There have been many descriptions of duck hunters over the years and most are not flattering. So I thought I would take a typical day from this past duck season and try and capture the true essence of a duck hunter. Hopefully, it will help explain the joy, challenge, and rewards that a duck hunter receives each time he goes on a hunt, and at the same time provide a little insight into why we do what we do.
January 4th, 2013 ....
I woke up and left my warm bed at 4 a.m. Rain mixed with ice was beginning to fall, the temperature read 22 degrees on my porch thermometer and the wind was from the South-East at around 20 mph. A typical duck hunting day, except we seldom get easterly winds.
I started the coffee then returned to the bedroom to scrounge through my hunting clothes. My wife looked up from the bed and gave me the same heart-warming send off she usually does, .... “you must be crazy” she muttered.
"Well, if I am, there are 7 more just like me waiting at the camp," I replied.
She closed her eyes then rolled over, grateful for the extra room left in the bed.
I stopped out on the highway at the 24-hour gas station to fill up my pickup and refill my coffee cup. All the while the clerk suspiciously looked over my camouflage attire and black grease paint on my face. I noticed him closely watching me as I stepped back in my pickup to drive through total darkness and icy rain to our duck camp while constantly watching the road and ditches for deer that apparently love to jump in front of my vehicle.
I finally reached my destination, The Mallard Inn Duck Camp. Which already held five other sleepy-eyed hunters, two smelly Labrador retrievers, and the ever present scent of lake mud, sweat, and burned biscuits hanging in the air like heavy pollution?
I walked in, offered a, "Good Morning", greeting, which was answered with two grunts, a screw-you, and a resounding belch.
“Want breakfast?” Bob asked. I said “Yes,” and he threw a rock-hard biscuit that bounced off my hands ricocheted across the dining table and hit a drowsy hunter just below his worry lines.
“Good hands,” the biscuit thrower grumbled. “You should be a wide receiver for the Tigers."
I retrieved the biscuit, exchanged a few more endearing terms that I would never print in a family type blog. Sat down at the table to enjoy another cup of coffee along with the rock-hard biscuit.
Bob got up, looked out the window and said, “Daylight will be coming soon, think it’s time to go to the blind”.
Our trek to our tethered duck boats began as we set out to provide duck-meat nourishment for our families that costs several thousand dollars a pound after you factor in all expenses. We all loaded up with our blind bags, shotguns, shells, extra 6-volt and 12-volt batteries, and the ever present thermos of coffee. Dawn was just breaking as we all started our walk down the 300 foot home-made dock that was bouncing on its barrels like a thrill ride at Six-Flags amusement park. This same walk seemed a lot easier 40 years ago.
We moved through the darkness along the icy dock which was pitching up and down in the 20 mph winds. Eager Labrador retrievers added to the dangers of negotiating the slippery surface by constantly bumping our legs while awaiting to load into a boat.
Under these adverse conditions you can count on each hunter being especially vigilant, constantly watching his fellow hunter, not wanting to miss seeing someone slip, trip, fall, or slide into the cold lake. This type of face-first plunge would have drawn hysterical laughter from all of the hunters and duck blind conversation for all our remaining years.
Now let me make a suggestion to young hunters that still have many years of hunting with their buddies; never, and I repeat never, do something that may be classified as stupid on a duck hunt. You will never hear the end of it!
This brings up the subject of duck blind conversations. This is a series of talks about memorable hunts, and embarrassing moments that happened to someone else on a hunt, or in our case, the conversation might turn to the morning that Will fell off the dock and sunk up so deep in the mud that it took 3 of us and a hoist to get him unstuck and back onto the walk, or the morning that Kim fell off the blind while trying to kick his lab for retrieving decoys.
Anyway, back to the hunt at hand. We were all loaded into our boats and headed out to the blind. This morning Will and I are hunting with Bob. Now let me stop right here. .... Bob has this uncanny knack or talent of being able to negotiate in total darkness, through the thickest stump field without ever hitting a stump. Yet the return trip, in daylight, is quite dangerous as he seems to hit every stump.
