I don’t hunt ducks much anymore. Call me lazy, old, or just plain tired of missing those easy shots I once made with semi-regularity. Whatever the reason, I don’t do a lot of waterfowling these days.
Sometimes, though, I reminisce and think about it. Often, I wonder how I ever became a waterfowler in the first place. None of my forebears pursued the sport to a great degree. To my knowledge, there isn’t an avid waterfowler anywhere in my family history. My family tree did grow a branch of hunters. They just didn’t hunt ducks.
Thus, my becoming a hunter in general was traditionally proper. Becoming a waterfowler in particular was due, no doubt, to the fact that I was simply a weird child.
A young friend of mine, who’s read one or two old duck hunting stories of mine, approached me the other day and asked if I could give him some pointers on the sport. I was proud. His dad is a golfer and by all rights the kid should have been born with a golfer’s genes. As weird as waterfowlers are, golfers are ... well, never mind.
Happy as I was to learn this youngster wanted my sage advice, I had to make certain he was not just going through the proverbial “stage.” Was his wildfowler’s yearning truly in the blood? I needed to know. Thus, I shared with him my own duck-hunting history.
My stint as a waterfowler began at age eleven, with ownership of my first real shotgun. No more bang-bang pretend shots at pretend pintails. Now I could hurl real pellets at real ducks. My little 20-gauge was, of course, a single-shot. Woe be unto anyone who would give a kid like me a second shot at anything. There were even valid arguments against my first shots, as they could often be potentially hazardous to any living organism within range, discounting what I was actually shooting at.
Normally, a 20-gauge is an ideal first gun. The recoil is easy on both shoulder and psyche. As a young duck hunter, however, I soon learned that 20-gauge recoil with feet firmly planted on dry earth is vastly different from the same phenomenon when the shooter is balanced precariously upon a slick cypress log in the middle of a swamp. Reloading can be difficult when one is flat of his back, looking upward through four feet of muddy water. My first shot, by the way, was a clean miss, as were the vast majority ever after.
I well remember my first pair of waders. I inherited them from my uncle the day the game warden and the judge suggested he give up the practice of illegally gill-netting red horse suckers. They became mine after 20 years of regular abusive employment. They leaked, naturally. I’ve never to this day put on a pair that didn’t. There was a hole the size of a quarter at the knee and a slightly smaller one in the seat.
That initial pair of waders could have held my entire fifth-grade class. I never attempted to find out just how many people I could actually squeeze into them, but I know they easily accommodated me, 500 gallons of water, and the occasional mudcat or water snake. Those who claim chest waders are hard to get into and out of never saw a latex-clad fifth grader motivated by something long and slimy slithering up and down his leg.
As a budding waterfowler, I suffered other hardships as well. I nearly choked to death on my first duck call. Nobody told me you had to blow the dadgum thing. I sucked. Literally.
I once missed a shot at a crossing mallard and peppered a hornets’ nest instead. Hornets just flat can’t take a joke.
Once, crossing a barbed-wire fence, I snagged the crotch of my waders, the crotch of my jeans, and the crotch of me, all at once. Some say my duck-calling became a bit more high-pitched for years afterward.
These faux pas are but a drop in the bucket. Imagine the myriad waterfowling foul-ups one can experience between the ages of 11 and 55. They’ve all happened to me.
I patiently recounted every one of them for the young wannabe, laying out all the reasons why waterfowlers take insanity to its highest plane. All that and, wouldn’t you know it, he still wants to go duck hunting.
You know, it’s kinda nice having another weird child living this close by. Reckon he might want to try outdoor writing some day?