Saturday, January 1, 2011

My first duck

When I was 23 years old an event happened that changed my life forever.
It was mid October, growing colder, with those crisp blue skies you remember from your childhood. Most of the leaves had fallen, but for the stubborn oaks. Here at the western edge of the time zone it wasn’t breaking dawn until 8 o’clock. But when it did the world came alive.
I had been rudely awakened 4 hours before by an old brass alarm clock. You know the kind, wound by hand, with bells on top. I used this along with three other alarms that morning. I wanted to be sure I was up.
After a quick shower I gathered every piece of warm clothing I owned and hoped in the dodge. It was an hour drive to my new friends house. I was greeted at the door by the fattest beagle I had ever seen. Along with the beagle was the sleekest golden I’d ever seen. Following the dogs came a mountain of a man.
Denny was the father of a friend. She had been saying that her dad needed someone to go duck hunting with. Well you can imagine my excitement. I had been looking for a duck hunter my whole life. I had read everything I could find on waterfowling for years. I was obsessed but couldn’t find anyone who knew how or where to go.
After much pleading I was commanded, during the shortest phone call ever, to be at their house by 5:30 the next Friday. “ And don’t be late or I’ll leave without you.”
At 5:10 I was sitting in my truck on the side of the road ¼ of a mile down from his driveway. Being late was one thing, but too early can be just as bad.
Now here we were at a public launch on a lake I had never heard of. As we prepared to launch in the predawn darkness I looked out into the sky above the lake and saw my first flock of ducks woosh past. My heart jumped at the sight of those flitting patches of shadow, just a shade darker than the sky they sliced through.
With the golden, Abby, in the bow on point and me sitting awkwardly upon mounds of decoys, we motored to the far side of a small spit of shore that jutted into the lake. On the front side of this spit we slowed to a stop and I was introduced to my first mother line.
After setting the deeks we hide the boat behind the spit in a little cove. We made our way across the spit to find a small blind hidden among the cedars on the shore. As we sat waiting for shooting time Denny took time to explain our rig. Set in a diamond pattern with one point starting at the blind and the far point about 40 yards out in the lake. This formed a hole which I was informed was called the pocket. In this pocket we had scattered single decoys to make the pattern more natural looking. The farthest of these was maybe 25 yards out.
“ Don’t shoot at anything outside of that deek.” Denny said
“ Don’t shoot at the whole flock.” He said “ Pick one bird and make sure you hit that one, then, if there’s time look for another.”
“ But watch that last deek too, if it makes it beyond that don’t shoot.”
I tried to remember this as we waited for our first bunch to come in.
Instead of birds a wind kicked up and it started to snow, …sideways.
During this snow squall a duck had somehow floated in among our deeks without us seeing. As the snow started to clear I noticed that one of the decoys looked abnormally life like.
“ Well I’ll be damned.” Denny said.
“ It’s not much of a duck if you ask me”. He said. “Actually it’s a merganser, but if you want it you can take it.”
“ Great! How do we do it”. I said.
“ Well if you don’t ever want to hunt with me again, you can shoot it on the water.” He said.
“ That doesn’t seem very sporting “. I said
“ T’ain’t.” He said. “ But I had to see what kind of friends my daughter keeps.”
“ So what do I do?” I asked again.
“ Well,” He said. “ Just stand up and yell at him and see what he does.”
I counted to three and jumped up with the best Indian war cry I could muster. And low and behold that duck reached for the sky like I was John Wayne coming after him. It took me a moment to regroup after he jumped and I put one in his pants just as he flew over the last deek. I was crushed when he just kept going, then 300 yards out he dipped a wing and cartwheeled in.
“ That’s to far for the dog.” Denny said. “You stay here and I’ll go get it with the boat.”
“ Keep your gun handy and shoot anything that comes in while I’m gone.” He said
No sooner had he stepped through the trees than, I was horrified by the sight of a thousand Buffleheads swarming in. I tried to calm my self, and looked over my shoulder to see if Denny was anywhere to be seen, he was gone.
I took a deep breath and turned around as the flock was setting its wings. In a sea of calm, with no sounds, in slow motion, I brought my gun up. Just as I was told I picked one bird, the one with his butt closest to the water, and pulled the trigger. With a dozen years of shooting behind me I knew without looking and moved to another bird. This one had put on his air breaks and was already starting his upward climb, with the rest of the flock. I took aim and pulled the trigger one more time and the whole sky fell down.
From behind me I heard a bear coming through the cedars at full speed. Denny burst through with a crazed look and his gun half way up.
“ What the hell is going on here”! He yelled.
By now Abby was getting to the first duck and I was at the edge of the water in a daze. I looked back at Denny with a sheepish grin.
“ You told me to shoot if anything came in.” I said. “ So I did.”
“ I’ll say you did.” Denny said looking at the four birds floating in the water.
It has been years since that day that I took four birds with two shots. I’ve never been back to that blind, and I only hunted one more time with Denny. But he opened a door for me that has never been closed. Soon after I joined up with Ducks Unlimited and found many new friends to hunt with. In all the years since I’ve only seen Denny a few times, at a gun show usually. We stop and talk each time, reliving that day. At least I relive it, it may not have been that big a deal to Denny, but it changed my life forever.