Hunt: Thrill Comes from the Doing, Not Results
It was the best duck season, it was the worst duck season, it was the season of infallibility, it was the season of frustration, it was the season of hope, it was the season of hopelessness, it was the season of too much darkness, it was the season of too much light, it was the early fall of optimism, it was the late winter of despair, we had the best ahead of us, we had nothing before us.
We were to get limits, we got mergansers.
My apologies to Charles Dickens, but the other evening after I finished cleaning a shotgun, not that it needed it after the duck season just past, I wandered over to the bookcase in our sunroom/library to get a book to read at bedtime.
I picked up Dickens' "Tale of Two Cities," glanced at his famous opening paragraph and thought, "This boy must have duck hunted at Mattamuskeet!"
It was a season unlike any I've had in 45 years of duck hunting. Seven of us had a great time, acquiring our first duck impoundments with a hunting lodge 10 minutes from the nearest blind. It's a beautiful location right on the Pamlico Sound, probably the duckiest looking place I've ever hunted.
Corn was planted early and we had the best crop in years as attested by Mark, the landowner we are leasing from. The impoundments were flooded on time, maybe a little late, but we still had plenty of water.
It's been a crazy winter and the members of the Whistling Wings Duck Club, the name we gave our little organization, agreed that the unusually warm weather played a huge part in our lack of success. It's hard to get ducks to move when the thermometer reads 80 degrees, with clear skies and no wind.
We tried about everything to put some ducks in the pot.
And it's not like we didn't have ducks. We had them by the thousands. Mostly teal would fly into our impoundments in the evening, fifteen minutes after legal shooting time and leave in the morning, 15 minutes before legal shooting time.
The ducks had found a roost and all we could do was watch. We would sneak into the blind early without making noise or using lights and stay to the last minute in the evening hoping the ducks would get confused and come in early or leave a little later. Nothing worked.
We waited on cold weather to help the situation, but cold weather never came.
I counted up the other evening and found that I spent 25 days at the lodge at Whistling Wings and actually harvested three ducks -- a bufflehead and a couple of mergansers that had the misfortune of being misidentified as teal.
But, and this is the big but, what I did harvest during those 25 days can't be put in a pot. Great friendships with my hunting partners, people I've known and hunted with for years.
We have built, over time, a camaraderie that will last for many, many more duck seasons.
We saw indescribably beautiful sunrises and sunsets and every one different.
We had swans by the hundreds fly right over the blind. They would stretch their necks and turn their heads and look down at us as if we were the ones on display.
There was one morning a mature bald eagle flew on the edge of the impoundment. I've never seen one that big in the wild. He was in his element. I was a mere spectator.
And then there was the morning that I'll never forget. Off to the northwest I noticed what looked like a million blackbirds moving in waves, a lot like a school of baitfish.
Without reason or motive they would move from one edge of the sky to another, and they were heading toward to us.
As the birds on the fringe of the flock got closer, I saw they were not blackbirds but purple martins by the thousands.
They were so near it seemed as if we could reach out and touch them. I even held out my hand and could feel the wind from their wings.
They circled us and formed a purple martin tornado reaching to the clouds. It was a mystical, almost spiritual happening.
Long ago I learned that my hunting successes in the field are not judged by the game I put on the table but by the experiences I garner in the wild.
This year, my first year of retirement, has been one of the best.
And so what if at the game dinner next Christmas I serve Beanie Weenies and sardines? I can always add a little flash with Colonel Hawker's sauce.
Tom Bryant can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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