Again in story form:
The old carver put another log in the wood stove, and thought about where he might hunt the next morning. He'd been spending quite a bit of time in the shop, and needed to get out again, but what he really wanted to do was to put that one last goldeneye decoy in the water and see what would happen. It would be nice to actually get to hunt over one of his own decoys instead of just finishing them and sticking them in the mail for others to use. He turned his back to the stove so his tired bones could soak up some of the heat: “The river,” he thought, “I do believe I'll try the river in the morning.” There was always a good number of goldies on the river this time of the season, so tomorrow he'd place his one lone goldeneye decoy in the water with a few bluebills and mallards and see what might want to visit. With that he headed up to the shop, gathered his gear and loaded in in the back of the truck. “Better now than in the morning in the dark” he thought to himself.
The deciding of “where in general” was easy enough, but now he had to consider “where specifically” he would go. The gravel bar? No, the water was to low for that to attract anything right now. How about just down from where the creek came in? No, maybe another time, but not tomorrow. Say, what about that place up there under the oaks? It always seemed to hold wigeon and goldeneyes, and he'd never tried it before. What better place to take a decoy that had never been in the water than a place he'd never tried? So then, it was decided...under the oaks it would be.
The next morning the old carver rolled out of bed just before 5 O'Clock. Shooting time was at 6:50, but it was a short drive with minimal set up, so he did not feel the need to be out in the cold any earlier than necessary. He packed a light lunch, warmed up the truck and headed to the Shell filling station. The pick-up itself had plenty of fuel, but there was the matter of an empty thermos that had to be taken care of. He smiled to himself and he rolled along, “Gotta love a small town where you can get your thermos filled for a buck!” he thought.
The drive up the gravel road that ran along the river was as familiar as the old carver's walk up his own sidewalk. He'd been doing it for 25 years, and other than a little need for some maintenance nothing had really changed. After dropping off his gear just above where he'd hunt, he moved the pick-up a couple hundred yards away from his hunt location. No reason to signal his presence to the birds. Putting out the decoys was somewhat of an adventure this morning. He'd never been in the water here, and it was rockier than he'd expected, so the old carver just put his tranny down in Granny gear and took his time. It wouldn't matter really, he only had 12 floating birds and 6 standing. He finished the decoy set and made his way to shore and stood beside the well used layout blind: his watch told him he had 10 minutes until shoot time was officially begun. Looking up he could already see a flock of ducks gliding into the river upstream of him. “Gonna be a good day” he thought. He settled into the blind, loaded his Browning and watched the skies.
At 2 minutes after shoot time a flock of wigeon locked onto the mallard decoys, lowered the landing gear, and silently slipped down on the water. The old carver popped up and fired one shot, killing his first duck of the day. His lab, Hannah, was more than willing to rush out into the cold water and retrieve the day's first prize. The old carver could have easily killed more than one bird, but the rule here on the river was one duck in the current at a time. Hannah was a good dog, but no dog could be expected to get out and back with the first bird before the second had been carried away downstream.
Twice in the next half an hour there were pods of buffleheads in the decoys. At one point a drake and two hens sat in the water a mere 10 feet from the hunter and dog. But today they were safe: the old carver had determined to wait for bigger birds, which on this river meant wigeon, goldeneyes and the occasional mallard. As the light of the morning grew stronger he got a good look at his goldeneye decoy as it bobbed along among his 5 bluebill neighbors. It looked good. It rode the water well. The colors were good. It had a profile that could not be mistaken for anything other than what it was intended to be.
The morning flight wasn't hot and heavy, but it was active enough to maintain one's interest. By the time noon rolled around the layout blind held 3 goldeneyes and 3 wigeon. The day had been good. Twice he had worked flocks of wigeon as they circled and circled until finally agreeing to try and land with the decoys. Twice goldeneyes came from down river and landed just past the old carver's goldeneye decoy. Once several mergansers had swam into the decoys. One bird came so near the blind she almost touched the old carvers feet at the bottom of the blind. At one point he was treated to the sight of 5 river otters swimming through the decoys, periodically raising themselves part way out of the water to get a better look at the fake birds. Once, as the old carver sat silently in his blind, a kingfisher flew less than 2 feet from his head.
Just before the old carver decided it was time to head for the barn, Hannah started growling while looking down stream. “Knock it off!” he quietly scolded, but she she continued. The old carver turned his head to see what she might be looking at, and was greeted with the crouching figure of a lady with binoculars, a birdwatcher, as she stalked forward trying to get a better look at his goldeneye decoy. “Well now” he thought to himself, “I suppose if that decoy can fool a birdwatcher with a pair of binoculars at 40 yards it must be a pretty good one!” When the lady lowered her glasses and strained her eyes to get a better look, the old carver simply said, “Hello!” The lady almost jumped out of her skin! “Oh, I'm so sorry!” she cried. “It's OK” he assured her, “you're not bothering anything. I made that decoy, by the way.” “Well” she chuckled, “that explains a lot, I could not understand why it wasn't moving!” Hunter and birdwatcher both laughed and had a good chat. When the lady left, the old carver decided to call it a day. After all, there was hot chocolate to drink back at the house, and he sure couldn't get it from the bank of the river.