Aug
17

The Addict by Mark Dillow, 2007 ©

By

It started with the boosters (decoys).  Half a dozen poorly painted dekes rescued from their sentences as yard art from an in-law.  Most addicts can trace their demons to a similarly innocuous encounter…a puff of tobacco behind the barn, or a nip of hard cider to ward off the cold in a deer blind.  My addiction was more insidious, in that it could only be enjoyed in season, leaving long months of the DT’s (delirium tremors).

I was serving a hitch in the Air Force, with a humble income and a new wife.  We were enjoying a Thanksgiving respite from reality, spending time in Texas with her parents.  In the back yard, I spied the poor plastic counterfeits, serving time in purgatory as red neck yard art.  Though I had never thought of hunting ducks until that moment, those sorry decoys were the catalyst for a passion that still urges me from warm blankets in pre-dawn darkness decades later.

As I look about my current home, I see the remnants of that encounter.  Wooden decoys adorn my mantle while an aging black lab snoozes at my feet, dreaming of earlier retrieves, paws swimming, trembling.  A mount of a handsome drake pintail taken at a favorite ducking hole sits on my gun safe…but I digress.

Like many of my age, I was raised by parents who were the first generations of their families not to raise their families on the family farm, products of the post World War II baby boom.  However, my grandparents still lived on the old home places, and frequent trips there served as a delightful introduction to the fraternity of hunting and fishing.  However, my instruction ran to pheasants, quail, and small game.  Ducks were never part of our quarry.  Perhaps in part because of the sundry gear required to hunt ducks, or perhaps because we were opportunists…and ducks were not frequent visitors to the farm.

Thus, my mentors for my first duck hunt were men I knew well but never met.  Norman Strung, Robert Ruark, and Gene Hill had tutored me through the pages of books and magazines.  I located a public hunting area surrounding a shallow US Army Corps of Engineers lake about an hour from my home where ducks were said to visit, and planned my first foray into the world of duck hunting.

A trip to the local sporting goods store…make that several trips, over the weeks leading up to my hunt allowed me to lay in supplies for the campaign. Waders, an inexpensive mallard call, and a duck parka were top on the list.  Adding state and federal duck stamps made sure I was legal.  I spent the evenings huddled over maps of the public hunting area and blew practice duck calls in my truck while commuting to work, convincing both my family and my community that I had finally lost my tenuous grasp on reality.

On the appointed morning, I slipped out of the house after a fitful night of trying to sleep.  I arrived at my hunting site, a shallow slough that I could wade, since I didn’t have a dog to help with the retrieves).  I tossed out the handful of decoys in the classic j-hook pattern…or as close as I could remember it from the illustrations in Strung’s book.  I used what natural cover I could to hide.  The water at the bank was knee deep, allowing me to sit with my feet in the lake almost like sitting in a chair.  No other hunter was in the area that morning.

As I waited for dawn, the coyotes began to sing.  A muskrat swam up between my legs as I sat on the bank…I am not certain who startled who more, but suffice it to say neither of us left with our dignity intact.

The sun began to rise on what I now know is called a blue bird day….not usually good for ducking. I began to call.  Nothing much happened for about 30 minutes, and then two small ducks slipped over the treetops and swooped into my slough.  I took the one on the left, and it fell on the first shot.  I waded out immediately, not being certain if the duck would float long or sink.  Just as the water reached the top of my waders, I wrapped my hand around what is still my favorite duck…a drake green wing teal.  I took one other teal that morning, but the impact of that hunt has never left me.

I have had better harvests, and worse. I have seen sunrises that escaped those who were groggy with sleep.  I have seen blue northers roll in while I hunted and turn a light chop on the lake into a roiling cauldron.  I have discovered outdoor writers Gordon MacQuarrie, Doug Lowry, Wade Bourne, and more.  I have made friends, owned dogs, and in general learned to love life more dearly…all because of some poor plastic yard art imposters.

Categories : Stories

Bible verse of the day

The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.

Today’s Devotionals and Blogs

Kent Crockett’s blog – www.kentcrockett.blogspot.com

Mark Dillow’s blog – http://noclearline.blogspot.com/