Friday, October 17, 2008
The Opener with the Rabid Outdoorsman: End game
I don't know what was worse, the grumble in my gut as the coffee started to wear away my stomach lining or the instant rush of caffeine going straight into my system. It didn't matter, Steve may be the Rabid Maine Outdoorsman, but his career in the java world is quite limited. And there Steve was, grinning from ear to ear because the coffee was hot. I didn't want to pour it out for that would have brought the water quality to dangerous and toxic levels. Okay, enough about that, it's hunting time!
We quietly shot the bull and strategized about how we would begin the day, I kept checking the time as we approached legal shooting. Around 5:30, Steve began a series of calls ranging from wood duck “yelps” to dabbling mallards to the teal call. I'm not sure if he was trying to impress me with a quack here, and a quack there, here a quack, there a quack, everywhere a quack, quack, but other ducks did respond. It might have been what they do at that time, Steve could have been doing a great job or he could be taking credit for something that occurs every morning. I don't use duck calls for the most part, other than for black ducks in a winter snowstorm. So let's just say he's a brilliant duck whisperer.
My take: Steve, in his element and calling the shots, myself, eager and excited for a new experience in the wild-fowling world even though I had been poisoned by one of my best friends.
So here is my best recount of the opening minute to our first volley of shotgun blasts...
6:04 Legal Shooting, well at least it was... you couldn't see well, it was overcast, drizzling, and dark... There was no sunrise for that pristine early shot, just dark and dreary, plus the rain kept things just wet enough to fog up the camera and I had nothing to wipe away the condensation... Then we heard the first shots of the new season...
6:16 was when our first flock arrived and I wasn't sure how to approach this, were we to wait until Steve said go, or should I jump up and start firing. In all of our conversations, Steve and I did NOT discuss the first flock. So I waited, as not to bogart the experience. Then here we sat, with at least 8 mallards in the decoys, three lined up for one shot and I say “what do we do?”. Both pointing our shotguns, Steve replied, “Ready?” as I responded, “Yeah”...
“Go first”, he suggested and I fired with Steve quickly rallying behind...
Our quarry from that first flock... zero, how could we have missed those birds I thought, I wasn't sure if we had misjudged the distance, or had drawn down our beads too far, but nevertheless my first volley of fire since mid-December last year had resulted in a fat goose egg...
My take: Steve, wondering, myself wondering why so rusty, ready for the next flock...
From that point on, you could hear shots from all over and watch flocks buzzing all around. The guys on the little island were firing, the dudes to our west were sky-busting and not even coming close, people on an adjacent lake were shooting, and the ducks were consistently on the fly.
We had some questionable circumstances, some ducks were too far but just close enough, I chose not to fire for the most part especially after seeing how well sky-busting works. The teal were dive bombing and darting all over just like fighter jets and the wood ducks descended only to veer another way in complete unison. My bird identification came around a lot faster than I had previously thought, I recognized some mallards directly approaching from the west. They veered south and split behind our stand and the island we were hunting. Then somehow, Steve located a drake greenhead and gave it a chuckle. The mallard flew directly over the southwest decoys and then started to flare as I jumped up. I offered two shots but am sure the first one did the job and the drake spiraled to the water. It felt great, but the drake was not giving up. After two more rounds, the mallard went eastward towards some reeds. Steve chose to leave his labrador retriever behind so he could pursue the persistent duck. Once he was in the general area, I noticed the drake again moving away in the opposite direction. I shouted to Steve, told him to look left, he stood up and quickly dispatched the mallard. Meanwhile, his dog was absolutely going insane in the blind and I tried everything to convince Onyx that her daddy was coming right back. Finally, Steve returned with the mallard that we now had a share in bagging and proudly handed to me and congratulated me with my first freshwater mallard.
My take: Steve, exhausted from the row, exited for me, myself, amped and ready for more! Onyx, happy her owner had finally come back...
