Redneck Margarita

Musing over hunts past as I prepare for another weekend of duck hunting I thought I would share another one of the articles I have written about my hunting adventures for you to enjoy!

 

Needles of ice were hitting my bedroom window, awakening me in darkness to the last day of the duck season 2004. The wind howled through the trees like some phantom hound on the trail of an unseen foe as I slowly extracted myself from the flannel warmth of my quilt piled bed. So simple it would have been to turn over and succumb to the warm beaconing fingers of slumber but this was it, the very last chance I had to redeem my season and savor one more day on the water that would have to last me the long months until the next opener.

By the time I was on the road, the world outside was covered in a sheet of ice. Old tires on fence posts reflected in my headlights like the sugar glazed donuts which fueled my early morning jaunts. The sky was dark and thick like the midnight coffee keeping me awake.

At the boat landing, fellow hunters were slip sliding down the ramp using kitty litter, sand, and old scraps of carpeting to obtain traction under bald tires. The water was churning ominous and black as I started the motor and braced myself against the onslaught.

I felt like Captain Ahab in a 14ft Jon Boat; my enemy not some leviathan of the deep but rather the petrified bodies of ancient trees laying just below the surface. Those who came before me had attempted to mark the watery Graves with driftwood and u-posts. Many a morning I would hear the steady whine of an engine cut short as an unwary boater hit those underwater threats.

Safe at my spot parked in a tattered frag, I battled waves that threatened to swamp my vessel as I attempted to produce some semblance of a line of diver decoys. A hodgepodge of repurpose and repainted decoys bobbed among rafts of slushy ice like some giant redneck Margarita. By the time I was finished setting up, my left hand was clamped frozen to the gunwale, my nose was left red and dripping like an old man eating chicken soup, and a layer of ice cloaked me from head to toe.

Settling in as best I could, the ice continued to pelt me, hitting the aluminum of the boat with a raspy beat. Then, right at shooting time it happened. At first I was frozen in place, not so much from the cold but from the pure shock one feels when bearing witness to a phenomenon never before experienced.

The sky suddenly darkened a shade, not from the storm but from countless dive bombing winged bodies. I sat transfixed as time stopped and everything seemed to move in slow motion like in those superhero movies where the character is not moving but all the things around him are circling minutely as the world explodes.

Divers were pouring out of the sky, landing on the uncertain water then lifting up to hover and land again. Snapping to attention, I regained my purpose and stood in awe as varieties of ducks I only dreamed of shooting were laying at my feet.

When the onslaught subsided, I was left in breathless wonder. I looked around me, pinched my arm to see if it was all just a dream then proceeded to knock the ice from my tangled decoys.

It was then that Mother Nature had her fun. As I was bending over trying to untangle some deaks, an especially large wave struck the boat with enough force to knock me into a frozen bath. Pulling myself out of the water I imagined that every duck in the sky was giving their version of the old high ball at seeing “The Mighty Hunter” do her imitation of the Swan dive.

Wrapped in a moth-eaten army blanket, I finished the day out and went home with my first full plumage shovler and bluebill. My limit was achieved that day in ducks and experience.

When I arrived at the landing I soon realized that I was not the only one who was glad that she got out of bed that morning. Fellow hunters were chattering and gesturing wildly about the fantastic morning we all had out in the storm.

In life and in hunting we have two choices: to either call off the fight due to rain or pick up our gear and soldier on. Life is not lived when we shy away from a challenge. Life is lived when we duck our heads into the storm regardless of the risks. Frozen feet, soggy waders, and tangled decoys are a small price to pay for a lifetime of memories such as this!

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Traditions

20171024_103609Many a time I am asked about how I got into hunting and my response generally is that I was born into it. The following is an article that was published that I wrote in honor of my mom and the legacy she passed on to me.

 

Black and white photos have a way of taking us back in time, as if the sepia tones have the power to soften our memories and lend a golden glow to that which once was. In the 1950’s my mom was growing up the youngest daughter of a poor farmer in Carver County, MN. No stranger to hard work, she also went out in the field trapping, hunting, and fishing. Not as a sport, but as a necessity.

As a teenager, she ran her own coon hounds and went fearlessly into the marsh to hunt ducks with her best friend Myra and an Ithaca shotgun. This is the woman who brought me into the world. A 5ft tall powerhouse with the spirit of a tiger and the heart of an angel. Now, when I look into her rheumy eyes and see the clouded confusion that the Alzheimers has lent to her gaze, I know without a doubt why hunting is such a huge part of my life. Each time I go out into the woods or marsh I think of that fearless young woman my mom once was, blazing a trail for female hunters in her own little way.

My need to hunt comes not from a desire to go home with my limit of birds but from a deep seated need to keep alive a legacy that was started on a small farm in West Central Minnesota. To get up before the sun and watch the sky give bloody birth to a new day, to feel the frigid air burning my lungs, to smell the scent of gunpowder as I take my first shot, to hear the ghost-like whisper of duck wings flying over me, and to taste the flavors that being in the outdoors lends to an ordinary Camp breakfast. These are the things that keep calling me back season after season.

These days I hunt a rich backwater marsh off the Mississippi River in Wisconsin. It has become a sanctuary, a place to leave behind the modern world and step into an untouched piece of the earth that is as healing as it is beautiful. One can walk for hours or just sit on a creek bank and watch as mallards and gadwall buoy themselves against the current, happily hidden in their wooded abode.

The hunting is unpredictable, as most things are, and I can go days without shooting a duck, yet, each time I leave a part of me stays behind. So I go back. I would go back every day of the season if I could to catch the sunrise, to feel the thrill of kamikaze teal teasing me with their sudden appearance and disappearance. Then, out of pure luck, the planets align and a small flock cups into the pocket where I am standing. Feet down, russet feathers ablaze in the early morning sun and the soft swoosh of the water as they land in front of me. Moments like this have the power of hypnotism, to blind you to your purpose as you stare dumbfounded for a moment before the adrenaline kicks in and you spook them off the water for a shot.

The hunt is not over when a duck falls, I take that flagging life into my hands and gaze down at the miracle of feathers and wings and thank the powers that I believe in for what was sacrificed, what was given. I give a prayer in honor of the bird, and to soothe my own soul and then I go home humbled. That is the way of the marsh, a circle that begins and ends day after day and those of us who are lucky enough to stand in the middle of it all are blessed in unmeasurable ways.

So, when someone asks me why I am a hunter, why do I want to crawl around the mud at 5am and stand out in the cold when I could be home in bed? I say give it a try once. Even if you don’t think you will like it, just go out there one time and tell me that you didn’t at least learn something about patience, appreciation for life, the wonder of raw nature, and a better understanding of your own self when you are removed from the modern world if only for a couple of hours. Hunting to me, is more than just bringing home bands and feathers, it’s bringing home memories and continuing a legacy started on that hard scrabble farm in Minnesota by my incredible mother.