As I write this, I’m sitting at Pearson Airport waiting for a flight to Montreal, but I’m really back at Saturday afternoon on the banks of a drizzly beaver pond, cold water dripping off the brim of my hat, straining my eyes for the slightest movement in the faded gray skies that frame the rust, gold, and brown leaves of the treetops. Our group of six intrepid waterfowlers had kicked a few dozen mallards out of this hole on our way in, and we’d been waiting in vain for the last few hours for them to return as they usually do. A misty drizzle became steady rain, and then became a misty drizzle again. Once or twice it outright poured, and all the while a breeze hung around, becoming just strong enough to make the wings on the flapping decoy spin and to ensure that the parts of you that weren’t waterproof got clammy and cold.
Yep, it was a duck hunter’s kind of afternoon. The ducks just hadn’t read the script.
At some point, almost through spontaneous regeneration, six hunters became eight and with nothing flying we just decided to stand around and trade stories and jokes. Some of the boys had just got back from moose hunting, and there was ample entertainment from them. Someone recited the clips from an offensive sound file they had received in an email, and we all laughed. At one point something very funny was said, because I found myself in fits of hilarity while wiping away tears of laughter. It is probably better that I can’t recall exactly what it was that made me break down that way, as I’ve found that airport boarding areas aren’t the wisest of places to begin giggling like a maniac.
Some ducks came in and a few fell, with Tack’s yellow Lab Levi making quick work of the retrieves. Then we went back to standing around and telling stories and lies. We milled around and carried on quiet personal conversations that were punctuated with group laughs. We talked about hunting, baseball, women, new guns, new calls, and decoys. We threw sticks in the pond and then did personal play-by-play as Levi negotiated the decoy lines and the submerged twigs as he fetched them.
Eventually the wind and rain frustrated us enough that we went and wrangled the dekes; with our guns slung over shoulders we headed for the trucks.
Here on Monday, they just called for priority boarding, but my mind barely acknowledges the announcement. I’m in my memories from Sunday, when we went into a puddled grain field with high stubble and good cover in the ditch. Misty fog wisped around, and once again prospects were good for some gunning. Hunkered down in a line we scratched down a drake mallard that came screaming into one of the de facto ponds that were slowly but surely taking over the field; it almost didn’t matter that we missed the other six ducks that were with him. To be fair we didn’t cover ourselves with glory on that performance, but we compensated on a low flying trio of geese that swung wide in the field before winging towards the gap we had left between the two dozen shell decoys. Some clucks, moans, growls, and shotgun reports later, and none of them made their way out of the field. A few more ducks worked the spread, but all high and wary. Pleading comeback calls and raspy chuckles failed to persuade them and after countless circles they lit down in a deep, fast-moving ditch one field over. Our man Hastings went on safari to jump them up, and as his reward he crumpled a brace of them for his game bag. As flocks of dozens and dozens of ducks traded on an increasingly strong wind, the fog blew off but a rain was fixing to blow in. With Hastings stalking the ditches a field over, and with Tack answering nature’s call well up the ditch, it was up to Rory, Dane, Lucas, and myself to work the calls on six big geese that broke away and once again made our fakes. Just moments before we had failed to lure in a group of forty or fifty geese that showed interest, but just weren’t convinced. This group though, were coming in on a wire. Low finishing work on my Tim Grounds Super Mag combined with good calling from Dane on his GK Giant Killer and from Rory on his Doug Schuyler Voodoo Medicine Man sealed the deal and as the birds put their feet down at fifteen yards, we all began sawing away on our pump guns. As two geese winged away we collected the ones that stayed behind and went back to the cover of the ditch. As the rain began to fall we decided to call it a morning and after a picture or two we packed the decoys, weaponry, and our birds back to the trucks. One large breakfast and one superb nap later, We cleaned up the farmhouse, packed up, and began the trek back home. Hours of hunting, laughing, and being out in the wilderness all seemed to race by as we re-told the tales from the hunts, the details compressed in my mind by the fleeting enjoyment of it all.
And now, less than twenty-four hours later I find myself about to put away the laptop and wing my way east into la belle province. The exigencies of career and parenthood will take precedent for a while longer.
But with any luck, it won’t be long until I’m back on a shore or aside a field, hands braced on my 870 Express, waiting for the birds to drop their flaps and put the landing gear down. Like a golfer’s hole-in-one, those perfect moments of the past keep me chasing the next ones.