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Traditions: Duck 2020

12/14/2020

by: Natchez Shooting Supplies

As the weather starts to change and the leaves begin to fall, many are busy working on prepping their land for the upcoming waterfowl season. It seems to always be a frantic time of preparation, hope, and excitement for what the season will provide. In southeast Tennessee, the past several years have been a roller coaster of too much rain, too little rain, or any other combination of catastrophe that seemed to tilt the odds ever so slightly away from the waterfowl hunter. It was those memories and concerns that made several of my friends and I jump at a chance to hunt a property in central Mississippi in early January 2020.

The thought of getting a fresh start on a property with proven success excited us with the possibilities of aching shoulders from the weight of our game straps filled with waterfowl. We spoke of how the season had not worked in our favor in past years but this opportunity could right those wrongs. Some would even say that this could be the launching pad for a tremendous year in the field, pursuing various game from January to December, with experiences that would revival the hunting icons of the past. It was this same excitement that would occupy our minds for the 5-hour truck ride to Mississippi and even consume our thoughts as we sat in our hotel rooms prepping our gear for the next morning.

The morning of the hunt, I looked at the buzzing alarm thinking, you’re late my friend, as we had been up for nearly an hour getting ready for the day’s adventure. The air was cold and crisp as we left our hotel and piled our gear into the truck for the short drive to the property through the back roads of Mississippi. We each spent the drive discussing the items we had left at home and the possibilities of there being time to stop for coffee as we drove down the dirt and clay roads until finally, we had arrived at the gate of the property.  We barely waited for the truck to be parked before jumping out to greet the landowner and guide with various jokes about one another and handshakes.

We had met this landowner and guide many times before and we knew that this trip would be nothing short of exciting due to their pure joy of the sport.  They both helped us to stow the rest of our gear and ourselves into the waiting minitruck that towed a small jon boat and then instructed us to hold as we drove into the dark abyss of the morning. The ride seemed to only last a few minutes before stopping and hearing the landowner say, “Well, from here it’s by foot, due to the water levels being up tremendously.”

Several of us stripped off our jackets and loaded the jon boat with decoys, firearms, ammo, and other gear in preparation for the hike that leads us to the blind. It did not take but just a few moments for the ankle-deep water to turn into waist-deep to chest-deep water as we struggled to keep our balance walking the now submerged access road. The feeling of the cold water compressing the legs of our waders was a welcoming feeling as we continued to strip off layers of outerwear during our march to the blind as we found ourselves questioning each layer we removed. We took turns towing the small jon boat for a rope tied the bow thru the water while the others used the small boat to keep themselves stable through the forest of submerged trees, mud, and roots that grabbed at your feet seemingly waiting for you to trip for the amusement of the trees.

After several minutes of maneuvering through this maze of trees, the woods opened up into a flooded plain that seemed to be the backdrop from the latest waterfowl magazine with just the very beginnings of the night’s sky turning a slight blue. You could feel the party’s excitement growing as we pushed towards the waiting blind that was starting to take shape from the surrounding vegetation. We chatted amongst ourselves discussing the various tasks that needed to be completed once we arrived to ensure a speedy setup.

It did not take long for our entry into the blind to be forgotten by the local wildlife, as the various birds and squirrels started their day of foraging for food when we heard our first distant duck. We immediately stopped whatever we were doing to listen and gauge from what direction the call had come from. “I think it came from behind us,” said one of the guys as he was still trying to chew his donut. Another said, “Maybe it came from the East?” pointing in a roughly Easterly direction with a hand still clinging to his coffee.

However, none of these directions mattered because only moments later we had a small flock of ducks land perfectly in the middle of decoys. We all looked to our guides waiting on the nod to open fire, knowing it was still just a little too early. “Shhhh…….let’s see if we can get some more ducks to fall into these decoys.” said one of the guides as they both started to speak to the waterfowl in the area with their calls. It seemed to be only minutes later and here came another flock and then another. Our hearts pounded ever more rapidly with each bird that landing on the water.

“Look!” loudly whispered one of my friends, “we have another grouping coming from behind us!” “Let’s get these ducks in close and you guys be ready.” said one of the guides. Time seemed to crawl as we watched the birds circle our blind once, then twice, finally cupping their wings as they committed to our set up.  “Alright guys……..NOW!” said the guides, as we fired upon the waterfowl in the air.

