The outdoors were not very important to me in my later years of high school. With two sports, a less than mediocre punk rock band, and a steady girlfriend, my priorities didn’t give me a lot of time to spend in the marsh or on the deer stand. God bless my Grandpa Buck, for he tried his damndest to immerse me in the slough to experience the elation of water fowling that resides in his soul. Memories often surface of my devoted grandfather taking me out duck hunting for late October ring neck ducks on weekday mornings. A waking time of 5 a.m. is substantially too early for an already disengaged teen, and the cold, wind-whipping weather didn’t add a dime to the allure. I managed to harvest a few fowl over the course of the years, but the wing shooting was arduous for a novice kid without sufficient practice, and the amount of birds to cross our path were few and far between. The last time my grandpa brought me out to the lake resulted in frigid fingers and toes, and not a single duck adorned the sky. My interest was minimal at best, and the gear was too expensive to procure.
Fast forward eight years. Newly married, steady job, and more free time on my hands, I asked my unemployed college-bound brother to take me out with him to the same lake that I had hunted with our Grandpa when I was younger. All I really wanted was to spend time with my little brother Jase, and what transpired would morph into an obsession to the present day.
I took off a Friday from work, and we headed out with his twelve foot alumacraft and six horse evinrude. While I watched Jase pitch decoys and meticulously brush the blind, I honestly thought he had a few screws loose. How could one person care so much about decoy placement and camouflage? Little did I know that my own methods would someday transform into a mirror image (dare I say even more particular?). We quietly took in the exquisite sunrise from the wooded northern island, and a few ducks buzzed by during the course of the morning. What really amazed me were the calling chops of my brother. Quick precise quacks, a low mallard chuckle, and perfectly timed hail calls. I had tangible appreciation for his skill when he called a lone goose a few hundred yards away heading in a different direction. The gander took a sharp swing, and traveled directly to our two corroded goose decoys. His haunting siren’s call brought it just on the edge of our range, and we both seemed to smack the bird with our two shot, but couldn’t bring the gargantuan to meet its maker.
It’s no secret to any water fowler, but packing up decoys is not fun. With the seemingly endless decoy cord that you have to wrap, and the realization that you may be going home without a bird in hand. However, during our time in that frigid chest high water, we discovered a pristine jewel on the lake. It was Jase that pointed it out, and my untrained eyes would have passed by and glazed over without any interest. Hundreds of yards away along the entire shoreline of a southern island appeared a constant, star like twinkling that the sun’s disposition accentuated with each ray. Jase produced his binoculars from his blind bag, and a look of astonishment quickly materialized on his face, along with the hushed words “oh wow”. When I inquired of his discovery, he handed me his binoculars and my amazement quickly reached the level of my brothers. What appeared to be twinkles were 400 bluebill ducks preening, diving, and stretching their wings. We tossed the last of the decoys into the alumacraft, and slowly made our way back to the landing so that we could avoid spooking the smorgasbord of ducks.
In classic Hegman fashion, we slept well past our 5 a.m. alarm the next morning and hastily headed out the door to our new-found duck hunting holy land. As we approached the southern island, the sleepy sun started to poke through the tree line to the east. We designated a spot in the center of the island where we had observed the ducks the day before, and began pitching our decoys.
Here it is, “the hook”. If you’ve never experienced a similar ecological euphoria of this world, I sincerely hope you do at one point in your lifetime.
As Jase and I were half way done setting up our 24 old foam diver decoys, the sound of stirring wings filled the air in the distance. The hum came swiftly closer and when it arrived, it was at the decibel of a fighter jet. Flocks of 50-100 bluebills were flying six feet over our heads, twisting and whirling with amazing precision. We both crouched motionless to watch the spectacle. When the awe induced paralytic wore-off and we had full control of our legs again, we sank down on the bank and let the parade continue. It took no more than five minutes for the first group of 25 birds to descend perfectly into our decoys. Jase and I managed to take three birds out of the flock, but one dove (to its apparent demise) and the other managed to swim away. It was abundantly clear that these birds were ultra-tough, and it would take some very calculated shots to bring them down. Through the first hour, I honestly think we had every one of those previously spotted 400 bluebills saunter over our spread. We managed to pluck six hearty water-beasts from the air, but only mustered three to our hand. The last blue bill that was amassed was the most memorable. A flock of 30 perused our spread, and I winged a hen from 25 yards high. The duck plummeted to the water with a smack, and began swimming in circles. While I went to retrieve the boat, the charlatan bluebill gained its legs and began to swim away. Jase’s gun was loaded with 3 ½ inch shells, and I was yelling at him (with echoes of Aragorn) “bring him down! Jase, bring him down!” Jase’s final shot crumpled the bird from 35 yards away, and our blissful morning had come to an end.
Packing up our gear and heading home I was overcome with excitement. The rush of raw nature was flowing through my veins, and I was so grateful for the experience. I often think of that day with a grin on my face, thankful for my family, the water, and the opportunity to be fully immersed in God’s creation.