes scattered on his property and nearby. And for 26 years the local chapter of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association has held Prairie Pothole Day on his farm, which attracts up to 5,000 people.

His father, Orrin, instilled a love of waterfowling for Roger and his brother Dick.

"He wanted a place where the boys and maybe grandchildren could hunt, so he built this in 1955. We've been holding duck camps and openers here since before that. Now we're into the fourth generation."

His father and brother have passed away, but three generations were on hand Saturday.

Said nephew Matt Strand, 48, of Eden Prairie: "I started duck hunting right here. It's like a second home. You just don't miss the opener."

Matt Strand's sons, Alex, 15, Tom, 19, and Mike, 22, all were in blinds Saturday. So was Alex's friend Roy McGhee, 14, of Eden Prairie. And Eric Strand, 45, of Shakopee, Matt's brother, brought his youngsters, Jessi, 7, and Nick, 5, to experience duck camp.

All found some action.

"It's opener, baby," McGhee said as 9 a.m. legal shooting time arrived. He and buddy Alex and his dad hunted over a couple dozen decoys off a point. Brothers Mike and Tom Strand set up in a back bay while Roger manned a small point near the cabin.

Two blue-winged teal screamed over the point from the east, Roy and Alex cut loose with their 12-gauges, and one bird tumbled to the water.

"I hit one!" McGhee said.

Later, a lone hen wood duck flew near the decoys, but the three hunters just watched it sail past. This camp's unwritten rule: Try not to shoot hen woodies or mallards.

"Everybody makes mistakes, and we don't harp about it," Roger Strand said.

By noon, the three had five mergansers and a blue-winged teal in the bag. Mike and Tom had three teal and a merganser, and Roger had a lone merganser. Mergansers aren't considered a delicacy, but the group planned to wrap the breasts in bacon and serve them as hors d'oeuvres.

"In the 1950s and 60s, this lake was a mallard hole," Strand said. "There was wonderful mallard shooting." But the local mallard population has declined, he said. The group expected to find lots of wood ducks, but those were missing, too, on Saturday. Canada geese now usually offer some opportunities. The group saw plenty but got no shots.

But they weren't dismayed.

Saturday night, venison was on the menu. And Sunday?

They'll be making more memories in the duck blind.

While state and federal wildlife agencies fret about a decline in young hunters, the Strand family keeps cranking them out. The family's hunting tradition endures. And the Stoney Lake Cabin is in good hands.

"This is what I grew up doing," Eric Strand said.

"Being out here with my dad, uncle, brothers and cousins.

"It's come full circle now."

 

© 2008, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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