Duck Hunter, if you looked it up in the dictionary it should say something like:
- A person who disappears into the woods for weeks on end.
- Someone who has spent all their money on decoys.
Similar: (“Compulsion)” (“Obsession”) (“Addiction”).
There’s something about a duck hunt that you can’t really get from other hunts. There’s a comradery and group hunt that is unique to bird hunting.
You rise early to a cool morning and a bed of stars hours before sunrise. There’s a bustle of activity loading boats and gear to the water’s edge. For me this usually involves pushing and pulling kayaks through narrow trails hidden in the dark cattails. Once we reach open water it’s a paddle to get to just the right spot, looking for that perfect island or ridge where we can have the sun to our backs and the wind in our favor. Gator eyes reflect red back into our headlamps as they quietly mark our progress across the waters calm surface. Once we’re there it’s time to ditch and cover the kayaks in the cattails away from our blind. This is when the work really begins, setting out decoys and arranging the blind. Filling our sled with steel shot, guns and other necessary items. Sludging through water that is choked up with hydrilla is not always easy. Every step can be an effort of balance and sometimes bravery. The bottom of a swamp can feel possessed. Mud like quicksand mixed with chunks of random rocks and branches all vying for your attention. If you let your mind drift, you’ll be left wondering if that log you bumped into wasn’t really some part of an alligator about to remind you of whose house you’re in.
Finally, decoys are out, stools are sank into the mud and we are set back into the cattails for cover waiting for legal shooting time. The swamp can be oddly quiet at this hour in the morning and it’s one of my favorite times. It’s the in-between span that separates day from night. All the species and cacophony of noises from the night before are quieting down in preparation for sunrise and it’s just before the inhabitants of the day are up and moving. There is a hush that settles into the swamp. The smallest breeze may begin to sweep the water’s surface. Stars are still bright but with a warm hue of light beginning to rise in the eastern sky. The last calls of a hoot owl usually sound off, mingled with a few croaks of a frog and the gobble of a distant turkey. Then all at once things change, coots begin to rustle and make their odd calls around you. Egrets and herons begin to rise and flutter from island to island. If you’re in south Florida, there’s another bird that’s up before almost all others. You hear them before you see them, the high frenzied squeals that sound more like your dog’s favorite toy than a quack or whistle. The Black Bellied Whistling Duck, a south American native that has taken up residence in many of Florida’s swamps and is one of my favorites to hunt.
Once the sky begins to brighten the swamps are up and moving and so is the beat of your heart. Flocks of ducks begin to lift into the air and dart across your spread. We’ll call to each other “from the left or right side!”. If it’s a good day the mornings might bring ring necks, whistlers, shovelers, mottleds and blue winged teals. Blue wings are common but a favorite, they’re a beautiful bold little duck that can blaze through the air and carve corners through the cattails. They’re a pleasure to watch and can make for an exciting hunt.
It’s amazing to shoot limits or have successful days of birds decoying into your spread. But If you hunt you probably know it’s not always about how successful you are. But more so about the pursuit of the experience, that time spent in nature and making memories with friends and family. Carrying on traditions and finding that quiet that you can only find in the woods. Living in a sustainable way and filling my freezer with clean meat. These places feel like coming home to me, church even. A place I feel closer to God and hear the whispers of my grandfather.
There’s always the misconception of hunters being emotionless killers. But for the vast majority I think that couldn’t be further from the truth. Most hunters care more about the environment and animals within it than many who would judge them. Taking an animal’s life is not something I take lightly. I recognize the end of that animals’ life and value every duck I bring home and am thankful for the meat & life it provides. We don’t hunt because we’re blood thirsty. We hunt to remember, to create, to provide meat for our families and to carry on our heritage. We hunt to be free.