Friday, January 22, 2010

Ode to Anas Platyrhynchos

It has been a season to remember. For the uninitiated, the sport--nay, Calling--that is duck hunting, seems a foolish pursuit at best. When one who has never been hears of the 0-dark-thirty reveilles, the wind-chilled boat rides, the frozen-fingered handling of dozens of decoys, the back-killing hours standing in thigh deep water, the expense of guns and ammunition, and the often empty-handed result of all of these rigors, they need no other confirmation that their friend is three or four shells shy of a full box. And in more years than not, with birds in short supply, and those warier than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, the hunter himself comes to the same self-evaluation. But, then, just about the time a duck hunter is ready to enter a seven-step program to wean himself from the addiction, there are seasons like this one that provide the rush that hooks him deep in his soul and leaves him longing for the next season's fix.

For the Colonel, there may not be many sights in this world whose thrill compares to that of a brace of greenheads turning and dropping altitude toward the decoys, wings cupped into the wind. Well, there is the sight of the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda after a couple of hours absence. And, there is the sight of a sleepy-eyed grandson toddling towards you for his morning hug. And, okay, there's the thrill of seeing the Rebels run on to the field for the first time in September. But, other than that... a duck on the downwind approach, gear down and wings cupped, in the soft light of a early winter just doesn't get much better than that.

The past several seasons here at the northern end of southern nowhere have been marked by low water and even lower numbers of ducks. We persisted though, trekking to isolated pockets of flooded timber in all but forgotten patches of cypress swamp. Sometimes we saw a few ducks. Most often not. Our trips became as much social outings as hunts; our cold, wet, birdless misery bonding us; our watch phrase ever the refrain, "maybe next year we'll have enough rain to flood the lake and the hunting will be better..."

And then, heavy rains came early this fall, washing away the bitter disappointment of a once buoyant Rebel football season aground on the rocks of reality, filling the lake to overflowing and our hearts with the hope of flocks of mallards escaping the ice up north and finding wet room to raft and loaf. A month ago, we were living the dream. There were birds in abundance, some of which even turned their heads to our plaintive reeds and circled our spread. And some of those thrilled our hearts, and the hearts of ammunition manufacturers, with the wind dance that brought them into range of our guns.

Yesterday, the first day in a nearly a week that we could get back on the lake--thunderstorms and waders don't mix--we motored to a spot that provided the perfect protection of calm water in a strong west wind and expectantly went through the well-rehearsed drill of donning waders, throwing decoys, hiding the boat and then hiding ourselves. We waited. No birds. Our ducks were gone--probably further south.

Stupid ducks, who needs 'em?
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