The Small Rewards of a Life Spent Duck Hunting

If you consider yourself a duck hunter but have never looked to the skies from your blind and asked, "Just what in the hell am I doing here?" either you have no care for your financial or physical well-being, or you aren’t paying very close attention. We spend more money on guns, boats, decoys and other waterfowl accoutrements than any mother in-law would ever approve of, just to lather it all in December marsh slop. Our trucks are dented from sliding into obstacles backing down icy boat ramps, and their wiring is shot from the strain of trailer-light illumination. It’s too hot in teal season, too darn cold by the time the mallards arrive. The wind either blows too hard, not hard enough or in the wrong direction. Or it rains. Not just a sprinkle, but the kind of downpour in which no self-respecting duck would ever fly. Unfortunately for us, old Fred believes ducks fly in the rain, and if one member of the group wants to hunt, we all hunt.

So, as we partake in this exercise in cognitive dissonance, let us consider the following: What’s the reward for all this trouble? It isn’t trophies, at least not the kind recognized by Boone and Crockett, but it is a bit of a fallacy to say there are no trophies in duck hunting. Just as deer hunters enter the woods knowing this could be the day they shoot a Booner, the duck hunter knows any day in the marsh could be the one in which he finally kills a drake canvasback, an old bull sprig or four drake mallards. Yes, waterfowling has its rewards. For many of us it is the beauty and diversity of the ducks themselves that drive our souls, and we know that when John Cartier wrote that he’d "rather shoot one 24-ounce bluebill than six tons of elephant," he meant it, for we have felt duck hunting’s call. We know that when a duck hunter eyes a dozen mallards cupping their wings and pitching into the blocks—whether he’s a Midwest farm boy hunting a backyard pothole or a New York lawyer hunting with a guide—he is the richest man alive.

On a good day, the hunter may get to experience this treat several times and, as he returns home with two or three mallards he’d swear he is a king. He walks through the door utterly exhausted, a touch of frostbite on his fingers obtained while picking up decoys. All he wants is a large amount of food and a light brown beverage, but ducks must be plucked and guns must be oiled. Ah, but soon the rich aroma of roasting mallards and Hoppe’s No. 9 fills the home. The Weather Channel reports storms to the north. Bingo! That’s all that’s needed for the duck hunter to develop an irrational optimism for tomorrow.

Bedtime comes early. A worn out black Lab with a graying muzzle lies at the foot of the bed. A very understanding "duck-hunting widow" lies under the sheets. Just before he dozes off, the duck hunter reflects upon the day’s events, kids himself that nobody’s ever had it so good, and considers the plan for the morning—there’s going to be a strong westerly wind; the ducks will probably tuck back in the slough. By 4 a.m. he’ll be ready to do it all over again.

So, while befuddled observers ponder our willingness to suffer waterfowling’s best miseries, we’ll continue seeking its many rewards. For even as we flare the only ducks of the day, our dog breaks on a passing swan and we discover too late that high tide is three inches higher than our decoy lines are long, we know our sport is worth every ounce of frustration. We will hunt until the season ends or the ice is too thick to sledgehammer open. Then we’ll busy ourselves painting decoys, patching waders and repairing marriages until fall’s glorious return brings with it flights of ducks and another opening day. For despite its hardships, the duck hunter knows he is a participant in the greatest recreation ever invented.

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1 Response to The Small Rewards of a Life Spent Duck Hunting

Jonathan wrote:
November 17, 2010

Gentleman we have found our anthem!!!