For some time, we had some chances, surprises, and misgivings while the rain got progressively worse just like the duck hunting. We were sitting on one duck and I was hoping for at least one more chance. Steve had done so much to show me a good time and one more flock could make this hunt a huge success. Alas, my hopes were met by a golden opportunity as three mallards approached from the northwest and turned towards the decoys to land into the northeast wind. I fired first and dropped the lead bird, while Steve fired upon another. The third lighted into the decoys but suspended itself slowly as if to gain altitude from a wind that suddenly seemed absent. Within a fraction of a second, I broadcast a flurry of Kent Fasteel number two shot at the remaining bird. As with the others, she fell amongst her companions ending a most exciting moment in our day. Steve promptly unleashed his dog for a retrieve and ended up retrieving all three in wonderful fashion. For a second in time, I wished I had a labrador retriever but then returned to reality and appreciated the fact that my dog ownership days will not be until the children grow up. Nevertheless, that 5 minutes of our day seemed as if it belonged on a hunting show, absolutely perfect.
My take: Steve, swelled up like a tom approaching a hen turkey, myself, relieved to see my friends day become in my eyes much better other than showing me a great time
To be honest, our luck went back to tradition as the birds officially discovered that every possible place on that lake might result in their own demise. The ducks were flying high, the sky-busters were still shooting at high fliers just like the Iraqis shooting into the sky at our stealth fighters with no avail, and we actually found ourselves with our newfound success actually relaxing with some dried pollack, taking some pictures, and raving about Onyx's flawless retrieves. And then it happened, one more hen mallard was fast approaching from the southwest and flying straight at the face of our blind. It wasn't like the other ducks, this one was committed worse than a lonely eider finding its way into my eider decoys. She sped towards us without any haste, but then shot up to the sky like a space shuttle in flight to outer space. I offered a shot with little luck, but out of nowhere Steve points to the sky leaning backwards and presents this ridiculous shot at the hen. It was a vertical shot directly above us and it rewarded us with temporary flurry of feathers as I watched the hen drop over us and into the water behind the blind. Amazed, I couldn't even begin to describe how Steve had pulled this one off other than it was 60% skill and 40% luck. Hell, that shot would have been lucky for anybody, but Steve made it happen and I still can't explain how he even got a shot off even after I had taken the best possible shot at the rising mallard.
As I videotaped Onyx retrieving the hen mallard, Steve managed to be in the video qualifying himself as a rock star and for that moment in time, he earned it. What an amazing shot!
My take: Steve, the real life bobble-head swelled up so bad he may never come back to Earth, myself, still laughing to my amazement how he pulled off that shot
After that, we joked about our neighbors the sky-busters and wondered how well they were doing. In the midst of the entire day that had been full of surprises and laughter, I noticed that Steve's tone was faltering as I realized that his jokes had some hidden anger. The sportsmanship in him seemed to address his dismay in their actions, I kept reminding him of our great day and all the great things but it still didn't change the fact that he had to share a lake with some scrubs who didn't seem to share in his passion for the best hunting practices. This became the part of the day where the eternal optimist was getting frustrated.
My take: Steve, going to the dark side and ready to shed his light saber, myself, still elated with the day and preparing myself for breaking down camp
At 10 o'clock we called it quits, Steve would take the dog and a bulk of the hunting gear back to his truck and I would break down the camp and package everything else. After about 15 minutes, Steve returned and explained that he had run into a biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who was checking ducks for the avian bird flu. Steve also mentioned that his buddies in the blind to our south had just pulled in, so he didn't waste much time in leaving. I did suggest asking the biologist whether or not they had success, for we had been watching them move all about and sauntering along in a canoe throughout the marsh. I thought maybe they were moving decoys, but when we reached the landing we asked the biologist about their luck. To our surprise, the sky-busters had nothing but had informed him that it looked like some other groups were having some luck. I could see a grin forming on Steve's face as he realized that their improper hunting tactics were rewarded with the proverbial goose egg.
My take: Steve, somehow turned it around with the sky-buster's lack of success, myself, thrilled with a great day but seriously exhausted and still looking at a three hour ride home.
We loaded all the gear, had a pleasant discussion with the biologist, and drove back to Steve's abode. After unpacking and shifting my gear back to my car, I went in to take a shower, eat some lunch, and enjoy a cup of coffee masterfully concocted by Steve's wife. By noontime and after we had watched our videos of the hunt, I began my journey back home. To look back at my first ever freshwater duck hunt, I wouldn't change a thing. It all ended up with the glass full.