Starting from scratch

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If the Illinois legislature does close Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park, it will have some effect on Cattani and the other 11 members of the Green Wing Gun Club. Their current gravity-fed water system allows them to make incremental changes in the water levels at their five blinds.

That's a big deal for duck hunting. As ducks land in these flooded corn plots, then eat all the kernels off the lower corn ears, the water level can be raised gradually, to give them a new food source — corn ears higher up the stalks.

The club members may be forced to fund digging a well or pumping water if the state discontinues operating the Hennepin Canal Parkway.

But nothing will alter the fact that the Green Wing Duck Club is located in a low, swampy area that was once — 100,000 to 300,000 years ago — the ancient channel of the Mississippi River.

And nothing can alter the fact that this club is also located in what continues to be a main migration route for waterfowl.

However, it hasn't been easy to get ducks back here in the numbers that occurred 100 years ago.

"The first year, it was just Ronnie (Piacenti) and my brother and me," Cattani said. "We probably hunted 45 days and killed seven ducks.

"But that didn't discourage me. I knew it was going to take time for ducks to get acclimated to what we were doing."

If you're essentially rebuilding a long-silted in duck club in an old river bottom, it helps if you own an excavation business. And that's exactly what Frank and Gene Cattani have done in nearby Ladd, Ill., since 1977, as partners in Starline Construction.

The brothers have brought in everything from bulldozers (for pond-digging) to cranes, helping move through the woods the 50-foot mobile home that serves as their duck club now. The trailer sits atop of the original Green Wing Gun Club's concrete foundation walls.

And over the years, that work has paid off.

"We killed 170 ducks one season, a couple of years ago," Cattani said.

Considering he'll probably average two days a week at the Princeton Club this season, Cattani will enjoy plenty of duck shooting.

Sunday, however, wasn't one of those days at the Green Wing Gun Club. Our group killed one mallard. The total from the other blinds hunted was three ducks.

Why would Frank and Gene Cattani, and the other 10 members here, put so much work into relatively little reward, when compared to some duck clubs?

To understand that, you would have to experience the storytelling and laughter that takes place while breakfast is cooked in the pre-shooting-time darkness and when lunch is devoured after the hunt. Most of these men are long-time friends.

"I was the best man in Kenny (Pozzi's) wedding," Cattani said. "Ronnie (Piacenti) and I have been best friends since we were kids."

(It should be noted here that, no, your last name doesn't have to end in a vowel as prerequisite for membership. Mike Scott was the 12th member added to the club — and the fourth without a last name ending in a vowel.)

This group of men, led by Frank Cattani, has built upon some early friendships and added some new ones, strengthened by the common bond of, as Cattani stated earlier, not going one day of the year without thinking about ducks.

As soon as the Illinois season ends, they'll begin draining the water from the Green Wing Gun Club's 40 acres so it will soon be dry enough to till for a spring planting of corn. The work never ceases here, but there's not enough to prevent any of them from simply stopping, looking around them and enjoying the outdoors.

"This is where my heart is," Cattani said.

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