Build it and they will come

build-it-illust

This story was first published in the  2005 November/December issue of Wyoming Wildlife News

Let’s get one thing straight right now: building a duck blind is nothing like an ordinary carpentry project. You can’t learn skills like this from a book. They are handed down from father to son, uncle to nephew, or old duck hunter to young duck hunter. True vertical and horizontal?? That’s for sissies. Mitered corners? What are you, some kind of latte-sipping, granola-crunching, tofu-eating civilian?

To build a proper duck blind you must put aside your preconceived notions of what good carpentry should look like. You should even put aside your notions of what lumber should look like. Or all building materials, for that matter. You must learn to think outside the box. In fact you should probably tear up the box and use it in your duck blind. The well-drawn plans you see for blinds in magazines are all hoaxes.

You only BUY lumber for duck blinds as a last resort. The best blinds are fashioned from lumber that was originally intended for other purposes. Remodeling you basement? When you tear out those old studs, save them for your next duck blind. Some blinds are even made from – dare I say it? – stolen materials. I don’t mean actually STOLEN stolen. STOLEN means they were taken from their rightful owners. Say you saw a 4X8 sheet of plywood lying around and you instantly recognized the fact that it would make a perfect roof for your duck blind. So you loaded it into the bed of your pick-up and took it someplace where it would be put to good use. The fact that it was lying around near a construction site is immaterial.

What about tools, you ask? Cordless drills are indispensable, unless you forget to charge up the batteries like I usually do. But in that case you can use the drill as a hammer. If you should happen to have a measuring tape you can also use that as a hammer. In fact you can use any heavy object as a hammer. Remember the old joke about a guy who walked into the hardware store and said “I want a wrench” and when the clerk asked what kind of wrench he said, “Don’t matter. I’m gonna use it for a hammer”? That guy was probably building a duck blind.

What ordinary carpenters call measuring is unnecessary in duck blind carpentry. If you are building your blind on-site you are probably using a chain saw and your cuts will be less than precise. Simply get one of your partners to hold the board  for you and when he says “cut it along about here somewhere” you cut it along about there somewhere, making sure all feet, fingers, and dog noses are safely out of the way.

Imperfections that would drive a real carpenter batty can be an asset to a duck blind. That four inch gap on one end between the door and the floor? No problem. It just makes it easy to relieve yourself without leaving the blind. I’ve probably shot at least fifty ducks in my lifetime with my pants unzipped.

Take that eight foot 2X6 you ripped long-ways with the chain saw so it would plug the three inch gap between the front wall and the southeast corner 4X4. You know, the gap that was left because you didn’t have a tape or pencil to make the measurements you needed so you just “eye-balled it”. You thought you were cutting a straight line, but when you stepped back and looked at it, it looked like an elevation line on a topo map. No problem. It looks more natural this way. Have you ever seen a straight line in nature?

That dog ramp you worked so hard on, the one that juts off the front of the blind at a funny angle. Forget about it. If it looks okay to your dog it’s fine. Besides, this way it looks more like a beaver-chewed log. That’s probably what you wanted but you just didn’t know it.

Corrugated tin from barns and outbuildings makes excellent duck blind material. It is easily attached to a wood framework and is impossible for beavers, muskrats or squirrels to destroy. It is best to wait for the tin to be removed from the buildings by forces of nature such as tornadoes, as removing it yourself can result in animosity from your neighbors and possible legal hassles.

Any job that requires physical exertion makes a man thirsty. A recent scientific study has proven that beer is the best thirst quencher known to man. The fact that all the scientists who participated in the study were beer drinkers is not important. However, a subtle law of physics is at work here: the Law Of Diminishing Returns. If you and your partners consume… say… a case of beer while building your duck blind, it does not necessarily follow that your blind will look twice as good if you consume TWO cases. In all probability it will look worse. But then again, one objective of blind building is to build a blind that does not LOOK like a duck blind, the idea being that it might actually fool a duck or two. In this case beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the beholder is a duck.

When you and your fellow carpenters have finished your blind – and your beer – stand back and take a good look at it. If the floor is level , the walls  perfectly vertical , and the roof straight then you have probably screwed up somewhere. But take heart. A lot of camo in the form of marsh grass, oak limbs or willows  will hide this embarrassing perfection. And after a season or two your blind will sag on one end and have a hole in the floor. Some of your purloined four-by-fours will be sporting beaver notches, and muskrats and raccoons will have left their droppings here and there. Feathers, empty shotgun hulls, and junk food wrappers will litter the floor.

