In my last post I wrote about my Grandfather and how he shaped my earlier career in duck hunting as an unruly teenager. At 88 years of age he’s almost ready to hang up his duck hunting career (I don’t think he’ll ever retire from it completely). However, it’s been over 10 years now since he’s graced the slough with his presence, and I’m sure the slough misses him like the sun misses the flower (that one’s for you Paul Staats). Almost every time I visit his house I find myself in the den behind his workshop, immersed in the collection of waterfowl and deer hunting gear and memorabilia. With healthy amounts of freshly hewn pine percolating in from the workshop, it’s a place where a man could lose himself in for a while. Meanwhile, the gear in his garage is enough to make any duck weak in the wings. Several bags of seasoned carry-lite diver and puddler decoys are stacked in the corner, directly beneath a fiberglass model of an old alumacraft ducker. I can’t even imagine the magnitude of mallards and ring-neck ducks that met their end over those decoys in several decades of intense hunting.
Ever since my “hook” back into duck hunting, I’ve invited my Grandpa to go on my escapades of attempted water fowling. To my delight, he finally accepted my invitation to go to my good friend Sean Decent’s property on opening weekend last fall. With ample forest to our back, Sean’s pond provides a great refuge for early season wood ducks, teal, Canada geese and the occasional flock of mallards. My Grandpa clearly informed me that he would be an active participant, but wouldn’t hold a gun. He just wanted to be out in the slough again, and experience the thrill of early morning flights. After a few words (no more than 10), were exchanged on the meeting time and place, I went to bed in anticipation for the following morning.
Dedication, that’s one word my Grandpa has embedded in his heart. It’s a value that never seems to fade with age. As I passed the corner on the highway leading up to Sean’s house, my Grandpa’s Tahoe was sitting on the side of the road ready to follow us into the property. Ten years away from duck hunting and he still was chomping at the bit to wake up early, and ready for a morning in the slough. We adorned our waders and light camo jackets, and made the third mile trek through the sparse woods to the duck pond. It was a little slow-going, and walking in unfamiliar woods can be troublesome. However, we made it to the muddy water in one piece. As Sean pitched decoys, I gave my grandpa a steadying-arm as we waded through the three inch muck to the location we had elected. I pushed passed some cattails and tucked my grandpa in right next to me on the right.
Talking with him about his history of water fowling was one of the most emotive experiences that I’ve ever had with him. He elated that stepping into that little pond brought him back to hundreds of wistful memories, and “most of them were good”. I had to chuckle, as I’ve heard a few of his tales of hunting partners taking a splash in the frigid water, or my grandfather going hunting without any pants on (now that’s dedication). As dawn cracked to the east, we observed a few wood ducks careening across the north end of the pond. I glanced at my Grandpa while the birds were working. With weathered grayish-blue eyes working against the marsh line, it was a lesson in the making. Such focus, a testament to 50 years of perfecting this practice.
Of course he was the first one to point out two wood ducks slicing in from the east ten yards above the water. Two shots rang out from Sean’s 870, and a hen fell with a splash to the tranquil water below. It turned out to be a relatively uneventful morning, as few ducks skirted the slough. It wasn’t until I folded a wood duck drake that fell into deep cattails, that I truly appreciated my Grandpa’s presence in the blind. “How are you going to find that?” He asked with an experienced quip. My rash pride took over and I said “oh, I can find it”. After probing for 10-15 minutes trudging through thigh-high water, thick weeds, and cattails that span over my head, I begrudgingly gave up searching. The grizzled veteran knew exactly what shots to take, and which ones to avoid. I’m deducing that during his career he had dropped many a bird in the same circumstances, only to come up empty handed.
The morning ended early (with plenty of time to get to church), and we were only able to produce the lone wood-duck hen from our whimsical wing-shooting. Sean and my grandpa headed out early, and I sat for ten minutes to pack up and take in the last few minutes of the beautiful September morning. In classic duck hunting fashion as I stepped out to pick up the wood duck decoys (absent of my gun), a flock of three drakes and two hens plopped down in the middle of our spread. I somberly watched as they took one glance at my 6’2” frame and set their wings to the next destination.
My Grandpa called me later that day and profusely thanked Sean and I for taking him out in the marsh that morning. He said that he hadn’t had that much fun in years, and the memories that it brought back were a blessing. However, I think that I received the better end of the deal. The lessons I learned while hunting with my Grandpa were extremely valuable, but the hours spent with him in that foggy pond are irreplaceable.
Grandpa Buck, In all his glory.