50 years in the Marsh……
As I complete my 50th season hunting ducks, it is a good time to take a breath, and stop for a moment. Stop and Thank God, my Dad, family and friends for memories that are seared into my mind and heart. One of God's greatest gifts to us is the gift of memories.......
Most hunters know what I am talking about. Things like the excitement as a kid to be hunting with my dad and brothers, first ducks, first goose, warm weather blue-bird days to freezing and rain soaked days.
Shooting ‘lights out’ and shooting that ‘bent barrel’.
Trying to sleep in a station wagon with my dad and 2 brothers…waiting for the Kern check station to open. Whispering to my brothers, while we all listened to dad snoring. The check station back then was up next to the highway, with a bright light at night. It lit up our car more than once which also made it hard to sleep. A Lutheran church in Delano came out to sell chili to hunters as a fundraiser. Then to be able to walk all over Kern back in the 60’s. Free roaming as far as the eye could see to this kid. Listening to a hunter scream at his dog, named “Budweiser”…over and over again in the distance.
Years later, getting a phone call that my dad had a fatal heart attack while hunting Kern, unit 1 in our family’s ‘spot’. The rush to the hospital, arriving before he passed and having that moment with him and the family….and remembering he had always said: “When I die, I want to either go while hunting, or in the arms of my wife”. He was hunting when he had the heart attack, and my mom did hold him before he passed, and he assured her that if this was his time, he was ready. While he was too young to leave us, I can’t imagine a more fitting way for him to go. Faith in God has always served our family well and never more than at that moment.
Hunting Wister as well as the edge of the Salton Sea. Being too young yet to shoot, but my brother and me building a ‘raft’ out of old branches tied together with long grass and weed stems we found around the sea, only to find it would not float. All the while as my dad tried to hunt a short distance away. My first Honker on my 14th birthday at Wister.
The look on my dad’s face …. You could tell he was so happy and proud. He knew I was hooked long before this day….probably after I shot 7 teal in 20 minutes at age 12 with my single shot 20 gauge….., but I believe this ‘sealed the deal’ in his mind.
The time we all hunted Wister in a dry field for snow geese, using white paper plates as the main decoy in our spread of a dozen shells. Laying on our backs on the ground, and wondering why my older brother had not shot at a goose 10 yards over his head – only to find he was sound asleep in his layout position.
Trips to Tule Lake, and hunting with Shell Bloch (guide). Shell was rough around the edges but he put us on the ducks and geese. Shot my first ever greenhead up there. Staying at the Ellis Motel and thinking it could not get any better. God, it was so much better than sleeping in a car. Being yelled at by Shell because I identified a bird I shot as a gadwall hen, when it was really a mallard hen. Standing in front of the Mallard processing center to take pictures of our birds, lots of Honkers, and a trip my younger brother and I took back to Tule, dedicated to my dad after he had passed. We even caught a high school football game going on during that trip. 9 on 9 football since the schools had smaller enrollment. I think Tule high only had a total of 11 players suited up.
Showing up at 6am on many shoot days at Sac refuge, kicking rocks waiting to get a refill spot. Hot coffee and a breakfast bar, talking to others also waiting for guys to come in. Meeting Rudy Burriani, even Sac Bob in line. You can make some good friends waiting at a check station. Attending a cleanup day and meeting Dan Mallia for the first time. This has become a very special life-long friendship to my family. Hunting with Dan and his dad has been as enjoyable as any.
Putting decoys away in the truck at Merced refuge parking lot, and noticing a face nearby that looked so familiar. Who is that guy? Then, realizing it was Lame-duck. Introducing myself to him and another amazing friendship began. From that moment on, he and I have shared great moments in the marsh, at dinners and breakfasts, and on the phone. He has my respect and I am grateful for duck hunting to have introduced us to each other.Watching my son get his first duck, hen pintail – at Mendota. It was even more special because my dad was along and he had Mike use his shotgun for that first bird. It was 3 weeks later that my dad passed. That moment when my son shot that bird, and my dad’s excitement as well as mine…..it’s ‘burned’ into my soul.
Deciding to join a club and having my son and then my brother as partners in the membership. Finally, knowing I always had a ‘reservation’ waiting for me each opening day. Decoys already set. Not having to haul decoys on my back for each hunt. A Trailer to sleep in, a place for a BBQ, new friends to share the BS that comes along with hunting stories.
My grandson’s first visit to the marsh. The questions they had, the energy they brought. S’mores around the fire and just listening to them laugh. Giving them a ride to the blind for pictures and to answer many more questions about the marsh, blinds and ducks. Hearing them say the word “Shoveler” for the first time at age 3.
And then this year…my 50th as a duck hunter. Memories of a triple on mallards, an all drake GW Teal day (twice), seeing more canvasbacks than I have ever seen before, with many actually landing in the decoys after our limits were taken. Hunting with family and good friends. My annual father-son-nephew trip that can’t be beat. Sunrises and sunsets. Long days in the blind staring at blue sky, and times when birds were everywhere. Days when I never shouldered my gun to a day when I was done by 8am. Lots of good meals shared around a fire. Lots of stories told…..some even true
There is nothing like sitting in a blind, talking with your son over the years. So many stories shared, life experiences discussed. Advice given out – wanted or not. Special moments that only we experienced…together, in the marsh. My Life has certainly been enriched through these moments.
Years and years of stories, of memories. Family time, new friends made and old friendships enriched. New places to hunt and old familiar ponds.
The past 50 years have flown by – just like the thousands of birds I have seen overhead. I don’t know what the future has in store for me as a waterfowler, but I pray I will be able to continue making memories. Memories for myself, and all those that hunt with me.
Don’t take for granted the time you have in this life. Live with passion, hunt with passion, and be sure those you come in contact with go away with good and lasting memories.
So, here is to all of us celebrating this sport as we end 2013-14. Here is a picture of my brother and I at the blind after we each got our 7 Teal Saturday.... (after 3 drakes to start my day, I had to try for my 2nd all drake GW's of the season
..and I got it):