hunting runs deep in my veins. from my earliest daze i have heard stories of the hunt. probably my first actual memory is sitting on the knee of my grandfather, “paw-paw” and hearing him tell me a story of a hunt, replete with sound effects of the dogs driving the deer “aarroot-aarroo” , the “pe-kow” of the shotgun blast; i could feel the excitement of the hunters as they followed the blood trail and the satisfaction when they located the big deer, hearing the description of the antlers made me feel as if i were there with them, with paw paw and uncle pierre and uncle bart and shelaire. i could barely hold a shotgun when i participated in my first “hunt”, a gathering of old men, at least to me as a very young child they seemed like ancient men, with my then young and nimble father present right across the highway from our house in violet, the highway that would in a couple years take my brother and throw my family into the kind of dysfunction that can only occur with the tragic sudden death of a first born son. but that was still years away, and as a five year old youngster, with my big brother watching and my father “helping” me aim the 4-10 shotgun at a poor little rabbit hunching down in the weeds, surrounded by the old men of the family who were encouraging me to “choot him, choot him”, and i being excited and inexperienced and not knowing what the heck i was looking for,,, unable to locate the rabbit in my field of view, i remember paw paw saying “look for his eyes”, and the old men must have been getting frustrated with me not being able to locate the bunny, i remember my dad whispering “squeeze the trigger”,,, so i did so, still not having seen the rabbit,,, and the explosion of the gun, my very own “pe-kow” and,,,,, miracle of miracles, the rabbit rolled, and suddenly, out of the canopy of the grass i could actually see the rabbit, i had hit my previously invisible target. dad seemed as much relieved as proud, his “steadying” my gun had done the trick, somehow, with his help, i had hit the motionless target, and now he was motionless for good. i remember feeling a bit somber,,, i loved watching the bunnies as they hopped in the yard. i remember all of the men talking to me and patting me on the shoulder, i was one of ‘them” now, and truly, i did enjoy it and i have enjoyed it since. the kill has always left me with a tinge of sadness, a bit of regret, but i think that is as it should be. no life should be extinguished without regret. even if with the extinguishing of that life one feeds oneself or ones family, and there were many times when the game brought home from he field was the meat that my children would eat for that week or month.
so yesterday was the opening day of the teal season, a fairly short season early in the year when only one species of duck can be legally taken. teal, a very small variety of duck which fly fast and kind of do an aerial jitterbug, are among the earliest arrivals in the marsh. they fly down just as the daze start getting shorter and stop off in the louisiana marshes and rice fields for a short time on their way to mexico and points further south. as with many species of duck, they arrive overnight in large groups and leave the same way. when the seasons are established by the wildlife biologists they are making educated guesses based on history when the biggest flights of teal should arrive in the louisiana marshes. for the most part, in past years, those guesses have been off. apparently this year is no different.
so we begin the day a bit late, some type of trouble with the trailer lights, get to the boat launch and get into the reggio bayou with no further difficulty. the water is high, but that really makes things easier so we are motoring down the bayou with ease. the ditch appears to our left five minutes from the boat launch and we charge into the ditch at full speed. now this is where things get a bit dicey for me,,, my usual routine was to park the skiff at the head of the ditch, transfer everything to pirogues and paddle in from there. by necessity this is a slow process. nowadays that most hunters have mudboats this can quite conveniently be skipped. we were in an inboard mudboat which is a bit loud and we maintained speed thru the ditch, across the first ponds and into the area where a turn or two is needed and before i knew it i was lost on my own land. getting turned around in the marsh in the dark or fog is easy to do. after fifteen minutes or so we were able to backtrack and find the ditch again and after some insistence that we take it a bit slower the second time around we made it to the pond i hunt in without further incident.
