“I have no idea what we are listening to”. I was about 12 years old and in that perfect half sleep on my way to a duck hunt with my Dad, riding in his Jeep Grand Wagoneer, listening to a clearly sensible man’s alien conspiracies on the AM radio. Thankfully, this Jeep actually had a floorboard, compared to some of Dad’s others, so I was warm. Naturally, we continued to listen for the next 2 hours just in case we could grab a nugget of confidential information that may serve us well when the incoming invasion came.
Oftentimes I’m asked why we hunt. Why do we get up at an ungodly time of morning, freeze our butts off, constantly complain about the lack of weather, and continue to go out every possible morning. We go out because of times like those. My younger cousins once gave me this term of “FOMO” or “Fear Of Missing Out”. I learned very early on that if I ever skipped a day of hunting with Dad, that was when I he’d limit out. I very clearly remember I decided to stay the night at a friends house, mom picked me up the next day and I asked how dad did: “I think he got 2 mallards, a black duck, and a widgeon.” Well, if mom had known the creative and slightly impressive use of the English language I’d used in my head at that time, I know for a fact I would not be here to write to you today. Now that I’m getting older, making Dad an antique by definition, I’ve realized the “FOMO” wasn’t from the hunting, it was from the stories. “Christopher, wake up, there’s a pair coming in. Wait. Don’t move, they’re coming in. BANG! BANG’ I got a double! Why didn’t you shoot Christopher?” At that point I got up from my very comfortable spot on the boat and saw that Dad had shot a pair of redheads, a very rare occurrence back then. Being that Mom wasn’t around, Dad may have been witness to my creative and new ways of cursing that his 20 years of being a sailor was impressed by.
It’s a strange thing that I can barely remember some of the “best hunts” I’ve had with my old man. But yet, I can perfectly remember the time I had to help him push start his Jeep, uphill mind you. Or I can still to this day feel the cold in my toes as I was curled into a ball at the bottom of the boat swearing up and down I would never go hunting with him again because of how cold I was. I can barely remember my first banded duck, I know it was a gadwall and I remember picking it up and seeing the band on the leg as it laid belly up behind our blind, but I certainly don’t remember the shot. Or how could I forget the time we were in a hurry for gas and Dad decided to skim the side of the boat against the gas pump bollards. That sound will stay with me for a lifetime which was followed quickly with a “Don’t tell mother”.
We go because there’s nothing like laughing when a flock of teal or wood ducks buzz pass the decoys going light speed and no one is ready. Every true duck hunter knows there’s three things to do to bring those Mavericks to the decoys: decide you’ll grab your sandwich and start eating, decide to go move decoys, and the third I will let you figure out if you don’t know. José Oretega y Gasset said it best when he said, “One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted.” (“Meditations On Hunting”).
Lastly, and obviously definitely not least important is the dogs. I will know we have little chance of actually seeing a bird and I know personally I have a very low chance of actually hitting a bird, but I'll still go out simply for the fact that the pups enjoy it. Their happiness mostly depends on their wanting to please me, the least I can do is get out of bed and sit in nature for a bit with them right? Of course we all dream about those perfect retrieves or fantastic flushes, but it's more than that. It's about just doing something that we enjoy, and that our dogs were bred for, together. It's about spending some quality time away from the distractions of life, work, tv, or smartphones and actually be present with our pups.
I know I personally go because somehow Dad managed to get me addicted this ridiculous hobby. I’m now forced to almost crash my truck anytime I pass a body of water just to see if any birds are on it. I’d rather spend the start of every day looking at the morning horizon and watching a good dog work when I’ve actually hit a bird than anything else. With all the distractions in life and being somewhat of a rebel growing up, he got me to sit there for hours in a duck blind. We may have only say 20 words to each other while we are hunting, but there’s more said in that silence than could be said in hours of talking. “At home a friend will ask, “Been hunting”” You will say that you have, and when he asks, “Have any luck?” You will think of what you have held in your heart instead of your hand, and then answer that you certainly did —— without a doubt.” (Gene Hill)