I've been living in North Carolina for about seven months now. There are many things that have surprised me thus far. From fried pickles to moonshine, I've tried more new things since I've moved down here than an entire lifetime in Western New York. Today, I experienced a day of firsts, starting with a city shut down because of snow and ending with the harvest of my first duck.
In the past, I've only done deer hunting because I only knew deer hunters. When I met DU, I was thrown into the world of waterfowl hunting. I didn't know if I really had a passion for it until today.
We woke up this morning to a half foot of beautiful, fluffy, white snow on the ground. The wind blew and for a brief second, I seriously considered ensconcing myself back into the covers and resuming my restful slumber. But I figured that going out in the snow was something I never before had experienced so I might as well get out of bed and at least take a shot at hunting in the freezing atmosphere. I found all of the necessary implements for keeping warm and ventured out into my car. I assumed that I was going to go to work so DU and I took separate cars.
I grew up in Rochester, NY and went to college in Niagara Falls, NY. Hence, I know snow. I've driven in it before I got my license and even got close to running twice into the same pole in a CVS parking lot in two feet of snow. Driving in the white stuff is amazing because the people who are scared of it stay off the road and I'm free to drive the speed limit at my leisure. However, I've never seen anything close to what I saw this morning. The snow was falling heavily when I flipped my Jeep into 4-wheel-drive. Listening to the local country station, I noticed that the DJs were saying things like "stay home if you can, avoid roads as much as possible, and if it isn't an emergency, don't drive" as I barreled down the interstate at 65 mph. No one, I mean no one, was on the roads. It was no shocker, as the roads looked like they had never been plowed. North Carolina's system of dealing with the snow would cripple Buffalo, NY for months on end. Fortunately, DU and I both have more than enough experience in driving through inclement weather so we got to our hunting spot in no time.
The pond on the land was covered with a thin layer of slush so DU was quick to introduce me to the ways of breaking ice. While he covered the larger areas, I concentrated on breaking up the perimeter. The process was relatively easy until I reached areas of stronger ice. Although I felt like I had broken my ankle on the first patch of tough ice, I continued to push through. Once the water was exposed and our duo became a trio, we were ready for the ducks.
Myself, DU, The Owner of the land and a buddy of DU, his dog, Cricket, and Avery piled into the blind. DU and The Owner called as I waited. Groups and Groups of ducks flew overhead but nothing responded to our calls.
The time started reaching when I'd have to leave for work when my phone went off. A co-worker (the one who sings all the time) called to tell that since the roads were bad, our poppa bear of a boss told her to let everyone know that there was no reason to brave the roads. The first time I'd ever had a snow day from work never came at a more opportune time.
Just minutes later, a group of six ducks started circling our blind. We had let the dogs out to run and warm up moments before so their black forms spooked the ducks. Just ten yards from the blind, the ducks flared up, flying so close to my gun that I could have waved the butt of my gun in their direction and knocked one out. The ducks flew away, leaving us disheartened.
I really hoped that this day would turn things around. The drought through deer season was unbearable and duck season didn't look promising. Just as I gave up hope, I went to walk around the blind when I heard DU belt out a series of calls. I ran back into the blind as The Owner nudged me hard. Two ducks already plopped into the water and at least 20 others were circling. It was the most beautiful and memorizing thing I'd ever seen.
I grabbed my gun and held it up, ready for direction. Shaking like a earthquake, I braced myself. The Owner gave me small bits of advice as we all sat motionless, watching the birds work the pond. "Find the target and shoot at it. Wait. Don't rush it. Breathe."
DU, as discretely as possible, told me to stand up slowly and choose one. I stood up, still shaking and realized that the grass in front of me obscured my view of the pond. Panicked, I didn't know what to do. DU told me to move over and he slowly took my spot.
I saw the ducks who had initially landed in the water and lined up my gun. Breathing as steadily as I could, I finally stopped quaking. DU finally told me to take the shot.
Chaos ensued as The Owner, DU and I shot at the fleeing birds.
Once the snow cleared, I saw the duck I had shot at laying motionlessly on the icy sludge. Just feet away lay DU's duck.
At first, I didn't believe that I had shot it. Then came the celebration. DU and The Owner were more excited than I was as they yelled, hoot and hollered.
DU pulled my duck out of the pond, handing it to me. He retrieved his as well and we realized that we both shot the same kind of duck. Two fully mature American black ducks. A rare, sought-after type in North Carolina whose blue feathers turn emerald green, my first bird was absolutely beautiful. DU's was a hoss as it easily outweighed my bird by one pound. But it didn't matter. My first kill was 100% mine. His feathers were gorgeous and the shot was purely perfection. The bullets hit his lower head and neck, leaving everything of value intact. As I do with any harvest, I walked away from DU and said a prayer of thanks to the waterfowl for the meal he would provide.
The rest of the hunt passed by just as the beginning of the morning had. We didn't see any more ducks but the time gave us ample opportunity to re-create my kill. The Owner was particularly amused that I was shaking so hard it seemed that I wouldn't be able to take the shot. DU looked happier than a pig in slop as we finally called it quits. He kissed me before retrieving the decoys, telling me he was so proud.
Hours later as I write this, I'm still shaking just re-telling the events of the morning. Waterfowl hunting is beautiful in its strategy, difficulty, and aggravation. I have never been privy to so much majestic nature in my life until I started hunting waterfowl.
As for now, however, I'm going to take frequent trips to the garage to visit my harvest, just to make sure that he is still there. Between jaunts I'll be researching taxidermy shops to make my first harvest a permanent fixture. I'll never forget this day. My first snow day off of work, the first time I broke ice, and of course, my first duck.