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BOB KORNEGAY: Brief summer puppy love was a swan song

OUTDOORS: Sometimes payback is justifiable

I was recently notified that I’ve been selected to participate in an upper Atlantic Coast swan hunt later this year. It’s my second opportunity. Last time I was unsuccessful.

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

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

That gander showed no gratitude whatsoever and never thanked me. I harbor no animosity, though. He was, after all, native wildlife and I am charitable. There are other encounters, however, about which I am not so magnanimous. These involve imported species, critters having no business here in the first place.

Long ago I worked as a lifeguard at a recreational facility in southeast Alabama. For some unfathomable reason, the property owners thought free-roaming Muscovy ducks added to the area’s aesthetic value. Lord knows why. Muscovy ducks are 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 risked drowning unobserved, I heard a shout from below.

“Hey, lifeguard!” piped an emphatic voice.

I looked down and saw him, a tough little country boy; scrawny, wiry, with a too-big swimsuit hanging off his hips and reaching his knees.

“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 offending matter 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, broom, and water hose. Lifeguarding glamorous? Think again.

Years prior, as a child of nine or 10, I attended a Bible school picnic on these same grounds. That day I won for two whole hours the fickle heart of a pretty 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 lout like me I do not know. Perhaps it was the aroma of potted meat.

I escorted this latest love of my life to an 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 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 sweetheart’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 I’m being 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 and homicidal swans.

It’s awfully hard to stay within the legal limit.

And now, wonder of wonders, I’ve been drawn again for a swan hunt. I’m going to write the host state’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries inquiring about the legality of potato chips as bait.

I have all my fingers crossed. Payback will be sweet.

Email outdoors columnist Bob Kornegay HERE