Away far too long from hunt

By JEFF NORTH,

The constant squealing and splashing distracted me from my task of watching the briar studded ridge. Though I was trying to stay focused to make sure a late season haunt buck didn’t give me the slip, I couldn’t help but watch the antics of the multitude of wood ducks that were creating quite the ruckus. They chased each other, flopped, flipped, and chirped, as they went about their daily routine. I couldn’t help but take a few videos of them as they swam virtually right under me. Of course, I had to share what I captured with a few of my fellow woodsman as they day lingered.

Late afternoon found me turning my eyes towards the blue skies and a setting sun. The feed call of chattering mallards caused me to bring out my phone once again to do a little filming. Though few in numbers, it was still a nice treat to see the sun shining on those iridescent blue speculums and those green heads. Again, I shared what I caught with my buddies.

I suppose my sharing stimulated the text I got while sitting around the campfire later that evening. It started like, “I’ll pick you up at the camp at 8 a.m.” Of course, I didn’t have calls, shells, a shotgun, for I was still in “deer mode.” I did have my waders, but they were being used to wade to the secluded ridges due to the rising delta river. No worries, Haley had me covered. He was right on time with boat in tow.

It’s been a while since I set decoys in the delta. The marginal migration in the last few years has been a deterrent for me. I know there is more to it than taking limits, but it’s hard to go through all the work that waterfowling entails, at least to me, and not fire a shot. Nevertheless, we strategically placed our spread trying for the perfect set while taking advantage of the wind direction and the sunshine. We secured our boat to a cypress tree, poured a cup of coffee, and settled in for the wait.

I’ve always enjoyed the conversations and camaraderie that abounds in the blind. Re-living past hunts, farming discussions, and future hunting plans are just a few of the topics that emerge while waiting on those whistling wings and that guttural sound of a single drake mallard. I was reaching for a couple of pecan sandies when Haley hit the call.

A small group out front was giving us a look. They passed but banked sharply when Haley called again. The front two cupped as they locked onto the spread. He called me off as I shouldered the magnum shotgun. It was too late, and I dumped a drake gadwall into the decoys. He had seen a pair of mallards trailing behind the “gads.” but at least we weren’t going to be skunked.

It wasn’t but a few minutes later when three mallards passed over. We had a good wind, but temperatures were in the sixties. Ducks seem to circle and circle when it’s not cold. A little more coaxing and they committed. Two drakes and a hen went into the bottom of the boat. More coffee was poured, more cookies were brought from the bag, and fist bumps and smiles were shared. Wait, there were more ducks overhead.

Now anyone that duck hunts with any regularity knows that it doesn’t always go as planned. Our next group consisted of five mallards. They were working beautifully. So many times, you can get them to almost commit, and they pick up wind and altitude at the last moment. There is a fine line to knowing when they will make one more pass or leave for flooded timber elsewhere. This group locked in pretty good, but just as we were about to close the deal, shots from a distant blind caused them to pick up just a bit. However, we were committed more than the ducks and the only thing we had to show for this effort was six smoking hulls in the bottom of the boat. That’s duck hunting, but we were about to redeem ourselves.

A pair of greenheads made a mistake, and as their red legs dangled above the decoys, they too joined the stringer. The action slowed a bit, but a single drake soon banked, cupped, and locked and he too was picked up. Three more gadwalls made an appearance, and as the action was slowing, they were too close to pass on. Our volley was one hundred percent. Our tally was 10 and we could still fill out our limit with two more mallards if the opportunity presented itself. We had a few more encounters but couldn’t finish them. Duck sightings were becoming fewer and fewer with the increasing cloud cover and rising temperatures. Haley always says you must set a goal. “Fifteen more minutes, and we’re picking up.” I know of no better way to have ducks show up than to unload guns and start picking up decoys. As I opened the chamber, I pointed to the skies. Pintails normally don’t hit the timber, but this group surely did. Of course, Haley and I locked in on the same drake and fired. It’s uncanny how many times we do this. I suppose a particular duck stands out and we all focus on that one.

This made 11, so we had one more to finish out. We decided to give it a few more minutes. I unloaded, poured a cup of coffee, pulled out another cookie, and settled back to watch Haley finish out his limit. We gave it 15 more minutes, then another 10, but the show was over for this day. Final tally…five greenheads, a suzie, four gads, and a bull sprig made quite the nice photo. It was time to head back to camp.

I remember now what I have been missing for the past couple of seasons. The sounds of echoing calls through the timber, wings filtering the blue skies, the aroma of gunpowder, and the plume of smoke from the barrels are just a few reminders of what duck hunting brings to one’s self. The old thermos that has been handed down for generations, the bag of treats, and the conversations between friends during lulls in the action are just as much a part of the experience, if not more so.

I have been away from this far too long, but rest assured, I’m going to do everything I can to re-commit to experiencing what the migration brings to all of us. Diversity is key, so maybe I won’t sit on these ridges quite as many times as I have been. Maybe the experience of leaking waders, and numb fingers will be part of my future seasons. I’m already looking forward to the next time. Thank you, Haley, for not only sharing your boat with me, but for also re-vitalizing my passion for what I have been missing for a few seasons. It was a blast!

Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.

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Martha Hardage Magee, 90, died Tuesday, February 18, 2020 at Highland Home.  She was born in... READ MORE

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1. She took her first ceramics class at seven years old at Pickenpaugh Pottery. 2. She and her father got their black belts in Tae Kwon Do together.