One of the benefits or being retired is that one get's to do pretty much what one wants to do. One of the drawbacks of being retired is that, usually, in order to achieve that goal you have to get older. For some that means forever waking up long before the rooster crows and not being able to get back to sleep. Such was the case every day for the old decoy carver. No matter, really: he had always been much better at getting up early than he was at staying up late. When 4:30 am rolled around he knew there was no sense tossing and turning in bed. All he would accomplish by doing that was to become agitated, or worse, wake up his soundly sleeping wife. He decided to take the high road and quietly slipped out of bed and readied himself for the day.
When he entered the kitchen he was pleased to see that there was still some of yesterday's coffee left in the pot. Thankful it hadn't been emptied, he poured himself a cup and placed it in the microwave. Sometimes modern technology wasn't so bad. When the bell rang, announcing the arrival of another cup of hot liquid, he removed it from the microwave, took a long sip and headed up to the shop. The first thing on today's agenda was to get some paint on a few decoys. He had decided last night that he would work for a few hours, and then load his scull boat in the truck and go to the lake to see if any ducks were available to hunt.
While he was painting the white chest and neck lines of pintail drakes, he'd periodically glance out the window and search for the light of the dawn. Shoot time this morning was at 6:08, but since it was overcast he knew it would be later than that before there would be enough available light to see much. Somewhere near the stroke of 7 the old carver decided it was time to stop painting and start loading the gear. After cleaning up and loading the boat and equipment into the truck, he went back downstairs, slipped into his bedroom and gently kissed his wife. As her eyes opened, he told her where he was going, said that he loved her, and went upon his way. Over 32 years of marriage this was a scene that had played out many times.
After fueling the truck he drove to the lake, anticipating a great day. Instead of heading up the freeway he decided that today he'd make the run through the country. It was a little slower, but really: did it matter? Besides, there was more to see and enjoy by going the back route. Well, usually there was more to see. Today, however, the valley was encased in a blanket of fog, which made seeing much of anything rather difficult. "No matter," he thought to himself, "there's never any fog on the water, so I'll be able to see just fine when I get there." Nature had other plans, and when he arrived at the lake it too was covered in fog. "Oh well," he thought, "it is what it is."
After scouting as best he could, the old carver picked a launch point and got the boat in the water. After parking the truck he walked back down to the boat. It was a good boat: a Nellist...one of the biggest and roomiest scull boats there was. It was exceedingly stable, and he never worried about an unintentional swim. As he was putting on he grey facemask, he noticed a flock of ducks winging their way into the launch cove. Stopping what he was doing, he quickly pick up his binoculars and glassed the birds. It was a group of approximately 15 ringnecks, but there, buried in the middle, was a drake redhead. There was no mistaking that stubby red head, fat body and bluish bill. When the birds landed in the far back corner of the cove, he decided that the redhead would be his first target, and he settled into the scull and set out in pursuit.
He decided the best approach would be at an angle from the far shore, so he sculled across the cove, then turned and started toward the birds. It was easy enough to pick out the redhead among the ringnecks, and he kept a slow, steady pace in that bird's direction. Closer and closer he crawled. 50 yards, 40.....20 yards: time to shoot. He mounted the gun to his shoulder as he sat up and killed the red head as it started off the water. For good measure he added one of the ringnecks to the bag.
After retrieving the two downed birds, he oared the boat over to the shore, turned the bow to the open water, and just sat for awhile. There had been birds in the cove when he arrived that had flown off, and there was always the possibility they would return. He figure the chances were good given the fact that a few other birds had filtered in during his scull. After a wait of about 10 minutes and green winged teal came darting into the back of the cove, and made the mistake of coming to near the waiting gun. He retrieved that bird, and sat awhile longer to see what would happen, but nothing else came in, so he decided to ply his trade elsewhere.
Staying to the north side of the long cove on the way out, the old carver would periodically raise the binoculars and check ahead. "Hmm," he thought, "there's some mudhens, and a bufflehead, and say...there's a couple of wigeon!" Since a new target had been acquired, he settled in and started a more serious scull. 75 yards. 50 yards. The mudhens were moving out. But now the wigeon started swimming down the shoreline. Rats! He knew he couldn't outrun birds that didn't want to be caught, but these birds didn't really seem alarmed. They appeared to merely be searching for a new feeding area, so he followed them. The wigeon swam around a rocky point and into another cove, so the old carver reached across his chest, grabbed the oar with his right hand and started oaring more forcefully in order to gain some ground while the birds could not see the movement of the boat. Just before the boat arrived at the rocky point, the old carver eased off, got back under the oar with his left hand, and started to finesse his way along the shore. As the nose of the scull crept aound the point, he could make out not two, but three wigeon on the far side of the cove feeding within inches of the shoreline. At this point the birds were more concerned with their stomach than anything else...a costly mistake as it turned out. 75 yards. 50 yards. 30 yards. 20 yards...time for the shot. The old carver sat up and fired three times...and 2 wigeon lay motionless on the water.
At this point it was time to beach the boat, take a short break and get some water. It was also time to shed the long john top. The old carver knew that time time of the year was tricky. It could be 20 degrees in the morning, and 65 during the afternoon. Dressing in layers was the key in this situation.
Once he was rested and back in the water, the old carver eased the scull around the next point and began slowly glassing the area. In front of him were many mudhens with their heads bobbing and their white bills flashing in the sun. Odd birds he thought, to bad they aren't better eating. It wasn't long before he spied a small flock of ringnecks in the back of the cove behind the furthest muudhens. With his head against the transom, eyes barely peeking over the top of the forward cockpit, he ever so slowly inched the scull boat forward. As he came close to the seemingly never ending line of mudhens, they would slowly move away from the boat. He knew the real trick here was to go slow enough as to not startle the mudhens so they wouldn't fly and ruin the sneak. As the mudhens moved away the ringnecks started to take notice of the boat. They started to move to their right. The carver adjusted the boat and moved to his left. The ringnecks turned and swam further into the cove. When the ringencks moved right, the carver moved left. When they moved left, he moved right. It was a chess match the carver and the birds had played out many, many times over the years. It was impossible to tell who would win until the final move. 80 yards. 70 yards. The cove was beginning to tighten. 50 yards. The birds were nervous now. 40 yards. At this point they could stand it no longer and took flight. Unfortunately nature had designed them to fly along the water before they could gain any altitude. The old carver knew that if he didn't sit p too soon the ringencks might possibly fly right at him instead of veering to the side too soon. He was right. At 20 yards he sat up and shot twice, and killed the last 2 ducks of the day's limit.
The old carver sat there in the boat for awhile before heading back to the launch, reflecting on the day, and his mind turned to the past. He went back to the times he was in the gunner position while John Hayden worked the oar, always explaining every move. He thought back on how John constantly taught him what to do, and what not to do...and why. Without those times, and all that John had given him, he knew that days like this would never be possible.He was truly thankful for that each and every time he got under the oar.
Smiling, the old carver put the kayak paddle together, got up on his knees and started the journey back to the ramp. He whistled a little tune, and keep time by the sound of the oars against the water. This was Paradise....something he would never take for granted.