What constitutes a tragic duck hunt? Forgetting your waders, your calls, or your toilet paper? I’ve forgotten all of those things in the past, but the most memorable misplacement for me was when I forgot the boat plug for my Carstens Bluebill on an exceptionally snowy morning in late November. It’s this time of year where the stinging pain of forgetting a crucial item is suffered to the utmost. The waterfowl migration is in full swing, and unsullied birds are pushing down every day to say hello. The caveat in this scenario is that four inches of heavy white snow had dropped over the evening, and when I packed my truck in the morning it had slowed to a flurry. To say that I’m infatuated with these types of days is an understatement. I’ve often stewed in green envy over chronicles that my Grandfather and Uncle have shared from legacy hunts. The most notable being the story of my grandfather adjusting decoys in blowing wind and snow, while dozens of bluebills landed right next to his boat. The old adage rings hauntingly true, “If the snow is flying, ducks are dying”.
I greeted my friend Jeff Westgard at the launch in the early-early morning, and we hastily unpacked our gear in anticipation for undesirable competition on this public St. Paul-Minneapolis metro lake. With adrenaline running through my veins, I feverishly hauled dozens of diver and puddle duck decoys down to my bluebill which was parked on the bank facing out towards the slight brook that runs into Lake Putter. When I pushed off aggressively with my left foot, I instantly knew something was wrong. Water gushed in through the back like a burst pipe, and the entire deck was covered in an inch of water almost instantaneously. I quickly foraged for my paddle, and moved back to the landing as fast as my arms could swing.
With one infuriated pull, I yanked my skiff up on the bank and somberly watched as water slowly trickled out of the void were my plug should have been. I sulked in misery and cursed under my breath. Every ounce of my frame felt the rush of numbness that only rears its head when you realize that things have gone terribly awry. I could see that Jeff was about to push off of the bank, and his eyes glanced my direction with intuition that something was amiss. Jeff calmly asked me “what’s wrong”? With self-loathing feelings still setting in, I explained the ugly tale that had transpired. Without a hitch, he removed his front foot from his skiff, and said “you know what? I think I might have something that will help”. He nonchalantly walked to his truck, and from the glove box he procured a small package. He half-ran back to the shore, and while the small package sailed through air in my direction, he said “here you go, I think this might work”. What landed in my hands was a small tube with the words “JB-Weld Water Putty”. I gazed at the package for a few confused seconds, and asked “what’s this”? Jeff explained that he bought it for his own boat in case he smacked a rock and put a hole in the hull. I opened the package, and followed the instructions to roll it in my hands for a minute, and then apply to the designated area. I worked the putty into my bluebill boat, and told Jeff to get set up around the first opening while it cured.
After I had waited twenty minutes or so, I gingerly pushed by bluebill back into the shallow channel and prayed for a watertight hull. To my surprise, not a drop of water leaked through. I joined Jeff at the end of the channel, and gave him a big grin when I approached. “Any issues?” Jeff asked. “Absolutely none, this stuff is amazing” was my reply. I pushed my skiff into the weeds, and the sneaking suspicion that my boat was taking on water was tugging at my conscience. As we chatted and waited in the lowlight of the morning, I periodically checked the level of water in the bottom of the boat. To my surprise, not a drop of water had made its way through! Over the course of the morning we managed to bag a drake wood duck loner (who had apparently forgotten his route to Tennessee), and a large drake mallard with a brilliant green iridescent head. Although we couldn’t get to the northern point of Lake Putter to pursue the divers we so adamantly love, I still count the trip a success. Make no mistake. I will keep a tube of water putty in my glove box for the rest of my hunting career.