The familiar sound of whistling wings sounded overhead in the predawn darkness. Followed by a series of “splooshes,” that hinted at the soul-stirring action to come as a swollen, orange sun peeked over the horizon.
A million thoughts raced through my head as I wondered exactly what ducks were lighting in the decoys. Were they the fast-flying, green-winged teal I had seen while scouting the area the day before? Maybe they were widgeons, ringnecks, or pintails.
Intrigue hung thick in the air.
As the sun’s brilliance steadily vanquished the darkness, my father and I could make out a few greenwings on the outer edge of the decoys, teasing me as shooting time was still a full five minutes away.
I figured they would leave before we could legally click off our safety and be on our way to some prime gumbo ingredients, but I really did not care. Just being in their presence was enough for me.
Even in dim light, their beauty was radiant.
Almost as if they had read my mind, the cluster of teal rose off the water a minute before they would have met a barrage of steel shot, but I knew there would be more action to come. I could feel it.
As the clock struck 6:53, I blew on my call, and we readied our guns as the game was officially on. High in the sky I spotted four gadwalls giving the spread a look-over.
As I let out a couple of quacks, the quartet dove down from the heavens in a nosedive straight toward the decoys. I clicked my safety into the shoot position as my heart pounded in anticipation.
The ducks continued their descent and a few yards before slamming headfirst into the water, they put on their brakes and turned into a landing position with wings cupped and legs out. Dad and I emptied our cartridges.
All four of the ducks fell, and we were off to an absolutely perfect morning of duck hunting off a remote creek in Newton County, Texas.
My friends know that besides coastal fishing, duck and goose hunting is tops in my book. In fact, from November through January, I get obsessed over it.
Occasionally, someone will ask how I could be so fired up over getting up at a ridiculously early hour, lugging dozens of decoys through knee-deep mud and tangling with mosquitoes, snakes and alligators.
And that is just in the early teal season in Texas.
In California, I have walked through three feet of snow, half a mile across a field near the base of Mount Shasta to hunt Canada geese in seven-degree temperatures. In New York, I have faced chilling sub-zero winds off Lake Ontario to bag mallards and mergansers, been ravaged by deer flies in their early resident Canadian goose season and nearly got frostbite hunting divers on Owasco Lake.
In my home state of Texas (and my frequent destination, Louisiana), I have logged hundreds of hunts over the years, in every kind of condition imaginable, in the process pulling hamstrings while walking through gumbo mud, pulling my back out pushing my boat off of a tidal flat and generally wearing myself to a nub by season’s end.
Why would an otherwise sane person do such things to themselves?
It is all about the birds
The beauty, majesty and intensity embodied in ducks and geese have captivated me since I was a youngster jumping wood ducks on creek beds in Jasper County.
God reserved the finest strokes of his paintbrush of creation for the waterfowl of the world.
Just look at a wood duck. Can you think of anything that we pursue as hunters more beautiful than that?
Yes, whitetail deer are gorgeous as are elk and just about every other game animal out there. I truly love them all, but in the looks department, woodies, pintail, widgeon and teal put them all to shame.
Then there is the issue of flight.
Anyone that has seen mallards navigate timber or a big pintail drake ride the wind currents over a coastal marsh has seen true majesty in action. Deer may be smarter but I would like to see one drop out of the sky from 100 yards and land gracefully.
It is not going to happen, is it?
Another part of this great quest is the camaraderie. In duck blinds you can talk, joke, eat and do all kinds of stuff that is a no-no in other outdoor pursuits. I laugh and smile more while duck hunting than when doing anything else that involves guns.
Maybe best of all are the dogs. The various retrievers are the most loyal, hard working and amazing dogs on the planet and they are always happy to hunt. My Dad’s friend, the late Harold Staggs, had a dog that would throw decoys at the house at night when it heard geese flying over.
That is dedication.
For me, it is a natural extension of my deep love for coastal fishing. In fact, it was while fishing as a kid that I first was hooked on ducks. Routinely seeing pintail, mottled ducks and scaup while fishing for reds, specks and flounders hooked me into this whole waterfowl hunting thing quicker than a laser-sharp treble hook.
One of the greatest things in the world is going duck hunting in the morning and catching redfish and trout in the afternoon. Outfitters and outdoor writers call this “cast and blast”. I call it heaven on earth.
To those on the outside, that might seem a bit strange, but I have a feeling anyone who has picked up this book understands it perfectly.
They know that the pursuit of ducks and geese is something truly special and will do whatever it takes to be in their presence, preferably armed with a .12 gauge, some number 4 shot and a good retriever.
Story by Chester Moore