I was jarred awake by a shotgun blast last Saturday morning. In the early morning darkness I opened one red, bleary eye, and it took a moment of coming to a state of awareness to figure out that our house wasn't actually being raided, but instead the Minnesota duck season opener was happening.
I thought to myself, "Boy, its dark out there to be seeing a duck fly by!" I used to be out there.
Somewhere out there amid the muck and marsh were a couple of human beings clad in camouflage and sitting in a boat covered by cattail stalks and burlap. Maybe they had a retriever dog shuttering in the boat with them, but maybe not.
In my early morning funk I could almost smell the aroma of the swamp and feel the moisture on the backs of my hands as I grasped the Model 12 Winchester shotgun and squinted into the early morning mist hoping to see some duck heading toward my decoy spread.
I cut my eyeteeth on duck hunting alongside my mother's brothers, my uncles. I listened to their fabulous hunting stories of sneaking up on a flock of mallards or pass shooting geese on the Missouri River bottoms. I saw the results of their duck hunting exploits in the cob basket that sat alongside my grandmother's cook stove.
During the season it was rare not to see a brace of green-headed northern mallards or green-winged teal resting there awaiting picking and cleaning. Not a duck went to waste and in the early days on their farm. The waterfowl provided many a November meal for the nine kids and the parents who lived there.
We had a farm neighbor who lived a half mile from our farm, and Ralph had a small farm pond located on his property. The water in the pond was used to water his cattle, but it also provided a landing place for migrating mallards and an occasional goose.
It was on that pond that my first goose was procured early one Sunday morning. I towed my 5 year old brother along behind me as we crawled a quarter of mile through a creek bed and ended up taking a blue goose home for dinner. My brother never forgot that experience and ended up a more dedicated duck hunter than myself.
If you have never occupied a duck blind and listened to a high flying flock of bluebills dive downward toward the water at astonishing speeds with the sound of a jet plane deploying its reverse thrusters, you have never really felt the pull that duck hunting can have on a human.
There was a time my friends and I rented some small ponds in farm country of Minnesota. The scenery was right out of a Terry Redlin print with the sharp hills showing all the glory of a fall day with the yellows and reds and purples reflecting off the rippling water. To watch a tight flock of flying bluebills swing out of the northern breezes intent on landing on the water in front of the duck boat can't be truly captured by any video or camera. One has to live that experience.
The duck hunting in my part of Minnesota seems to have moved west. During the 1960s, the pothole country of the Dakotas dried up and Minnesota seemed to benefit from that in the numbers of waterfowl that migrated through the state. Today, the Dakotas sport more water than they need or want. Many of the previous farm fields are now covered with water and the ducks have taken notice. On my last pheasant hunt in South Dakota we saw more ducks in the cornfields than we did pheasants.
I thought of all those things last Saturday as the booming on our neighboring lake rumbled through our bedroom. I instantly could smell the odor of the muck and mire. I could feel the cold steel of the Winchester against my right cheek, and I could hear a flock of bluebill missiles scream from behind the blind and circle the decoys spread in front of our duck boat.
You had to be there and in my mind, I once again was. I flinched as I dreamed of pulling the trigger on the Model 12. I was awoken by a jab in the ribs by my wife.
"What are you dreaming about?" she asked.
"Duck hunting," I replied.
See you next time. Okay?