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An ode to buttonball
Random Thoughts, November 10
Random Thoughts by Wendell Smith

MUSCODA - You may not spend much time thinking about buttonball bushes. There are so many decorative bushes to consider when planning or beautifying a yard and buttonball is not one of them.

But if you hunt ducks in the local Wisconsin River bottoms near Muscoda you may think about buttonball quite frequently. It’s a short, woody, and not especially good-looking part of local nature that usually grows with its feet in the water and may impede your effort to get to your favorite mallard hole.

However, I have some good memories regarding buttonball bushes. One of those developed during an especially warm start to an October duck season of the past – rather like the one that 2022 duck hunters just experienced.

Many years ago my regular hunting partner and I were set up to hunt ducks with decoys floating in an open space of water. We had parked my canoe among some buttonball bushes. Unfortunately, my fellow duck hunter buddy stepped into a deep spot, perhaps a beaver run, and swamp water gushed over the top of his hip boots.

The water was still warm and we didn’t want to abandon the hunt, so he took off his boots and dumped out the murky water and hung his wet pants on a buttonball bush to dry in the wind. I suspect the local duck population was not accustomed to seeing a pair of brown pants flying in the wind. They were not interested in our decoys as they avoided our chosen spot

I thought of that experience when I was recently told, “The water in the swamp is so low this year there is no water in the buttonball.”

My other buttonball memory involved a rather long piece of swamp and water east of Blue River. Overlooking the water to the east, perched in a tall tree, was a bald eagle. I occupied a photo blind on the west end of the water, hoping to get some nature photos of an eagle catching a meal. On the water between me and the eagle was a stretch of open water with a number of coots paddling about.

They are rather dark and colorless, a duck-like bird that do not interest hunters. But they do interest eagles and for a considerable length of time I watched an “eagle and coot” game.

The eagle would leave its perch, swoop my way and the coots would “run cross the water” and disappear into the cover of the buttonball bushes. The eagle would then return to its perch in the tall tree and the coots would gradually reappear on the water.

Nature’s game of hide and seek continued for several innings. After several attempts to catch lunch the eagle left and I also gave up, with no photos – but with a memory of an interesting afternoon in the swamp.