So here we go cutting through 3-ft high waves toward the blind. About half way there, I hear Bob say, "It's too rough to hunt the open water tank blind, let's go hunt the woods blind."
We all agreed that under these windy conditions it might be more productive and protected to hunt our woods blind.
"We need to swing by the tank blind and pick up a "mojo" for the woods blind." Bob said.
Now a "mojo" is any brand of battery operated spinning-wing decoy, which we all have several that are mounted on top of metal pipes that are driven into the lake bottom. These motorized spinners are strategically placed among our stools of floating decoys so that their movement will attract ducks from all directions.
OK ... picture this, the boat is bouncing up and down like a rubber ball as Bob skillfully maneuvers the boat up next to a mojo mounted on top of one of these metal pipes. I reach out and grab the pipe just as the boat suddenly dips down between swells. The pole bends, I loose my grip, and the mojo catapults off the pole out into the dark abyss.
"That's $149 you owe me," Bob says.
"Ain't worth that much. That's the one that Will shot yesterday." I replied as we continued on to collect another spinner.
You see, during yesterday's hunt, a duck flew in over the decoys and Will put one of his infamous F.F.T's on it. The duck flew past one of the mojo's and Will put so many holes in that spinner that the wings began to whistle as they turned.
Having finally made a successful retrieve, and with spinner at hand we head towards the woods blind.
Thanks to Bob's skillful maneuvering through the stools of decoys to get our spinning-wing mojo, we now are dragging a dozen decoys behind us. They have gotten wrapped around the motor, caught on the boat, and tangled in the prop. We continue on, leaving a single-file trail of decoys in our wake.
Arriving at the woods blind, We place our spinner into position on a metal pole and climbed into the blind.
The woods blind was built using 55-gallon drums as floatation. It is set in a productive spot with carefully laid out stools of decoys. Earlier we in the season we had skillfully arranged our decoys to imitate ducks resting and feeding in a spot that was better than the other million spots all over the lake - or at least that’s what we were determined to make the ducks think.
In the Blind we sat on our homemade bench with shotguns loaded and duck calls in hand as we scanned the sky and waited for a flock of mallards to appear.
It was raining, the wind was blowing, the blind was bouncing, and ice was beginning to coat the brush and moss used as camouflage. Our collars were turned up while we sat and sat and sat.
After sitting three hours in this uncomfortable place, Bob suggested, “Well, I guess the ducks are not coming.” so we packed up our gear, loaded back into the boat and eased out to retrieve our recently mounted mojo.
Once again Bob artfully maneuvered the boat up next to the mojo pole, I grabbed the mojo, yanked upward to dislodge it from the pole. It had formed a layer of ice which caused it to slip from my hands launching up into the air and back down to the bottom of the lake.
"That's now $258 you owe me," Bob said, as he hit a stump with the motor.
After several near-death collisions with hidden stumps we made our way back to the dock. Once the boat was tethered we began the heart-testing trek back up the long, now ice covered dock, each with 50 pounds of equipment strapped over our shoulders and a disappointed Labrador retriever that was apparently still trying to trip me.
Suddenly I stepped on a extremely slippery spot, slide into Bob causing him to loose his grip on a new 12-volt battery that plunged off the dock and to the bottom of the lake.
"You now owe me $366," he muttered.
Now a psychiatrist might offer a reason for full-grown men willingly spending a portion of their lives like this. Healers of our mind’s problems might find a scientific term for this behavior, they might even write a thesis for one of them nut-case journals.
A psychiatrist might even conclude: “One reason they put their bodies and minds through extreme torture and return year after year to continue this punishment is because they are crazy!"
I finally arrived home, cold, wet, and muddy. I walked into the house and my loving wife of over 30+ years looked at me and said, "you are crazy".
She also told me that Bob had called and she was mailing him a check for the $366 that I owe him.
It was then that she looked straight into my wind burned eyes and said. "You need to find another hunting partner, we really can't afford for you to hunt with Bob anymore."