I can remember my first duck hunt like it was yesterday. No decoys. No calls. No waders. Just me and my father walking along a puddled-up canal in hopes of jumping a few mallards. The sky was milky and a hint of snow hung in the frosty December air. It was truly a magical morning. I was wearing an old zippered red sweatshirt and Levis. My dad was in his traditional gray hoodie and a black and orange ball cap from the high school at which he taught and coached. Duck hunters we were not, but at the time I didn’t know any better. To be honest, I wouldn’t have had my first quest for waterfowl shake out any other way.
We heard them before we saw them; the low, muffled grumble puddle ducks make when feeding on open water tickled my ears. I crawled up between a pair of golden tumbleweeds and spied the butt end of a drake as he paddled his way around a bend. My heat leapt in my throat and my hands shook.
Thank God Dad had some idea of what to do. He had me back off the canal’s bank and we made a long, winding approach across an open field – an approach that offered concealment and would, in theory, bring us right up on the bend. My knees knocked together and the single-shot 20-gauge that rested in my grip shook violently. Dad planned it perfectly and a few ducks sprung from the water only yards in front of me. I’d love to tell you I picked out a green-headed drake, swung perfectly and squeezed the trigger, but that would be an outright lie. I’m not sure I even shouldered my shotgun before I jerked the trigger into action. And pick a duck? I most certainly did not. I simply scattered a barrage of lead (legal at the time) number 4s into the fleeing flock. By the grace of God a hen mallard took the full load and fell to the ground. Dad hugged me and tears of joy streamed from my eyes. It was a good day, a day that sparked a flame inside of me that grew over time.
This past weekend I was able to take my sons Hunter and Brody on their first duck hunts. Neither were gun-toting participants (Hunter will take his hunter’s safety class later this spring), but they had a ball. For the morning mission Hunter and I tossed a few decoys on an icy beaver pond along an old creek bottom and snuggled into the brush. The first ducks on the scene were a group of mallards. A few quacks and feed chuckles from my duck call and the group was cupped-up and diving in with orange feet down. When the sweet smell of burnt gunpowder settled, a single greenhead lay motionless amongst our group of imposters. Hunter turned to me with eyes as wide as saucers and said, “Dad, that was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” We didn’t kill another duck that morning, but a seed was planted.
That afternoon when the air warmed a bit, I took my youngest son Brody out for a little puddle-jumping sojourn, much like the one my father took me on. Hunter tagged along and my boys were able to walk up on a group of resting mallards and push them into flight. I let a single shot ring out and another mallard drake fell to the ground. Brody ran to him and sat holding our December prize like it was a priceless jewel. He stroked the feathers and couldn’t get over the bird’s orange feet.
I know I wouldn’t be working in this wonderful industry today had my dad not taken the time to introduce me to the great outdoors. That single hunt ignited a passion inside me and caused me to dream about what could be. Thanks, Dad! I appreciate it more than you will ever know.
Do you have someone you need to thank? Do you have someone you need to get into the great outdoors? Just a couple of questions to put some serious thought into.