It was Friday morning at around 3:30am. Having gone to bed at 8, this huntress was ready for a good duck hunt. I bounded out of bed and frantically began searching for my camo. It took me about thirty seconds to realize that I had discarded my waterfowl wears outside in the 21 degree garage. Great. DU was taking the dogs out so I couldn't beg with big, blue eyes to implore him to go get my stuff for me. Hence, I began thinking warm thoughts and pushed open the garage door. Sporting a really old tank top and DU's boxers, I was greeted with Bridges standing at the door. I can't stand when DU's hunting buddies come over earlier than expected. I immediately tried to make myself invisible which didn't really work out. Laughing, he looked at me like I was certifiably insane. Clinging onto my non-existent invisibility powers, I ran as quickly as I could to gather my camo. I made a mental note to bring in my stuff next time as I rushed back into the warm confines of the house.
Finally fully clothed, I rushed out to the truck and we got going to the place we explored the weekend prior. The morning was beautifully clear as we rounded into the parking lot. As DU pulled the boat away from it's trailer, Bridges and I parked the truck. We were walking back towards the boat when a man, obviously waiting impatiently for his buddies, waved at us. We said hello and he proceeded to tell us that a group had gone before us about 15 minutes ago. They were headed for the duck blind.
I groaned. Shit. That's where DU and I had scouted previously. DU had said in the morning that if we can't get this spot, he would have no idea where to go. The problem with this piece of water is that 85% of it is refuge land. Hence, the places in which one can hunt are limited. Worse yet, telling where one can hunt versus where hunting is illegal is difficult to decipher in the pitch-black hours before sunrise.
As I walked down the dock to the boat, I didn't want to tell DU that our spot had been taken. But again, hoping that my cuteness would help in easing the pain of having our perfect spot occupied, I smiled sweetly as I divulged the bitter news. DU sighed and started driving. The prop on the mud motor has been getting beaten up pretty badly so the drive out to where we had intended to hunt was agonizingly slow.
Sure enough, as we got close to our chosen spot, lights danced as hunters invisibly set up their spread. The distinct plops of decoys hitting the water permeated the air, mocking us for not getting up earlier. DU navigated the boat to an enclave on the side of an island, a safe, expansive distance from our fellow hunters.
Then more bad luck. Setting up shop with our trio has started to take on a cyclical pattern. DU and Bridges throw out the decoys, set up the Mojo and jerk string while I set up the blind. The guys help me put up the legs then I roll the sides down. I put things in their proper place and ensure that everything is organized so as to not interfere with the hunt. I started my blind duties when I heard DU curse, loudly.
The small leak that had begun to form in his waders turned bad. He was soaked to the bone so Bridges had to set everything up. Just as before, a decoy's weight wasn't let out enough so the little goose decided to go for a swim. Of course, we had to break down the blind, drive to go get the goose, set him right, then go back and re-set up the blind. Tempers that were starting to rise slowly receded once all was set up. We thankfully fired on the sunflower heater and enjoyed the warmth.
And then we heard it. One boat, then another, then 2, then 4 more, then even more came tearing down the river. As small as this body of water is, we were shocked when we saw group after group nudging their way near the blind we had originally wanted. Obviously not buddies with the incoming hunters, the hunters in the blind were covered on all sides with too-close-for-comfort hunters. Open-mouthed we saw a boat of hunters set up within 20 yards of another boat. Turning on our headlamps as to be recognized, we saw a group of hunters pass by us, loudly figuring out where to hunt. They almost decided to set up shop on the opposite side of our spot, 10 yards away but must have felt our fatal glares because they continued on their way.
If the sun rose in a beautiful manner, we didn't see it. Clouds muddled the sky in a perfect duck hunting morning fashion. Excited, we looked to the sky for the oncoming birds.
Shooting time lazily rolled around. Minutes ticked by with not a shot to be heard.
Soon enough, ducks started to fly. Shortly followed by a symphony of the worst duck callers I've ever heard. I know that I can't blow on a duck call perfectly well yet but I'm certainly on my way. I keep trying but I know better than to try to call during hunting. If I called, a duck would either attempt to fly down to figure out what sort of strange duck could emit such a noise or fly away in fear. I leave it up to DU whose calls rival those I've heard on waterfowl CDs and shows. Hence, when the calls started to make my ears bleed, DU got annoyed. The hunters near us sounded like ducks with a serious case of whooping cough combined with a touch of slight laryngitis. While their strategy may have been to amass ducks who are also sick and need a cough drop, the waterfowl weren't buying it.
But, just like sunlight ripping clouds open to display its majestic beauty, the geese came. DU's annoyance melted away as he heard their calls. The amateur calls ceased as DU's goose call brought forth noises that only geese themselves have perfected. For a brief, beautiful second all was still as DU talked the V of geese into flying directly over our blind. Honks were exchanged, the head goose figured that DU was his long, lost cousin, Sidney, and the whole flock was going to fly down to meet him. As the geese began to descend, we turned into statues, our hands firmly on our guns, waiting until they flew within shooting range.
Then shots rang out. DU's fists turned white as he gripped his call tightly. The hunters encroaching on one another began sky blasting the geese, disallowing the birds to be worked into flying closer. Still out of kill range, the geese immediately turned their course and flew higher in the opposite direction.
Group after group responded to DU's calls only to fly away swiftly after the sky blasts of our fellow hunters ensured that no one would be eating bacon-wrapped goose that night.
Disgusted with the day, we packed up early.
Driving home, Bridges and DU vowed to never step foot on public land to hunt ducks on the weekends ever again. I sat and listened while watching the landscape blur. Although I didn't say it, I was disgusted too. This thing we love, the hunt, is being desecrated by those who love it. I was disturbed with how closely the boats were getting to another, how late the boats were cruising by the blinds. Worst of all had to have been the blind shooting at waterfowl that were entirely too high to get a good shot at. Sky blasting reeked of greed and stupidity as the guys just wanted to shoot at something, they didn't realize the geese needed to be worked in order to become dinner. I know the hunt is so much more than just the harvest but this whole day was just one big disappointing mess I sighed, set my head against the window and prayed that next hunt will bring different results.
The next day, DU and I rose early to attend our newly found church. The current series is the precursor to Christmas, so our Pastor has been seriously fired up. The message that day was all about having gratitude. Gratitude, the Pastor surmised, is how to thank God for and how to continue to experience our blessings. While the message hit close to home in many areas, it took some time of reflection before I connected the message with the hunt the day prior.
It is in the good, fruitful days of hunting that I will harbor my gratitude for days like the one described. In times of trial, surrounded by seemingly ignorant hunters, birds that don't feel like flying, deer that refuse to move, and overall frustrating seasons, I will call on my gratitude for the continued blessing to be able to hunt.