I have written two waterfowl articles one got published, this one was suppose to but never did . It is fairly long, but if you like duck hunting you probably will like it. I hope it is a nice read on a cold night.
The Full Circle of a Waterfowl Hunter
When I was younger in the 70s, and early 80s, the only thing I did was waterfowl hunt. If it wasn’t duck season, my friend Randy and I would go on reconnaissance missions scouting ducks, seeing their numbers, and flight patterns on the local refuge that we hunted. We were two young guys sitting on the hood of a 72 Ford Maverick, drinking a cold one, watching the birds overhead and saying, “ Yeah, I would of hit that one, no doubt.” Even today as my wife and I go for walks in the area parks and ducks and geese fly over us, I shoulder my imaginary gun, and pull through with a “Boom.” She says, “You do that every time, and shakes her head.” She looks at me as if to say, you know you are getting too old to do that.
If you do something long enough you get pretty good at it. Randy and I loved duck hunting, and not to brag, but we were pretty skillful hunters. On the refuge we frequently went to, we had to pick one of the many blinds that were scattered all over and hunt within 10 feet of that blind. You could watch other hunters, and see how well their hunt was going. The blinds were first come, first serve; you parked your car in the spot for the blind you wanted. Randy and I were overzealous, and much younger back then. Some people may have just called us plain stupid. We would sleep in our car to assure we would get a good blind for the next morning’s hunt.
We would sleep over at each other’s house. Our parents never wanted us to leave too early when we went hunting. My mom told us to get a good night sleep and not to leave too early. Then she would go to bed. We would be reloading shotgun shells in the garage saying “Yeah mom, no problem, then about an hour later we would quietly push my car a block down the road so she wouldn’t hear us leave. We would start it up, and drive off to the refuge. I can remember those cold nights sleeping in a car seat with a black lab on my lap, and waking up in the morning with a thick layer of ice inside the windows.
One day at sunset, Randy and I were walking out from our blind back to the parking lot. An older fellow hunter was waiting for us to walk out with him. Looking us over he said, “ Hmm, I was expecting older guys than you two, and with better guns. But boy can you guys shoot. I knew if anything came in range of you two, there was a slim chance it would ever make it to me.” He was right that day. We did have a flock of 4 blue wing teal come in, and after four quick shots, none left.
I couldn’t believe he wasn’t impressed with my old Winchester pump model 1200. My grandpa had a model 12 and told me I needed a Winchester pump if I was going to hunt waterfowl. I saved up $75 and bought my gun. I remember telling my grandpa it only shoots 2 ¾ inch shells, no 3 inch magnums. He laughed and said, “You don’t need 3 inch magnums to kill a goose; that is crazy.” It reminds me of today, over 30 years later, and guys arguing about the merits of the 3-½-inch magnums. I now have my grandpa's model 12 in my safe, and I am planning to take it out this fall on some grouse and pheasant hunts in grandpa’s honor.
Nobody in my family ever hunted, except my grandpa on my mom’s side of the family. My mom was the one that in a weird way encouraged me to hunt. I remember one day when my older sister came over and asked what I was doing. My mom laughed, and told her that I have either painted my face green and was sitting in a tree with my bow waiting for a deer to walk by, or of course I could be duck hunting. My sister said, “That is stupid! Why do you let him do that?” Mom smiled and said, “ He loves it and there is a lot worse things he could be doing. Don’t worry about him.”
Before I could drive, my mom would drop Randy and I off on the Bitterroot River with our decoys and shotguns. In the predawn darkness, she would say, “See you in a few hours.” Mom would do what she loved to do; she would go to rummage sales. She hunted for bargains, and ducks for us. One time she picked us up and proudly said, “Look what I got you!” In the car trunk were a half dozen duck decoys and a nice wool-hunting coat. Then we would go get some cinnamon rolls or some lunch, and we would talk about our hunting adventures.
Thanks to mom, I had rubber, cork, and plastic decoys. Most were mallards, but a few other species were thrown in. It was like that Dolly Parton’s song called, “A Coat of Many Colors.” She sings about when she was poor; her mom collected fabric and made her a coat from the different fabrics. We really weren’t poor, but thanks to mom I had decoys of many colors.
My mom is no longer with us. Sometimes as I sit in my duck blind and the action is slow, I look up at the clouds wondering if she is looking down on me smiling because she knows how much I love it. I have sat in the blind with my yellow lab Miley, and have talked to mom and have told her how much I miss her. A couple of years ago, her passing was fresh in my mind. I was very sad, and started to cry.
Miley, being the sweet little seven month old puppy, came over and started licking the tears off my cheeks and gave me a look like, “Don’t worry they will start flying soon.” Having a special hunting dog like Miley sure makes waterfowl hunting something wonderful. To see her as excited as I am anticipating how the day will unfold is something special.
Randy and I got away from waterfowl hunting for many reasons. The administration of the refuge changed and it made hunting a lesser priority. Steel shot wasn’t very appealing. We both got married which took away some free time. The passing of Randy’s little lion hearted black lab named Cookie was probably the biggest reason we got away from waterfowl hunting.
We knew she was a special retriever on her second or third retrieve. She swam 100 yards across a pond chasing a cripple that then crossed a road, jumped in another pond, and swam another 100 yards before she caught the duck and brought it back. Without much training, she would bring the bird back, sit, and deliver the bird to your hand.
I remember one day shooting a bull sprig and it fell to the left of our blind. It looked crushed as it dropped like a stone. Cookie started out that way and then veered to the right of the blind and started going through a cattail jungle. I was hollering at her to get back to the blind to send her in the right direction. She managed to get 100 yards from the blind and my blood pressure was rising. She finally came back with a very alive winged pintail drake in her mouth. The look she gave me will never be forgotten, as I sheepishly took the bird from her mouth and we continued hunting. Her look was like, “Don’t tell me how to retrieve and I won’t tell you how to shoot. That bird should have been dead.” She got an extra large piece of my sandwich for lunch that day.
Sometimes Randy had to work and I would stop by his house and pick up Cookie and head out for a hunt. Some blinds were good for pass shooting, and so many times we sat in those blinds on the dike. Keenly watching one way the ducks would back door me from the other way. Cookies other job besides retrieving was to sit on the straw bale seat so she could see out of the blind. We always faced in opposite directions watching for ducks. Then glancing into her eyes every few moments and watching her actions, I knew if any ducks were coming. She would sit quietly for hours, scanning into the sky for ducks for me. What a dog! She probably weighed fifty pounds soaking wet and forty-five pounds of that was heart. She never would have won any field trials; all she ever did was retrieve ducks and geese.