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OUTDOORS COLUMN: I'm looking for payback

Bob Kornegay

Bob Kornegay

Looking back, it's hard to believe I was ever attracted to the sport of waterfowling. Long before I shouldered a shotgun and sat in a blind, I had troubles innumerable with ducks, geese and swans. On the other hand, maybe that's the reason. Perhaps being a waterfowler affords me some measure of sweet revenge.

I've told the story before of my encounter with a Canada goose that viciously attacked me as I attempted to free him from a snarl of monofilament fishing line. In the end I was a successful Good Samaritan, but only after being successively pecked, bitten and nearly beaten to death by flailing wings.

That gander showed no gratitude whatsoever and flew off without one word of thanks. I harbor no animosity, though. He was, after all, native wildlife. I can be charitable. There are other encounters, however, about which I am not quite so magnanimous. These involve imports, non-native species, critters having no business here in the first place.

Long ago I worked as a lifeguard at a recreational facility in southeast Alabama known as Porter's Fairyland. For some unfathomable reason, the owners of the property had the idea that free-roaming Muscovy ducks would add to the area's aesthetic value. Lord knows why they thought such. Muscovy ducks are big and ugly. They are also very, very messy and can be neither house nor pool-deck broken.

One day, as I sat in my "high chair" at poolside, watching pretty girls jiggle and giggle while ugly girls and children ran a dire risk of drowning unobserved, I heard a piping shout from below.

"Hey, lifeguard!" yelled a little brown-as-gingercake country boy.

I looked down and saw him. He was one of those tough little knots; scrawny, wiry, with a too-big swimsuit hanging off his bony hips and reaching almost to his knees, one of which sported a barely adhered band-aid.

"What?" I sharply retorted, miffed at being distracted. His reply was short and to the point.

"Y'all need to do somethin' about all this duck @#$%!," he exclaimed, seconds before diving into the pool to wash about two pounds of the stuff off his feet.

I ignored and forgot the incident until the following day, when my boss (who'd also received a complaint) put me to work with shovel, hoe and water hose. Think lifeguarding is glamorous? Think again.

Years prior, as a child of 9 or 10, I attended a Bible school picnic on the same grounds. That day I won for two whole hours the fickle heart of a pretty, tomboyish little girl. She had long pigtails and smelled wonderful, like a banana sandwich. She kissed me once on the cheek and I was smitten. What attracted her to a pudgy, big-eared, crew-cut-coiffed lout like me I do not know. Perhaps it was the aroma of potted meat.

I escorted this latest love of my life to the old abandoned kiddie pool at the eastern edge of the grounds. The pool was the domain of a huge mute swan, a big old cob. Together, my pig-tailed angel and I tossed potato chips to the big bird, docile as a parakeet until the last Golden Flake morsel went down his snake-like neck and into his craw. Life lesson: Never feed potato chips to a big male mute swan unless you possess an unlimited supply. As we fled in terror mere inches ahead of the belligerent avian, my darling's high-pitched scream was heard above the din of a throng of noisy swimmers. My own was even higher, momentarily drowning out the jukebox. If Hans Christian Andersen had met that swan, The Ugly Duckling would not be classic children's literature.

I realize, of course, I'm being very immature, but to this day I have an unutterable loathing for mute swans and Muscovy ducks. Just as immaturely, I have a tendency to transfer this hatred to the wild waterfowl I pursue. In my mind's eye I see not incoming mallards, widgeon or teal. I see instead the hideous silhouettes of pooping Muscovies. It's awfully hard to stay within the legal limit.

And guess what? For several years now there's been a swan season in Virginia and this is the year I get to go. I wrote the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries last week inquiring about the legality of potato chips as swan bait.

I have all my fingers crossed.

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Questions? Comments? E-mail Bob Kornegay at cletus@windstream.net