Respect Your Elders
“Man, you got to get here tomorrow morning, I’m covered up in mallards.” Thinking how it’s already nine o’clock at night, and I’m still in Gun Barrel City, I ask Jeff if we could wait for our originally scheduled morning. “It’s supposed to rain on Wednesday, and I want to put you on a good hunt while I still can.” Without anymore hesitation, I tell Mr Elder I’ll see him in the a.m. When a guide tells the you to be there, you better get there. I shouldn’t have argued. I get on the ball with Benny, and let him know I’ll be there at 4:30. “Do you want me to call you at 2:30a.m. and make sure you’re awake?” I respond with absolute truth: “Naw, I’m not going to be able to sleep anyway, we’ve got ducks to kill tomorrow.”
Why is Zepplin playing in my kitchen, and how are they... There is no way the alarm can already be going off. I take a red eyed glance at the clock. Yep, it’s 2:30a.m., and Stairway to Heaven is on the radio. That explains a lot. I roll out of bed, eat a few bites, tell my wife I’m out, and I’m west bound and down; making my way to what is sure to be one heck of a morning.
I-20 is all mine at this hour. That fact, along with the local DJs playing good tunes, is making for a surprisingly nice drive. I pass the time by playing out different shooting scenarios in my head. Down and to the left, straight in and dropping, fleeing upwards, left to right, you name it, I’ve got ‘em pegged. I crest the hill by Joe Pool Lake, as all of Tarrant County is still sleeping beneath me. “All those poor folks have to go to work today, man what a crying shame.”
I roll up to Benny’s house around 4:20, as he is making his way out to his truck. “Hey BROTHER!” He acts like he’s ripping his shirt apart in true Hulkamania fashion. Laughing, I help him grab a couple items, and were off to Silver Creek, where Jeff and his Chesapeake, Spade, will be waiting for us.
By the time we make it out to Jeff’s, I am ten shades of wired, as I have just gulped down a Red Bull. Something that I very rarely do. “Hey man. Hey man. You ready? I’m ready!” Geepers, I could’ve ran down the interstate holding two flashlights, and been pretty close to street legal. Mr Elder meets us with a handshake, we introduce ourselves to the other half of the hunting party, and we’re off to heaven on earth.
We’re in layout blinds, and I’m smoking a cigarette with ten minutes to go until LST. I glance over at Jeff who is enjoying a warm cup of coffee, on a 19 degree morning. I can hear the men working their actions, as they make final preparations in this still low-lit, frost laden morning. “Two minutes ‘til showtime guys.” C’mon with it.
LST arrives, and within seconds we’ve got birds. There are two already making ripples, that all but appeared out of thin air. Two more are at my one o’clock, probably seventy-five yards out. The birds close the gap quickly, and there are now four gaddies sitting on the pond, not fifteen yards in front of me. We’re in a small bowl of trees, and the little pool that we’re hunting on can’t be more than twenty yards in diameter. From my position on the far left side of the line, I can see perfectly down a long corridor, lined on both sides by mesquites and oaks. The sun, and what little bit of wind there is, will both be at our backs. Life is about to get real salty.
There are a dozen birds on the water now, and they all have white elbows. I’m not near proud enough to say I won’t shoot gaddies, but St Patrick’s Day came early this year, and we’re looking for green. Amongst the muffled half-quacks of the gadwalls, I hear some hold raspy hens in the air. They have arrived. I can feel my pulse climb as they buzz by us, and bank at my three o’clock. “Hard right, Jeff.” I’m exhaling more and more steam as the adrenaline raises my core temperature. They’ve committed, and it’s all I can stand not to release every bit of pent up energy in my body. I tell myself to pick a bird, just one bird. There’s a greenie on the bottom left, and he’s coming in right at me. They drop their feet, and Jeff gives the command: “TAKE ‘EM BOYS!”
Green heads are completely halted and peeled back, as swaths of steel shot are displaced amongst the flock. There’s blood in the water, and whistling in the sky. Shells are loaded and chambered, as we do our best to blend back in with mother nature. It’s not fifteen-seconds before the second wave hits us. They knew they were coming here way before we did, as they drop to the water immediately, without so much as a fly by. That was the last time those two ducks in particular will ever do such a thing.
Ducks come in, and ducks fall. Jeff is laying down feed calls like an assault rifle, and that’s really all it takes to turn these birds into cupped and committed half moons. With a hole this small, and the 101st layout division guarding these waters, the singles and doubles just don’t stand a chance. We let two land, as we notice a big string breaking their necks to look down and see what all the commotion is about. In this whole string of probably twelve to fifteen mallards, only one of them is a drake. How does one go about getting this kind of lifestyle? Lucky duck I suppose. His luck runs out as they drop in from right on top of us. I look over at Mr Wallace, who is three foot to my right, and quickly acquiring a nice pile of my empties around him. “I’d say it’s a bad day to be wearing green.” He looks over, sporting a half cocked smile, jutting steam coming out both nostrils. “Yeah, it’s not really good for the whole longevity thing.”
The lax wind is making for quite the show. Ducks are pivoting themselves down, almost like they’re snow skiing on the wind. A few look like they’re going to sit down on top of us, before doing a quick roll to the side. God’s talent is so vibrantly shown in ducks, and I never fail to be awestruck by the agility of such an animal.
The morning sun is now showing itself, which is not good for our feathered friends. They are all but blind as they make their way to our hole. The vibrancy of those iridescent green feathers amongst such a frosty background will not soon be forgotten. We take turns telling stories and picking a tree, as the main rush is now winding down.
Every once in awhile, some stragglers come in, looking for any worms that the early birds might have missed. We put a hand full of birds on the lanyard, as the next hour or so ticks by. For the grand finally, Mr Thompson’s son shoots a trophy mallard, with more curls than a DQ ice cream cone. What a great way to end a hunt. Jeff, sensing the hunt is over, and that his clients are happy, calls the hunt. “Guys, let’s go get some pictures.”