It is this time every year when our struggle with Duck Depression begins—a battle we will wage until fall's glorious return ushers in a new waterfowl season. There are various ways to combat it, perhaps none better than a good piece of waterfowling literature. Here are five books to lose yourself in while fighting the off-season blues:
"The Best of Nash Buckingham"
"Mr. Nash" is often regarded as history's best waterfowl writer and one of the greatest wingshots of his day. This collection of his most popular works takes you to Mississippi's famed Beaver Dam, the Arkansas timber and Buckingham's other favorite haunts. The lively, unique and unintentionally politically incorrect prose will take you back to waterfowling's golden era.
"The Old Man and the Boy"
Ruark's most successful commercial novel (with more than 150,00 copies sold) happens to include some of the best waterfowl writing ever put to print. I dig it out a few times per year to reread chapter three, "A Duck Looks Different to Another Duck," and chapter 21, "You Got to Be Crazy to Be a Duck Hunter." The chapters are at times comical and all the while touching—a brilliant, coming-of-age look at what it means to be a duck hunter.
"The Language of Wings: Essays on Waterfowl"
Don Thomas is easily the best waterfowl writer of the current era. For 20 years, his "Closing Time" column has filled the back-page of the Ducks Unlimited membership magazine—reason in itself to remain in good standing with DU. His latest book is a collection of these essays along with new material.
"The Outlaw Gunner"
This is absolutely my favorite non-fiction book on the subject of duck hunting. With terrific writing and an eye for detail, Walsh spells out what led to the market-gunning era and how conservation laws led to the rise of outlaw gunners. From baiting, punt guns, sink boxes, battery-gun boats and further tactics, the book is a comprehensive look at one of the most tragic—and also fascinating—periods in waterfowling history.
Nobody's writing speaks to me on the same level as Gene Hill's. In fact, it's not even close. As noted in his June 1997 obituary in the New York Times, fellow writer Jim Rikhoff put it best: "He saw something in a little thing—a broken dog lead or an empty shotgun shell--the rest of us missed. And he told us about it as only he could do, and we knew something more about what happened and about ourselves, too.'' Hill's "A Hunter's Fireside Book" is perhaps his best known collection, but I prefer "Mostly Tailfeathers" for its emphasis on waterfowl, upland birds and life with dogs. To me it is on those subjects when Hill was at his remarkable best.
My library could sure use some fresh additions, however—what books deserve a spot on this list?