The question has been posed many times; “Who was that guy?”
They come in all sizes, shapes and ages; from wide-eyed boys to gray beard seniors. Found in every pattern of the latest camouflage to grandpa’s tan canvas hand-me-down, we find the amazing creature called a duck hunter. They all have the same goal: to challenge Mother Nature, to spot their prey before they’re spotted, to lure the feathered fowl to single shot range and finally to experience the feel of feathers in hand.
You can find the guy in flooded pin oaks and marshy potholes, black-tie dinners and backyard training sessions, nodding off at work and neatly arranging every decoy just so.
He’s a duck hunter.
Parents question the gene pool, wives and girlfriends tolerate them, children idolize them and bosses have a degree of envy, but they all love their duck hunter. Three basic priorities dominate his life: God, family and ducks; and sometimes the order is askew.
Conversations and discussions that begin about politics, religion, sports and the stock market seem to always shift to Labradors, shotguns, decoys and duck calls. Regardless of the social setting, stories of great retrieves, a rare triple, a banded bird and the Arkansas comeback call are told and demonstrated to impress the guests. Yep, that’s a duck hunter.
Concerning time management, he’s an enigma. Late for a doctor’s appointment or a dinner engagement, he’s always in the blind before dawn with time to spare. Energy levels are also deceptive; too tired for chores around the house, he can wade mud for a mile, blow a call like “Satchmo” on a trumpet and has the strength of a grizzly bear when it comes to loading an outboard.
Trying to get him to hang his suit in the closet is a constant battle, but his hunting apparel is neatly stored as are his guns, shells and blocks. And no one touches the lanyard that holds his favorite duck call. He’ll be too cold or too hot in a church service but will not blink brushing a blind in August or busting ice in December.
He loves old duck calls, hand-carved decoys, waterproof gloves, north winds, days off during the season, long underwear, waders that don’t leak, duck dogs and folks who get their attire from Mack’s Prairie Wings. His dislikes are few but the short list includes shaving, neckties, weekend guests and people who don’t like the smell of a wet retriever.
Might as well love this guy and get used to him, ’cause he’ll never change. Perhaps he’ll gain sense with age; odds are he’ll become more fanatical. Come September, his attention span is shorter and by October he’s in a zone. Energy levels are higher, sleep patterns change and practice sessions with his duck call are longer and louder. Please don’t schedule any fall events unless you want to be embarrassed by the staccato of a feeding chuckle and camouflage caps.
Only frontline soldiers can get by on so little rest during the season. Food is not a priority, but he can consume enough coffee daily to challenge the world record. Except for the postman, who else could endure the rain, snow sleet, runny nose, chapped lips, cold feet and frozen fingers and live to tell about it. No one can pack more “stuff” (shells, calls, snacks, tobacco, camera, paper towels, and in this age, a cellphone) in such a small bag. He’ll complain about the contents of a lady’s handbag but never mention his kinship to a pack rat.
You may lose patience with this guy and at times get downright upset, but deep down you’ll always like him for his passion and purpose. Only he knows the passion and only God knows the purpose. In reality, he is a good man with a kind heart whose reverent prayer is to grant him another day to don the camo, put the calls around his neck, pull up his hippers, load the gun and whisper, “Get down; here comes a bunch.”
That, my friend, is I. Proud to be a duck hunter — and a boy of autumn.
Larry Reid is host of “Outdoors with Larry Reid,” which airs Sundays at noon on WBGZ Radio, 1570 AM/94.3 FM.