When Boyfriend and I went out for one of our last hunts of the season at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area today, we set our expectations low. It was going to be bright and sunny with very little wind. And I'd been skunked on my last two trips to Yolo.
But the wind picked up unexpectedly, and there were plenty of ducks flying around. In very short order, I had gotten my first ever ruddy duck, and my first ever greenwing teal, a beautiful and tasty little duck.
Boyfriend got a scaup, and later a gadwall. Our friend Matt got his first snow goose. And his buddy Mike - a longtime deer hunter new to waterfowling - got his first duck ever: a scaup.
When I picked up my second duck, I had a feeling that would be it for me today. But hope springs eternal, because what I really wanted was a pintail drake, also known as a bull sprig. I've never gotten one. Seemed like it was about time.
The problem was that the guys in the neighboring blind had a fantastic setup - they brought a spinning-wing decoy that simulates the flapping wings of a landing duck, while we'd left our wind-powered spinning decoy at home. And they had a kite that looked like a snow goose getting ready to land.
That blind was like a black hole that sucked in all the pintails in the area. Those birds wouldn't even look at us.
I was watching as about half a dozen went in almost on top of those hunters, as sure and steady as a flock of 747s coming in for a synchronized landing. Bam bam bam bam bam! One bird dropped. The rest flew off.
I watched, just in case the ducks' IQ might drop enough for them to head our way. And as one of the hunters in the blind went out to pick up that bird, I saw one of the other birds in that flock swing around low and unsteady. He'd been hit.
Come near me! If I'm the one who knocks you down, you're mine.
As the bird flew along about 100 yards from me, it dropped suddenly, as if it had been shot again. But it hadn't. It just couldn't go anymore.
I looked back to the other blind. No one got up. Those guys hadn't seen the bird go down. They didn't know they'd hit it.
Well, hell, I'll go get it. I'm not letting a bird go waste.
As I charged toward the spot where the bird dropped - just across a road that bordered our pond - I had a conversation with my conscience.
If I had fired the finishing shot on a wounded bird, I'd have no qualms claiming that bird as mine. But this was their shot, clean and simple. I'll go find it, and hand it to them. Good karma.
When I got to the road and looked around, I couldn't see the duck. Then I looked a little farther to my right, and there he was, in the water, head up.
He saw me, and bolted for the edge of the pond, where he could hide in the grass. I quickly lifted my gun and fired where I saw him dive for cover, then rushed to the spot. And there he was. Bull sprig. Oh, how I wanted a bull sprig.
As I got up to walk back, I saw that one of the hunters from that blind was headed my way. We met, in the middle of the water.
"You didn't see him fall, did you?" I asked. "He flew over here, then just dropped."
"I owe you a shell," he said, handing me one of his.
"I shoot 20 gauge," I said. "But my friends shoot 12. I'll give it to them."
And I walked back to my blind.
Dude, the only reason you know you hit this bird is because I went and got it for you.
I guess I'll never know, will I?
All I know is the ducks I got today, I got honestly.
© Holly A. Heyser 2008