In other words it will look like a respectable duck blind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kansas dove hunt

Thanks to long-time friend Scott Morgan I finally got into a good dove hunt. No limits but enough shooting to make our shoulders sore.

Scott, Roger Harper, photographer Jon Blumb and I hunted an eastern Kansas wheat field Friday afternoon. Hunkering in the shade of  hay bales we expended a humongous amount of ammo and managed to bring down a respectable number of birds. Flights of low-flying Canada geese provided entertainment while we field dressed the birds, then  headed to Baldwin City for drinks and dinner at The Wooden Spoke restaurant.

Roger, Scott and I went back for more the next day. I took my Lab Maggie with me this time for her first dove hunt. Some dogs are reluctant to pick up doves because the feathers come off in their mouths and Maggie was no exception. But when I dropped a bird she marked it down well, making it easier for me to find. Before the end of the day she was retrieving them. Well…sort of.

Maggie did OK for a rookie and  we put six succulent bacon-wrapped dove breasts on the grill, toasted the Spirit Of Migration, and froze another six for later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trout fishing on the Yellowstone River

The first thing you’ll notice about these fishing trip photos is that there are no photos of fish. There’s a reason for that. Few fish were caught. Just a few dinks and a couple of whitefish, which are, to the trout fisherman, what coots are to duck hunters.

While attending the recent OWAA conference in Billings, Montana Brent Frazee and I took July 18th off to float the Yellowstone River. While waiting for our guide to get the boat into the water we noticed a sign informing us that William Clark and party had camped on this very spot July 17th, 1806. Just missed it by 210 years and one day! Sort of gave me goose bumps.

The Yellowstone has not been channeled into a ditch for barge traffic and probably looks pretty much as it did when William Clark, Sacagawea, her husband Toussaint Charbonneau, their little boy Jean Baptiste and the rest of the crowd traversed it in 1806.

You don’t need a lot of fish to enjoy a day like this.

 

Timber Hills Lakes

Had a great two days at Timber Hills Lakes near Mapleton, KS with the Kansas Outdoor Writers. These folks really treated us nice and I’m looking forward to going back there as soon as possible.

 

Lots of lakes and ponds full of bass, crappie, bluegill and even trout. And they have little two-man (or woman) pontoon boats with electric motors you can use. Also you can turkey hunt…and I’m probably leaving something out…like deer hunting. And they have a well-stocked bar! And nice, comfortable cabins.

 

I stood in one place and caught this big bass, several smaller bass, two rainbow trout and several crappie, all on one fly (a gray & white Clouser).

 

It doesn’t get any better than this. Check it out at http://www.timberhillslake.com .

me w:bass

Crane Creek

Crane Creek.

I had heard about it long before I was fortunate enough to fish it. Finally in 1999 a Springfield, Missouri DARE cop named Joe Curry and I spent several hours on this beautiful little stream near Springfield. We were accompanied by a local resident of Crane, MO, a fly tier whose name escapes me.

 

Crane Creek is not stocked and is strictly catch-and-release fly fishing. The trout are stream-bred McCloud rainbows. The fly tier wore a side arm because he said we might run into some “subhuman bait-dunking redneck scum” not observing the catch and release regulations who might become unruly when chastised. Luckily we did not have to shoot our way out of Crane Creek and did manage to catch a few beautiful little McCloud rainbows.

 

My friend and fellow http://www.heartofamericaflyfishers.com member Terry Robbins recently fished Crane. He did not report any encounters with belligerent bait dunkers but did manage to catch a 22” rainbow, the largest trout I’ve ever heard of to come out of this tiny stream.

crane creek 2_edited-1

 

 

 

 

A duck hunt without ducks

Our second hunt at the Five Guys And A Swamp Duck Club was a little slow for Maggie and me. Or I could say I didn’t miss a shot all morning (because I didn’t take any). This is supposed to be a good year for the duck population so hopefully they’ll show up when we get some cold weather up north to push them south. They don’t migrate because they enjoy flying.

Anyway at least the scenery was pretty.