Duck hunting is all about those few perfect seconds. You can close your eyes and re-live those times when birds suddenly appear and enjoy that excitement when you realize they’re coming in. You always remember when a few notes on the call make them spin and set on the decoys with wings locked and feet down. You can’t forget everytime you call a shot with your heart pounding in your ears. The best memories, of course, are those satisfying moments as you sit back to watch another great retrieve from an enthusiastic and well-trained labrador.
It’s amazing how these perfect seconds erase the memories of all of the things that go wrong during any given hunt. It’s the hours of hard work and the bumps along the way as we search for those perfect seconds that defines and unifies us as waterfolwers. And why any good duck hunter can appreciate my hunt last Saturday.
My brother Jim is a college football coach. He’s one of my favorite hunting buddies but game days and practices leave little time to chase birds. Last Saturday Alma (GO SCOTS!!) had a bye week so he joined me, Zeus and Mike for his first trip to Harsen’s Island. The look on his face was priceless as he watched the DNR shack fill up with 74 parties. And my face was priceless when we got picked 65th. Set back #1 of the day.
Set back #2: We picked one of marsh zones at Harsen’s looking for a new adventure. When we got the boat to the pull-over there were no rollers. We pulled. And pushed. And strained. But couldn’t get the boat over the dike. We drove around in the canals for over an hour trying to find a way through but had to give up as shooting time approached. We loaded up the boat and hurried to Muscamoot Bay.
I apologized to the other hunters as we motored past their decoys. I knew what they were thinking. “These d-bags got up late and now they’re going to ruin our hunt cause they can’t get their sh*t together”. Trust me boys, I felt like a total dick. But the frustration of the “dike experience” and the drive to show my brother a good hunt was starting to take its toll.
Set back #3: I hopped out of the boat to set the decoys, landed in a hole and went right into the lake. I caught myself in time to soak only my arms. Now I’m starting to get really pissed setting off the string of familiar expletives under my breath. “Why the eff do I do this? I could just hunt deer and enjoy mornings sitting in the quiet woods. I must be effing crazy.” I was about to explode.
Set back #3.5: I grabbed a few diver decoys to finish setting the spread, fell into another hole and landed flat on my face on the bottom of the lake. Water rushed into my waders all the way down to my socks. The cold water in my warm waders knocked the breath out of me. I stood up gasping. I looked up at my brother. I must have looked like a crazy person because Jim couldn’t stop laughing but I could tell he was trying to hide it. I stood there dripping and cussing but couldn’t help laughing at myself. I hit the wall.
I was taking shooting ducks way too seriously. I was supposed to be enjoying this stolen moment with my brother but my determination to get birds was clouding my judgment. I calmed down, stashed the decoys and sat down in the tall weeds to hunt with my brother for the first time in 3 years.
We enjoyed a few cigars, swapped hilarious stories of bachelor parties and nights at the bar gone totally wrong. The tribulations of the morning began to lift from my conscious.
Just as we were about to pack up, I saw a single bird about 200 yards out. I reached for my call and it was exactly where it was supposed to be. A few low quacks and he turned. Suddenly, things were going right. He set his wings coming in from left to right giving Jim an awesome shot. He hit that duck with his second shot and Mike finished him. Zeus splashed out into the weeds and turned around with two bright orange legs sticking out of his mouth. He delivered a beautiful black duck to my brother and suddenly everything was returned to order.
That single duck made my entire weekend and a good story. Hopefully I’ll get a few more ducks this upcoming weekend. That is, if my waders are dried out by then.