You know what a duck hunter loves? Lots of water in the winter, that’s what. It has been awhile since we have enjoyed enough floodwater in backwater places to get up to the top of my chest waders. By golly, we have enough now, and ducks have become plentiful in the Ozarks again if you know where to look.
So just a few days ago I loaded the boat and loaded Ol’ Bolt and off we went to a favorite spot from years gone by. There they were, several hundred mallards back in flooded timber just off the lake. Bolt, who is the third or fourth best Labrador in the Ozarks, was awfully excited. He hasn’t been involved in really great conditions for teaching the art of retrieving to a young dog. That was about to change. I hid the boat, covering it with camouflaged decoy bags and other material made for that purpose.
Last week, we knew we had hit the jackpot. You could see he was nearly as excited as I was. We threw out a dozen decoys. Well actually I did that, Bolt just found a trail in the woodlands above us and investigated that.
Then the ducks began to come back. I sighted a drake and three hens out over the lake, and they made a beeline for those decoys. I don’t know if anything is more beautiful than mallards coming into decoys with their wings cupped and red legs extended, the bright sheen of blue-green heads and russet-colored breasts of the mature drakes glistening in the sun as they sail in. I don’t shoot hens… not ever. If you do, you aren’t much of a duck hunter. You might as well pot-shoot quail or shoot turkeys off the roost.
While I never shoot hens, some of my duck hunting buddies would say I don’t shoot the drakes all that well either. As you get older, ducks are faster, and an old shotgun like I have doesn’t pattern as well. But I got that first drake that day and he fell dead about thirty yards out. Bolt came hurtling down through the woods, skeptical, but willing to give me the benefit of the doubt.
The wind from behind us was drifting the dead mallard out into the open water, and I thought it would help him if I threw a rock out that way to give him the direction. However, there were no rocks around so I threw a stick, and Bolt charged into the water with the enthusiasm of a kid on Christmas morning, plowing a great plume of water in his wake, and he had that stick in a matter of seconds.
I realized the stick idea wasn’t going to work. So I waded out toward the drifting duck and tried to give him a hand signal. The duck had drifted behind a stump, Bolt was confused. In my office, he does good with hand signals. I’ll hide sock somewhere and he finds it pretty easily, but there’s never 50 yards between the big Lab and the sock! My socks have perhaps more scent when 15 feet away than a mallard has at 50 yards.
When the dead duck reappeared, Bolt saw it. You could see it in his eyes, the expression on his face… “Hot-dang, that’s a dead duck way out there. The boss finally got one!” He swam out and retrieved that mallard in a flash, and I was standing there like an idiot cheering him on while more mallards came in and flared. I couldn’t care less. Bolt and I had a drake mallard!
Ten minutes later, my poor shooting, which I assure you is just a recent thing, resulted in a drake mallard fluttering down with a broken wing, swimming out about two hundred yards and taking refuge in a flooded brush pile. The two of us walked up the bank and Bolt caught wind of the cripple, though he couldn’t see it. He swam out and flushed the mallard drake and both of them headed for the middle of the lake. At that point, I couldn’t shoot it again because Bolt was too close. The mallard eluded him by diving four times. The fourth time my eager retriever nailed him and brought him back to me.
We were standing there, with me yelling and hollering and bragging on my dog as duck hunters often do, while another flock actually sat down in the decoys 200 yards away. Well, if you wonder why I treasure days like that, and if you think being out there in the wilderness all by yourself with your dog sounds like the last thing you would want to do, I am glad. Really, I kind of like the fact that most people would rather be hard at work in some city office. Maybe that’s why ducks are coming back a little. This year there are more mallards than there has been in quite a few years.
We got another fat drake, Bolt and I. Then I got my camera out and took pictures and for awhile the two of us went up in the woods and explored a little, while other mallards came in with a rush of wings over water, combined with that little chatter wild ducks give forth as they settle in that makes its own special music. Bolt will retrieve lots of ducks this winter, even if I spend too many hours muzzle-loader hunting for deer this week. Some days, we might just do both!
I watch the news on occasion and hunting makes me lots happier. At times, I want to withdraw from this messed up, cock-eyed world. The way to be happy is to never turn on a television.
I don’t want their ‘diversity’ and their ‘tolerance’. I want to see the best of God’s creation and it lifts my spirits when I am a part of it. My soul soars when I can walk through big timber, or paddle alone down a river, or watch the wild creatures over a marsh. I want to be around people who feel like I do, people who never imagined that a time would come when wrong is right and right is wrong.
I long for the way of life I saw as a boy here in the Ozarks and wonder if there is a place anymore for men like me. I want to see leaders like Abe Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Ronald Reagan. Now we choose between people like Clinton, Obama, Bush and Trump. We will have the president which NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN and Gannett want us to have. You and I both know who that is! She never ever hunted ducks.
Thank God today’s news people weren’t in charge of America in World War II. We could never have won. I don’t think the bulk of those journalists of our new era care if Christianity, country and conservation remain.
But when I am in the woods or on the river, far from those great herds of people who live more and more in confusion and chaos, I hear a voice saying not to worry because He is still watching, still working, still waiting. Television may make you think otherwise, but there are a lot of good people left in the Ozarks, and still a semblance of God’s perfection which hangs on in remote places. You cannot watch a flock of circling mallards, or see a mink play along a stream, and give any thought to what is going on in places like Los Angeles or Chicago or New York.
And I might add that grilled duck breasts, when done just right in the peaceful solitude of the back porch of my little cabin on Panther Creek, are better eating than the best steak at the Waldorf