Hunting > Upland & Waterfowl

Meet in the Middle, In Waterfowl Heaven (Page 2)

The miles between two pals are nothing when the halfway point is the duck-loaded Chesapeake Bay. A weekend retreat to this storied mecca of all things fowl was just what they needed to collect new yarns to spin in the offseason.

No need to tell us twice. We were ready for one last hoorah. And it came in the form of a single old squaw. I wish I could tell you that I didn’t shoot at all, but I expect Kyle would bust me on that lie pretty quick, so I’ll admit with my head hung low that I didn’t hit the duck. Just as I was cursing my missed chance at glory, wondering why Kyle didn’t shoot as the distance between us grew, everything went into slow motion. It was as if he was Tom Knapp with a twinkle in his eye and a flair for the dramatic and had finally decided to “give us a show.” I watched as my friend rose to shoulder his gun, the stock effortlessly finding its way through his thick coat to a home it had visited many times before. My eyes widened as the graceful hunter swung the barrel through his fleeting target and squeezed the trigger in a single motion. Thinking, 50 yards and climbing, no way in hell, I followed the plastic wad until the falling bird garnered all attention. Cheers went out from the boat where Wayne and the mate had been watching, as I put my arm around Kyle and gave him a well deserved “Ohh my God. Great shot!” The prettiest old squaw I’d ever seen sported a sprig that would have broken 12, no 15 inches, had we put a tape to it.

Day 2: The Goose Shoot Exhibition
After some decent grub at a little Mexican joint that was definitely undersold by the building’s run-down facade, and without fully shaking off the excitement from the morning, our caravan made a short jaunt north and across the 301 bridge to day two’s goose hunting grounds on the Eastern Shore. The hope of a snow goose hunt, which had been floated as a possibility the night before, diminished as we received reports of good  birds, but no permission from landowners. Instead, Wayne had a field pit in mind that had been receiving some good Canada activity and that’s where we made our play.

In the early morning, we swapped waterproof waders for warm bibs while Wayne attached the large decoy trailer to the hitch of his pickup. Though it was only a few hundred yards to the pit, lugging decoys and gear on strained backs, like Kyle and I were used to doing, was out of the question. Wayne had a trailer, and that meant it was full of hundreds of full-body decoys that would have required 10 men and twice as many trips through the muddied field. We had six guys, Wayne’s daughter Nadra and modern automotive technology. But still, setting up that many decoys was going to take some time, or so I thought, and daylight was fast approaching. Everyone had a job to do and set to their perspective tasks without hesitation. Some folks went around with 5-gallon buckets full of stakes, pushing them seemingly without any rhyme or reason into the winter wheat field surrounding the pit. Others followed, hauling large slotted brown bags full of Avery Honkers, topping each stake as they came to it. Kyle and I watched, twiddling our thumbs—not long enough to be berated as lazy by the group but enough for us to realize we needed to get our butts in gear—before we found a place to assist and each of us shouldered two decoy bags. After countless trips to the trailer and back, there lay before us a spread the size of which I had never seen. What I thought was random placement had in fact been tried and tested by the group. Small groups surrounded each low spot in the field that held water and the slight wind created motion that brought the spread to life. As we climbed down the ladder into the pit, I recall thinking two things: I hope they come in low, and I hope they’re not too low because I won’t be able to tell them apart from the decoys.

It was later in the morning than I was used to when the first wave came. As usual, we heard them before we saw them. With Wayne blowing his call, they materialized above the tree line across from our pit and circled once before dropping in. How many times, I thought, have I wished this would happen, only to have birds flare without a second glance? Not today. Eight birds came down to the volley of steel, all eight, and I know for a fact that Kyle shot at least one. Like so many of my hunts with him, the bird I’d been following exploded before I could pull the trigger. My shot was headed toward oblivion as I watched the goose fall in slow motion.

“Incoming!” screamed Kyle as it landed with a thud mere feet from our heads. We turned to face each other and laughed. Our toothy grins relayed the message our voices could not: We were glad to be here—in waterfowl heaven.

Limits for seven hunters fill fast with action like that. We had been watching flocks of birds, Canadas and high-flying snows by the thousands, shooting the few that would make the mistake of coming into Wayne’s spread. Two birds shy of our limit, a confident single made a silent pass over our heads from left to right, the line of hunters seemingly unaware of its stealthy flyby. That’s when yours truly stepped up to the plate. It’s satisfying when you know beyond a shadow of doubt that it was your shot that killed a certain bird. I knew this was mine as it passed over the first three hunters in the pit with only a single, Hail Mary shot that missed its mark. I even contemplated letting it pass my zone before I recalled my desire to replicate Kyle’s shot from the day before and the slow motion kicked in. The goose froze in midair, offering me again “Matrix”-like “bullet time” to shoulder the gun. The shot was instinctual; had I thought it through I surely would have missed.  As the bead passed from butt to beak, I remember thinking “bang” and compressing the trigger.  The goose dropped and, again, Kyle made me feel like the Herb Parsons of the waterfowling world.

After clean up and photos we headed back toward our respective homes with bloated egos, birds in the bed and smoke from congratulatory stogies drifting from our truck windows. We were waterfowling royalty. And while we may not be able to do a trip like this every year, you can bet that Kyle and I will recount tales of its splendor until our significant others get so sick and tired of hearing about it that they pretty much force us to get out of the house. And we’ll make it a point to meet halfway, in waterfowl heaven. At least that’s the plan.

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