i get to my area toward the rear of the property and get set up without much difficulty, decoys out with my little landing zone between two sets of dekes, wind at my back as i am looking at the water. time for my cup of coffee, the absolute best part of the hunt. pour a cup of coffee and take that first sip. now i have five or six shells ready to be loaded into my shotgun, my shotgun our of the case and leaning against a scrub bush, my steaming coffee in my hand and i am seeing day cracking off to the east. about five minutes till shooting time and i am set up and ready to load my gun when i hear, “quack-quack” right in front of me and then the spadoosh spadoosh of extended webbed feet hitting the water. i heard many of them coming in, eight as it turned out, and they were coming down right in front of me, literally thirty feet or ten paces away. i must have had the biggest smile on my face as i was frozen there trying not to spook them. dux do a few things when they first come into the water, they shake themselves and sometimes they flap wings and these were doing all that sort of stuff, and then they started diving their heads down under the water as the begin eating the vegetation that is just below the surface of the water. it was such a beautiful site as last year the duck season was the worst i had seen in some forty seven years. in another few minutes, right as shooting time is arriving i hear another “quack quack” as another group of dux comes in, landing spadoosh spadoosh again, right in front of me. after what looked like brief introductions the now group of twelve ducks goes back to feasting on the aquatic vegetable banquet that is my duck pond, full of coon tail, duck potato and other delectable delights in the duck world.
now all of this time i am standing up and frozen in my place, gun not loaded and watching the goings on with interest. i proceed to quietly load my shotgun, somewhat surprised that my movement and small amount of noise did not startle the guests,,,, u could tell that they had not been shot at for some time. they looked like the ducks in city park. having been standing for nearly thirty minutes i decided to sit on my shell bucket, which in most cases would have meant the end of our visit as the movement from just thirty feet would have sent the group into hurried flight away from the danger. again, no reaction from the birds, even when my seat snapped shut with a fairly large “craaaak”,,, just a couple of puzzled looks and then they resumed feeding. what a joy it was to watch them. i had more ducks in the pond at that moment than i had for the entirety of the season last year.
after about twenty five minutes they had their fill and jumped up,,, flying in my face and over the blind at about fifteen to twenty feet, heading toward yscloskey in search of what, i don’t know,,, cuz they had all they wanted in the pond where they were,,, but birds will be birds. another few minutes and i hear “quack quack” and spadoosh again. three more in front of me.
this went on for the first hour of the morning. none stayed as long as the first group,,, most leaving after three or four minutes but there were about thirty ducks swimming right in front of me during the first hour of hunting. there were also another twelve to fifteen birds that flew over me. again, more ducks on this morning than in the entirety of the season last year.
with all of the duck action i just enjoyed, and enjoy it i did, not one of those ducks turned out to be a teal duck. at least i don’t think any of them were teal ducks. teal have a rather distinctive flying pattern, they are very fast and do the aerial jitterbug, and they have a distinctive call,, they sound something like “keeeeck-keek-keek-keek-keek”. i knew when i heard those quacks and saw those lumbering b-52 looking birds that teal were not in that mix. a couple of times later in the morning when singles and doubles came screaming in i raised my gun and looked to identify what they were,,,,but as the day progressed i came to realize that, just as it was on that day that i began hunting all those years ago,,, i was unable to see my target.
for the life of me i couldn’t see the birds well enuf to identify their species. back then it was inexperience and being nervous and scared, yesterday it was simply age and the degradation of my eyesight. diabetes is taking my eyes. i noticed it last year when my young neighbor was seeing dux coming toward us that i wasn’t able to pick up. it is significantly worse this year. i remember listening to johnny cash when he said he had an entire library but that he couldn’t read any of it cuz he couldn’t see anymore. i don’t know how long it will be, but some day in the none to distant future i may be unable to hunt cuz i can’t see anymore.
so on opening day, i put my gun aside because i couldn’t see well enough to identify the intended species. i may have to wait to pull the trigger until the ‘big’ duck season when all ducks are open.
i turned around and started chucking plugs into the water, using my grandson’s spiderman zebco rod and reel. all morning redfish had been slapping the surface of the water and fortunately they were still willing to play, so i caught a couple of reds as i waited for my hunting partners to end their morning. they came up soon, just as i broke off a red that was a bit too big for the four pound test that was on the little rig i had bought for my grandson anthony.
all in all it was another wonderful day in the marsh, as i got to see ducks and spend some time communing with my relatives who introduced me to this wonderful way of life. i want to talk to each and every one of them,,, i want to tell them how much it means to me to be able to do this and i want to thank them for this heritage, for being there for me when i was a little boy. i want them to know that i think about them each and every time i go out there, particularly when i am out there with that first cup of coffee from the thermos looking at the stars and over the decoys and getting ready for the beginning of the hunt. the truth is,,, i think they already know,,,, i think they have known for some time,,,, i think that is what they were saying when they were patting me on the shoulder all those years ago,,,, when they were giving me the message that now i was one of “them”,,, thank u for letting me be a member of that age old group.