A duck hunter is born

My baptism into the awesome sport of duck hunting took place when I was twenty-nine years old and should’ve known better.

My “John The Baptist” was long-time buddy Ned who had duck hunted since high school.  Before dawn we waded into the shallow waters of John Redmond reservoir in eastern Kansas. I could hear the gentle whisper of wings overhead, and  though I had never heard that sound, I knew what it was. As daylight approached we saw ducks flying far out over the reservoir and I remember how I thought, with their speed, their outstretched necks, they resembled little fighter planes like the P-51 Mustang my brother Paul had flown in World War Two.

Ned and I never fired a shot that morning but I was mesmerized by watching the birds fly. I loved seeing the sun slowly creep up over the horizon. And because it wasn’t very cold , I didn’t mind standing in muddy, waist-deep water as it seeped into my borrowed chest waders.

I had become a duck hunter.

Fast forward to now, when my friend Jay and his fourteen year-old son Chuck – or Charlie – depending on the moniker he chooses at the moment, are hunkered in a blind at the Lone Oak Duck Club in western Missouri. Fourteen-year-old Chuck has been doing this since he was old enough to walk. Surely he feels the same emotions I felt that morning long ago as I stood in the muddy waters of Redmond reservoir.

He’ll be a duck hunter all his life.










End of a duck season

The season ended so suddenly at the Five Guys And A Swamp Duck Club that we didn’t even have time to pick up our decoys. Then we froze solid, and now the water has finally thawed and we can finally get in to do the job we should have done earlier. When we waded in hundreds of mallards took flight. Where the hell were they in November and December? With this fall’s weather they were probably still in Canada or North Dakota.

Just One Of The Guys

This story from the September 2008 issue of Wildfowl Magazine was awarded 1st place in the 2009 Magazine Humor category of the  OWAA Excellence In Craft Contest. 

I first noticed a difference in Bob the day I rode with him in his pickup truck to a big sporting goods store to take advantage of a preseason sale. Bob had been an over-the-road trucker at one time and could handle anything from an eighteen-wheeler to the dinkiest subcompact, yet he seemed to be having trouble parallel parking. He backed and filled and backed and filled some more until finally he gave up and left the truck at a funny angle, quite a ways from the curb.

I didn’t think any more about it until one day, about a week into duck season, we were sitting in the blind, killing time and trying to decide whether to bail out or give it one more hour. It was one of those days when the ducks weren’t flying and about all there was to do was drink coffee, pet the dog, and shoot the breeze. I could tell something was on Bob’s mind.

“There’s something I have to tell you and the other guys”, he said.

I figured he was going to say he was changing jobs or maybe had a health problem.

“I’ve had an operation”, he said.

Naturally I’m thinking gall bladder, appendectomy, the usual stuff. I was totally unprepared for what came next.

“Oh?” I asked. “”You doing OK now?”

”Oh yeah,” he said, sipping his coffee. “I’m fine. But you don’t understand. I’ve had a…well… I’m not Bob any more. I’m Bobbi Sue.”

It didn’t hit me immediately, probably because I was in shock. “You mean….” I fumbled for the right words. “You’ve had one of those… those… whatchacallits?…”

“ You got it”, replied Bob. “ I’ve had a sex change operation. But I don’t want it to change anything as far as our duck hunting is concerned. I just want everybody to keep thinking of me as one of the guys. In fact, if you’d like, you can keep calling me Bob instead of Bobbi Sue.”

Well, let me tell you, it’s awfully hard to think of a guy who is 6’3”, weighs 240, and chews tobacco as Bobbi Sue.

“How is Alice taking this?” I asked. This had to be quite a shock to his wife.

“You mean Al?”

“Oh Lordy, no”, I muttered, with my head in my hands. I was starting to have trouble dealing with this.

“When I left the house she… I mean he, was lying on the couch drinking beer, belching, and watching NASCAR on TV”

Bob continued to hunt with our group all season and there were no major problems. He was a likeable guy and a good, safe hunter, which is about all we require in a hunting partner. But as the season wore on we began to notice a few subtle changes. Once, when we drove out-of-state for a guided duck hunt, we got lost and Bob cheerfully volunteered to go into a service station and ask directions.

Something else was different, too. The rest of us just sort of voluntarily started cleaning up our language when Bob was around. One morning when a flock of teal buzzed our decoys and I never even had time to get off a shot I found myself saying, “My goodness! Those little fellows are certainly fast, aren’t they.”

We noticed some other changes, too. When nature called, Bob started getting out of the blind and walking back to our trailer to use the bathroom. In fact he once drove all the way into town and back. And, when it was my turn, I started going as far away from the blind as possible and hiding behind a tree.

And later, after the hunt was over and the guns were put away, when the rest of us had a beer, Bob would sip a glass of white wine. Once he even asked for a Singapore Sling but nobody knew how to make one.

About once a month Bob got sort of cranky but we just overlooked it and tried to stay out of his way till he felt better. And you wouldn’t believe some of the things he started carrying in his blind bag.

So, aside from these minor changes, Bob is pretty much the same. He looks about like he always did, if you can ignore the occasional touch of lip-gloss and eye shadow. He still chews tobacco in the blind but he doesn’t spit the juice on the floor anymore, and I can’t remember him breaking wind once all season.

We’re already looking forward to September and teal season. It’ll probably be ninety degrees, sweat will be rolling off the rest of us, and the dogs’ tongues will be hanging out. Someone will look over at Bob and say, “Aren’t you sweating, Bob?” and he’ll say, “No, but I’m perspiring a little.”



















































































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.

Tweener Time

Once again it’s “Tweener Time”. A Tweener is a cartoon too filthy and degenerate for outdoor publications yet too outdoorsy for Playboy.

For you non duck hunters…so-called dabbling ducks – mallards, pintails, teal and others -tip up to feed on edible stuff in the water like invertebrates, seeds and plants. When you see a dabbling duck doing this it is not mooning you, it is eating.

Diving ducks such as scaup, canvasbacks, and redheads dive completely  under the water to find their food. What we call “trash ducks” such as mergansers eat old tires, discarded condoms and oil that has leaked from drilling platforms.



In love

Opening weekend at the Five Guys & A Swamp Duck Club


Shotguns boomed… retrievers retrieved… four gadwall, one pintail, and one shoveler fell… and my left knee sent me straight to the DL. It’s an old high school football injury. I didn’t actually play high school football; I got drunk and fell in a urinal at halftime.

Things can only get better from here.

Sunrise from the 26-year-old north blind