As Scott and I looked out over the sunny marsh, I knew the season was over. The season had been ended by neither the predetermined end date set forth by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife nor by the closing of the given area in which we hunt. As we sat in our waders and watched the decoys rock against the light, wind-driven waves, it was evident there was little reason to return during the remaining week of the season.
It was a disappointing end to a season with which I had held such hope. The 2010 / 2011 waterfowl season was my first since returning from spending a bit of time overseas. I had missed the previous season in its entirety and had relied on Scott’s accounts to tide myself through the torture of knowing duck hunting was afoot absent me. But as October came and the months trailed through to January, it became clear that while I would be blessed just to be afield, I would not have the banner year for which I’d so very much hoped.
Cycles, I suppose, are a natural (albeit maddening) aspect of hunting. As one needs true darkness to put light into perspective, seasons without remark are necessary evils to truly allow us to know, understand, and revel in those seasons which are truly astounding. Rather than lament about my present situation, I instead chose to reflect on the truly memorable seasons past.
The first memory which came to mind was the first year we (Scott, Dad, and I) truly figured out how to hunt our now-favorite area. After a few years of randomly wandering from dike to pond to marshy point, I finally had the patience and common sense to stop, look around, and take into account my surroundings and the manner in which the birds interacted with same. The result? The very next hunt ended with smoking barrels, a dog-tired retriever, and smiles all around. I suspect we offset our loss of packing weight in shells with the added weight of several harvested birds.
The benefit of having patterned our given area wasn’t truly realized until the following season. The same hunt location was augmented by three new additions to the group: Michael (Scott’s son), Levi (present-day PTO field staffer), and a canoe. When the shooting at our given location slowed, the boys would load up in the S.S. Cootslayer and madly paddle toward the various sloughs and marshy inlets surrounding the hunt area. The benefits were multifaceted. The boys worked off the excess of energy kids their age generally possess and they were able to get into pockets of birds untouched by their landlocked competition. In addition, the birds they stirred up usually worked their way back to our decoys, adding to the already excellent action we’d come to expect.
The laughs, too, were worth the price of admission. We would see the boys disappear in the distance, invariably rounding some marshy pocket into which they would find birds. Shortly, the sounds of rapid, frantic shooting would drift across the marsh. This progression would repeat itself several times until both boys, sweaty from paddling, would return to the island for more ammunition, water, and food. Often, even after volley after volley of offensive cover fire was laid down, the boys would still only have a coot or two to show for it. The smiles, however, were totally worth the cost of shells.
The following season was also worthy of reflection. In addition to several local hunts, Dad and I wandered north for a couple of days afield in Richland, Washington. The first day ended one bird shy of our two-man limit of corn-fed mallards, though I almost strangled Gunny for his shenanigans in the blind. The second day, though, was textbook. Hunting out of layout blinds in the sage brush bordering a grass field, Dad and I hammered honker after honker as they lit among dozens of dozens of Dave Smith decoys. I had never experienced allowing a flock of twenty to land in order to avoid busting the hundred-strong flock on their heels. It was easily the most memorable honker hunt I’ve experienced to date.
Not every hunt is memorable for its barrel-warping rapid fire sessions or repetitive demonstrations of exhibition-level shooting prowess. Indeed, it would seem mishaps also lend themselves to humorous reflection. One such hunt involved a trip to an Eastern Oregon reservoir. The plan was simple: As Scott had to coach football the previous evening, Gunny and I would take all of the requisite goose gear to the campsite the previous afternoon. Scott would head our way after practice, likely arriving late in the evening.
As with many plans, this one took a drastic deviation relatively quickly. Upon arriving at the camp site, I hopped on Scott’s quad and motored around the reservoir scouting for birds and potential blind locations. The water had receded and, in its absence, the ground had been reduced to a boot-sucking mire hidden under the freshly-sprouted grasses. In an instant, the quad was buried to its fenders. Rescue by manpower alone was not an option.
I’ve been told idle hands are the Devil’s workshop. And indeed, the saying is true. With nothing but time on my hands prior to Scott’s arrival, a recovery plan for the quad was hatched. I would ease my pickup out toward the quad, attempting to get close enough to attach recovery line and pull it to safety. As you can see from the picture above, the plan had a glitch. The result? Two stuck vehicles.
Thankfully, whether by divine intervention or a stroke of pure luck, I was able to raise Scott via cell phone in an area otherwise known to be seven miles from the most faint of cellular service. He had initially planned to drive a car to the camp site. Obviously, my current situation required a more robust selection of vehicles, requiring Scott to turn around, return home, and trade car for truck.
My truck was recovered late in the evening. The quad was pulled to safety the following day. No birds fell to our guns. Comedy is as easily remembered as triumph.
The gang has also had great success in southern Oregon. Two years in a row resulted in phenomenal hunting for late season specks in the Klamath Falls area. Darren Roe of Roe Outfitters (www.roeoutfitters.com) showed us a great time and, as the birds cooperated, we were able to put Scott’s dad, Bud, and his youngest boy, Kraig, in layouts for some amazing goose hunting.
Both the hunting and the company were so good, in fact, we returned the following year. The results were the same. Darren showed us a great time, the birds worked as they should, and Scott, Dad, Bud, and I experienced yet another memorable couple of days afield.
And so, while the passing of a sub par waterfowl season saddens me, my melancholy is greatly offset by the memories of hunts past and the promise of more amazing hunts to come.