The ducks fell as we emptied our shotguns and struggled to reload.  Our excitement was hard to contain and only when we were told that another grouping was coming from the distant tree line, did we quiet down and crouch like cats getting ready to pouch on a mouse, “Get ready boys….here they come…” Suddenly, a sound that could only be described as miniature jet fights comes roaring from behind us right into the decoys, “TEAL!” exclaimed one of the guides, his excitement exceeding our own, ”Take them!”

We shouldered our shotguns and opened fire as they began to drop into the spread. Again firing as quickly as our trigger fingers would allow and even sometimes miscounting how many shells we had left in our firearms.  “Quick!” we would exclaim, “I need more shells!” franticly trying to reload to not miss out on the ducks that were trying to stay close to the decoys. This scene was repeated again as another flock of ducks came from the right of our blind before being met with our waiting trigger fingers.

It was only after this rush of excitement and ducks had slowed that we realized the task that lay ahead of us. In our eagerness of the morning, we failed to ask the question of how the fallen ducks would be retrieved throughout the hunt. We looked at each other almost expecting someone to break out the time-honored game of rock, paper, and scissors to decide who would play bird dog for this round of birds. However, before the first of us could offer this as a solution, one of our guides leaped from the blind to wade across the waist-deep water to collect birds on behalf of the group.

We watched as he waded through the decoys chasing down birds before they were carried away by the slow but relentless current. It was not long after watching his struggle that we decided to clear out the blind and assist in what would become the most unusual Easter egg hunt to be played. Each of us took turns recounting where we saw birds fall or where they were pushed to by the current until we had collected all the birds from the morning’s shoot. We hurriedly waded to the blind to reset for the next grouping of ducks that we felt sure were just out of eyesight.

This action continued for most of the morning, as we would listen to the ducks answer our guide’s calls, and then waiting almost impatiently for one of them to let us fire upon the flocks that had landed and circled the decoys. Finally, topped off with a “field trip” out of the blind to collect our winged prizes in the water, then resetting again with smiles that would revive a child’s at Christmas.

It was not until we had a slight lull, that one of my friends said, “These donuts are great but a real breakfast would be even better” that we were all reminded of our own stomachs that were also craving just a little more than the coffee and donuts we had much earlier that morning. Without missing a beat, the landowner said, “We can go to the big blind and I can make breakfast if you want?”  The looks on our faces must have spoken volumes to the landowner with our excitement and puzzlement of a blind that was bigger than what we were currently using, “Yeah, I have a larger blind that has a kitchen and porch.”  We could not believe what we were hearing and had to at least see this blind that held the possibility of food.

We loaded our gear and left the blind heading for the levee at the edge of the field, still keeping one eye towards the sky in case another group of ducks had planned on dropping into the decoys. Our waders sank into the clay and mud as walked closer to a large grouping of trees that started taking shape into a giant treehouse.  As we walked up the steps of this “blind”, I could not help but think how impossible it was for us not to see this massive structure earlier in the morning and day. It had a large room with a table, chairs, and stove with a porch on two sides of the building that had been brushed in for hunting.

Each of us walked up and down the porch watching for ducks as we stretched our legs while starting to unwind from the morning’s pace of waterfowl hunting. The only thing keeping us from aggressively pursuing more birds was the intoxicating smell of breakfast being cooked inside and the thought of it being gone before you could retrieve your bird. Soon we were told that breakfast was ready and after a pause for a moment of reflection, we began to eat the simple but delicious meal of eggs, bacon, and biscuits. We talked about our hunt and the success that we had and we complemented our host on thinking of everything that would make this hunt second to none.

After finishing our breakfast, the time had come for us to load up the gear and start the hike back towards our trucks for the journey home. We walked through the same woods that seemed to test our determination earlier in the morning but now those same trees seemed to openly accept us as if we had proven our worth to them earlier that day. The silence of the day being broken by the sound of us walking through the water and recounting our adventure to one another until we reached our vehicles.

We spent our time at the vehicles, removing our waders, jackets, and extra gear to prepare ourselves for the drive back home. Our hosts helped us to stow away any last-minute items and also offer ideas for preparing the waterfowl that we had all worked so had to obtain.  After we had all had a chance to thank our landowner and guide for the outstanding hunt, we piled into the truck for the journey back to our homes. As we drove down the road, I reflected on the time that we had spent in the woods and how amazing these opportunities are to experience the natural world.

Contributing Writer: Nicholas Betancourt

Gear used by the author:

Retay Masai Mara 12ga 

American Tactical Imports Cavalry 20ga 

Baschieri & Pellargi Shotshells 

Lacrosse Waders 

Rich N Tone Calls

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