By GERRY SWANSON
I was recently asked why I loved duck hunting so much. My answer was, “I just love it!”
But after pondering on the question for a few days, thinking about some of my hunts, it hit me. The anticipation is all-encompassing, for the waterfowler’s world indulges all of our senses.
Burned forever in our memories are the sights of the hunt. Of an apricot sun bullying its way through dawn’s indigo sky. Of hard-banking bluebills slicing through the decoys at breakneck speed. Of endless miles of golden-hued wheat and barley stubble and graceful Canada geese flaring at the blind, climbing skyward like home-sick angels. Of the veil of morning’s mist rising like a theater curtain, revealing a brilliant kaleidoscope of natural colors and the threads of spider webs cross-stitching their way across a bulrush canvas. Of the restless flight of teal after the first coating of frost. The smells and tastes of the hunt also linger long after fall slides icily into winter. The bitter odor of decomposing organic material as the wetland continues its ceaseless recycling program. The pungent aroma of gunpowder and the familiar smell of wet dog. All take us back to memorable hunts.
Familiar, too is the anticipatory trembling against your leg of an eager retriever. A bone chilling November wind in your face.
The sounds of the hunt forever echo in the mind. A song of quacks, honks and whistles of restless birds in the predawn darkness. The nasally breath of a black Labrador steaming back to the blind, its prize grasped firmly. The artfully crafted sounds resonating down the barrel of a hand tuned duck call. All are familiar in the waterfowler’s world.
And while we can describe them to those who don’t know; that 4 a.m. ring of an alarm clock can be a welcome interruption of a restless sleep; what can’t be articulated are the inner thoughts and feelings only those who hunt ducks and geese can know. For our passion is unlike any other.
Waterfowling is not about the single reward a big game hunter gets. Nor is it akin to the relaxing pace of the upland hunter. Waterfowling is about the experience and the reward comes only when the effort expended appears all out of proportion to the return in the eyes of an outsider.
Our pleasure comes not from a full bag, but rather, from a full soul. We measure success not in birds taken, but rather in days spent in the Great Outdoors with trusted friends, and trusting dogs.
Because to the waterfowler, autumn skies without ducks and geese would be like sleep without dreams.