Trails of the Hunt

 It was two days before thanksgiving if my memory serves me right. It was the morning I dreamt about for years. Leaning against my truck half asleep I thought,  is today the day? The conditions and scouting report seemed promising. The eighteen foot Duckwater boat was loaded to the hill with blind bags, guns, and decoys. What more could I ask for? By looking at the time on my phone I should have asked my brother to be thirty minutes early as he was already thirty minutes late.

The trip all started when McLean, my cousin who lives in Brooklyn, New York, decided to fly home for Thanksgiving. His addiction of waterfowl hunting came from shooting limits of Canadian geese and diver ducks with my brother and I the year before. Knowing the season was open, he called wanting to schedule a hunt. As my brother and I tried to somewhat organize through text messages the week prior, I got the call.

It was Rick, or Rickster as we like to call him. “The Longtails are in!” he told us with excitement. “Marine forecast is looking real good for Tuesday with a South East wind.” Confirming Tuesday would be the day to hunt my heart rate doubled. I was praying this was going to mesh well with McLean’s and brother Chris’s schedule. Relaying all this information in a group text, their immediate responses were “It's boom time!” and my brother's famous reply, “Where we meeting?” As all the details were worked out, with the exception of the meeting time, everyone’s blood began to boil with anticipation. 

    Dozing off in the front seat of my truck I was quickly awaken. Singing Jimmy Buffet to the top of their lungs, my brother and cousin slowly made their way down my street. Keep in mind my neighborhood is not the ideal place for this type of shenanigans. Seeing as it was 4:30AM and only having only lived there for six months, I’m sure my neighbors would have rather heard their alarm clocks than two grown men rocking out to Margaritaville. They realized they weren’t singing in a front row of the Jimmy Buffet concert when they yelled to me and I replied with a subtle whisper. They surely had the adrenaline like of a front seat concert, but that's just setting the stage of a duck hunt. 

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    Loading McLean’s gear into my truck I checked my phone, it read 4:56AM. Realizing we are supposed to meet Rickster at the launch at 5:15AM we should have been on the road well over ten minutes now. Making quick conversation behind the truck it turned into a hustle heading toward the launch. Twenty thousand questions from my brother and cousin added to my own questioning of is the tire pump and jack stand in the back?  Is the tire wrench with it? This cross thinking is the worst case scenario when hauling the boat and trailer. It reminds me of the pictures of the people I have seen stranded on the roadside from flat tires that we make fun of and strive to never be. It's just not a place I wanted to be. When we moved the conversation to strategic rigging of the lines of Scoter and long-tailed duck decoys, my mind began to be at ease. 

As we pulled into the launch following the glow of Rickster’s parking lights, a flashlight toward the ramp caught my eye. “The waters low, but I think we will be alright” Rickster gave us the reassuring thumbs up. It was go time.

Being a cold calm morning I made sure not to forget my coffee. After coffee check, we double checked to ensure we had everyones' gear and made our way through the channel buoys. As we approached the cut where the lake shares the water with the pond, we noticed bigger waves indicating shallow water. As Rickster yelled “kill it” my brother cracks a joke of “wheres the bird?” swinging his arm through the air pretending to hold a shotgun.

I trimmed the motor up to prevent motor drag through the sand. As Rickster and my brother hopped out and pushed the boat through the knee deep water, I noticed we had plenty of water to make it through the cut. Unlike the people who run their boats aground there during the summer, luck was on our side. 

    Following Ricksters' directions with precision, we headed out on the big lake. Unfamiliar with the area, it made me nervous of shoals but my GPS told me we were okay. We stayed within two hundred yards of shore and that was good for me. We listened to the muffled voices over the roar of the Mercury motor and I began to try and read lips.

Watching all the jaws open, smiles on the faces, and pointing of the fingers, I knew this was going to be a good day. I began to open my watery eyes wider getting the distance into focus. It looked like fog ahead of us. As I wiped my soaked lashes like a car wiper motor, the foggy outlines began coming into clear focus. The distant fog were the ducks. Multiple ducks, hundreds of ducks, thousands of ducks. We began to shake not knowing what to do as we have never seen such a site. We decided to stop and set up as to we didn’t want to disturb them. We then quickly threw out the three dozen long-tailed duck and Scoter decoys rigged on long lines we were set. 

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The swarm of birds covered the horizon from right to left as far as the eye could see. As I dropped the anchor shutting off the motor in the middle of the spread we heard a distant noise. The obnoxious echoing of the Long-tailed duck only encouraged my cousin and brother to “call them in”. “Errrrt ert errrt” they would shout. Both McLean and Chris thought it was working as the mass of ducks moved our way. As we all fumbled for shells everyone is calling out what birds were in range. McLean’s gun range varies from ten yards to two hundred yards. For living in the city and not having a lot of experience shooting birds, he shot like a Phil Robertson, maybe better. With White Wing Scoters swarming the boat they too helped fill out the limit of sea ducks that morning. “Scotes on the deck” Rickster yelled. "shoot’em” he followed. Shots rang out as two scoters crashed into the water and quickly emerged “shoot’em again” we heard. Then two more shots rang as the ducks soon layed motionless on the rippled water.

    The birds were coming from all directions inches above the the water. Shooting for the lead bird and knocking down the second in command lets us know that another three foot lead was the trick. Once our brains were dialed in for lead time, and speed of swing, it seemed we couldn’t miss.

We laughed at the ones we did miss, who doesn't? That's what makes duck hunting fun. We would make up for those however, as more birds came swarm after swarm. As we made the loop around the decoys scooping the dead ducks up with a small fish net the comedians in the boat shouted “Let’s go! Birds are leaving." Then again on the call, “Ert er...ert ert errrrt” they would shout calling the birds into the decoys.

As we decided to get a count we needed one more bird to fill our limit. Not being able to hunt much we chose McLean as the lucky duck to fill the limit, pun intended. As a single drake in the distance tipped toward the decoy we knew he would “do the dance”. Closing the distance he banked harder picking his place in the rig where he was touching down his landing gear. As the bird picked his head up and back peddled for it’s famous crash landing my brother and I shout “Shoot!” McLean shouldering the gun, pulled the trigger in an instant. As the bird jumped on its back from the 3-inch, No. 2 shot, everyone knew the bird was stone dead. Watching the bird lay dead on the water, we gave high fives and fist bumps knowing the hunt was over. We called it, the hunt was over with with a four man limit of sea ducks.

    Watching sea duck hunting videos on YouTube and dreaming about shooting limits of them have always been a dream of mine. Making the dream come true with great friends and family was beyond my dreams. It seems to be these times that you enjoy the most when all your hard work pays off. It’s times like these that make our passion for the outdoors grow and live on. This is what keeps our generation and future alive in the outdoors. Sharing our passion and knowledge is just a way of life.