George, Bob and I boat to our blind in a flooded hardwoods opening. It’s dark. Flashlights illuminate our way inside the blind. Everyone checks shotguns, making sure they’re unloaded before handing them in. Then we arrange gear so it’ll be within reach when shooting time comes.
In the predawn dimness, we set the decoys.
“This one goes here,” Bob says, a thoughtful decision born of past experience. Line, anchor and plastic mallard sing through the air, landing with a splash. The decoy bobs upright and dances in the breeze.
“Now another over there, and one here in front of me,” Bob instructs.
Slowly, the picture takes shape. The placid water gains dimension and depth as 36 decoys are placed. The finished block is realistic in outline, position and color, with an open hole strategically placed so ducks will come in against the wind to light within shooting range.
Weather conditions are ideal for timber hunting — clear sky, no ice on the water. We see and hear ducks already and enjoy those last introspective moments before shooting time.
We’re loaded and ready. Ranger, George’s impatient retriever, looks at us expectantly. Two wood ducks whiz by, but shooting time is a few minutes away.
Bob’s watch alarm sounds. Legal shooting hours have begun — just in time. A dozen mallards cross the timber 200 yards away, looking for a friendly neighborhood. Bob greets them with a loud, attention-getting highball call. They wing our way.
As the ducks circle, Bob changes to a staccato feeding call. The flock falls below the treetops, but suddenly it looks like they’ll leave. Bob gives a long, pleading comeback call, and the birds turn back. This time they’re convinced. They fall, wings cupped, feet outstretched.
“Now!” Bob shouts. Gunfire erupts. Six mallards meet their maker.
Ranger waits for George’s signal, then explodes from the blind. He makes one retrieve and then another, following his master’s hand signals until he finds the birds — five drakes and a hen.
Three woodies pass at light speed. George wants a drake for a mount. He shoots and misses, then misses again. The wood ducks fly away unscathed. George takes a lot of ribbing.
“I shot overneath them,” he says.
Bob leaves the blind and stands in hip-deep water beside an oak. Here, he can better gauge the ducks’ demeanor and cajole them with just the right duck talk. Occasionally, he swirls his foot in the water, sending ripples through the decoys.
More mallards check our spread. I fail to notice them, and when Bob starts calling, I look to see where the birds are. Too late I realize my mistake. The ducks see my upturned face and start backpedaling before they’re close enough for a shot.
Bob and George chide me for my mistake.
More greenheads bank in response to Bob’s hail call. This time I’m ready. I keep my face down as Bob turns this way, then that, trying to keep an eye on the mallards. A burst of feeding notes is the final persuader. The birds drop into the hole. George and I each kill a drake. Ranger retrieves.
“Can you see them?” George whispers.
Coming our way is a ragged flock of fast-moving ducks.
“Green-wings, you think?”
“I’m not sure,” he replies. “We’ll know shortly.”
They come like little rockets, each with the same loose wire in their guidance system. They wheel high over the blind and disappear.
With astounding speed, they turn downwind. Then suddenly they bank, dropping toward our decoys.
“Get ’em!” Bob shouts.
We rise to fire. The teal see us and flare, but all three of us manage a single. The rest of the fast little ducks zoom away.
For almost an hour, there’s been no action. We’re talking when four mallards zip in from our blind side and splash down in the decoys. Bob drops a beautiful greenhead. Ranger retrieves and takes the bird to Bob. The master caller lets out a whoop and raises the bird for us to see. The drake is banded.
A drake wood ducks zips past and likes what he sees. When he makes a second pass, George makes a beautiful shot. We admire the painted colors of the gorgeous duck when Ranger brings it into the blind. George is especially happy. He has the bird he wants for his wall.
We haven’t limited out yet, but no matter. It’s time to head home. We’re content with the fun morning. As we stoop to pick up decoys, I hear the whizzing sound of more teal overhead. I turn and look at Bob and George. Both have broad grins on their faces.
It’s been a great day.
Ranger makes a retrieve.