NOTE TO SELF (The story of a mom’s 1st duck hunt)
By: Angie Gade.
For years I’ve listened to the shots ring out on opening day of duck season, from the warmth of my bed, nestled far beneath the blankets, with my pup snuggled close to me. Meanwhile my husband and our sons would wade out into the marsh by moonlight, to wait in the darkness for flocks of geese, teal, mallards, or gadwall to fall in from overhead.
The funny thing is we live so close to the marsh where they hunt I can hear the shots ring out at daybreak, and can usually tell what sort of success if being had.
Many mornings the boys arrive at lunchtime with tales of their marshy adventures, and big smiles on their faces. Stories ranging from the process of getting through the marsh, wet up to their neck, adventures of the dog kind, or glimpses of rare ducks they saw along the way.
Well, the buck stops here (ok that’s a different hunt), but truly… enough is enough. Move over black lab, momma is coming in for the hunt!
I’m not sure why I’ve waited so long to buy that duck stamp, other than my own insecurity with shooting in the air. My aim is pretty solid at an object standing still but those winged aerobatics can sure do a number on your security. I just figured, how will we know unless we try, right?
So this is how I imagined it was going to go…I planned to get up, have some coffee from the canoe, while taking in the peaceful marsh until sunrise, at which time the skies will open up to the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever laid my eyes upon, and unique ducks from far and wide will buzz us from every direction.
Well it was something like that. I’ll give you a hint, yes a sunrise was involved. At 3:30 a.m. I made my way down to make sure I have a cup of coffee in me before we start. I help shuffle huge bags of decoys into the truck, along with some heavy skiff’s. Man, those babies are heavy, and as I was told many times, be careful with the decoys!
Scuff the heads on those ducks and my days in the marsh would be numbered. They’re just kidding though… right? Time to layer up and get those waders on! Heading out the door yet?
Nope… you just got your waders on and now you have to pee. So off come the layers again for a final potty break. Oh gosh… what happens if I have to go to the bathroom out in the canoe??
Hunting fanny pack filled with hand muff, snacks, gloves, and all of the things, wrapped around my waist, we’re headed to the marsh. There we unpack it all and organize in the skiffs for easy transport. Ok, easy may not be the correct word but it’s all packed tight and ready for the dragging of the skiffs to the water about two hundred yards out.
“Watch those decoy heads!” rings out as I unpack the bags. “Hurry… hurry, someone is trying to beat us to our spot!” Drag the skiff, stop to sweat…. Drag the skiff further, stop and sweat a little more. Almost there! “Hey, where’s my gun?”… Go back to where we stopped to sweat, and get it.
Whew that was close, they almost beat us. Ok, slide those skiffs into the marsh sludge and glide quietly in the dark so no one knows where you’ve tucked yourself in.
Finally, time for a sip of coffee. What? I tipped my coffee over on the way and what’s left has some sort of marsh greens concoction in it. Ugh, that’s out.
NOTE TO SELF: Bring a thermos next time.
At least I can warm my hands in my muff until it’s time to put out decoys! Umm… swamped as well.
NOTE TO SELF: Tuck hand muff INSIDE my waders next time.
Gloves? Yup, you guessed it, wet. The only dry thing was my lips… and looking for a sip of coffee!
An hour before the season opens we’re legal to set up decoys which involved wading around in the darkness of the marsh, throwing those precious decoys into a pattern invisible to me. I watch as the boys make quick work of it… quite the art if you ask me.
“Make a pocket, the ducks love a pocket… “ I hear in the darkness. I’m still not exactly sure what that means but as if they have ESP, each of the boys ,displays their best spread with such precision as if it were in a competition. I’m learning, taking videos and pictures, every so often letting out a squeal as my boots get stuck in the muck, pulling me in.
I glance to the east and see the first light of day… sunrise is coming. It’s time to crawl into the skiffs, ready our guns, and steady our hand. Questions run through my mind –
Will I know where to aim?
How will I know what kind of duck it is?
Will my aim be steady enough from inside this boat?
Here goes nothing… we’re about to find out.
As if it were Christmas morning, my husband and son wait, wide eyed and watching for that first duck to appear. What I find out later on is that this look is more of a, “We’re just HOPING that ducks appear” kind of look.
This time of year the ducks are migrating south which means depending on the timing you could get lucky, or you could go home empty handed. Gun in hand, face paint on in an antler pattern (maybe I should have selected wing pattern in hindsight), my eyes seesaw from side to side, in anticipation.
“Coming straight at us, 6 ducks, feet down” I hear from my left. I think to myself, Feet down? Yes, of course my feet are down.. How else will I do this?
“TAKE EM’” my husband says, shots ring out, and my head echoes like a chamber.
NOTE TO SELF: Put earplugs in BEFORE the shooting starts.
When the dust settles, ducks lay among the fully flocked decoys, and cheers echo through the marsh.
NOTE TO SELF: I don’t have to be quiet like in the stand deer hunting. Love it!
“Did you shoot?” he asks me. Laughing out loud and smiling from ear to ear, I tell him that I didn’t even have a chance to pull up before it was all over, but I’m feeling the adrenaline and it’s amazing.
I’m not sure who’s faster, those ducks, or these boys!
NOTE TO SELF: need to be faster next time.
Over and over ducks hover, cupped up, in an amazing display of aerobatics unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The sheer skill of calling ducks and convincing them to stop in for a look see, assuring them that it’s safe, is something unlike anything I’d ever heard.
With the exception of them practicing in the kitchen of course, which drives the dogs bonkers.
Suddenly the boys hunch down behind the cattails. “Oh lord… big flock coming in hard. Don’t look up”
Each time he says that I think to myself, how will I see them if I don’t look up? Moments later he “TAKE EM!”
Safety off, I lift my 12 gauge into the air, lining my site with a duck just in front of me.
I see it’s a blue winged teal. BOOM… I launch that shot into the air!
A duck falls from the sky, My duck! The last shot rings out and we collect our harvests.
I’d actually done it… balanced myself in the skiff, took aim with precision,
and now officially have 1 duck under my belt.
I stared at it for the next few minutes, thanking God for allowing me this amazing day,
for an amazing family with patience to teach me, an amazing bird,
and memories of this experience that will last a lifetime.
The sun has risen just above the cat tails, I stand quietly and take it in,
my first duck resting in my lap. What a blessing it is to share this moment with those I love.
What a blessing it is to be called a hunter, and have the freedom to do so.
Note to self: Always be thankful, and remember this day forever.