Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Lies a huntress tells herself & loved ones

"I'm not going out tomorrow."
- Me, to my boyfriend, Tuesday, acknowledging I was coming down with a cold

"I’m tempted to try to go to Delevan today ... just to get a last hurrah before this storm hits my body. But I know that’s stupid.
- Me, to my friend Dana, by email this morning

Yeah, so my boyfriend came down with this nasty cold last weekend and it took him out of our Sunday hunt, which was a drag. Then I started coming down with it, and, uh, I've got plans. But I was going to be a good girl. I canceled my planned Thursday hunt with Dana, who does not desire this cold for herself. And I decided to stay home today so I could fight the cold fast and be well for our planned Sunday hunt with our friend Matt.

Then I heard it on the radio: High winds.

"Dammit!" I yelled in the general direction of my boyfriend. "Did you hear that???"

High winds can produce some really nice duck hunting. We've had a run of windless days, and now that I was laid up, here was the wind. Eleven days to go before the season's over. Me at home. On a refuge hunt day.


Boyfriend walked in to see what the caterwauling was about. I showed him the forecast for the happiest place on earth, Delevan National Wildlife Refuge: 15 mph north and northwest winds, gusts up to 24 mph.

"You know... " he said. My loving co-conspirator. We hatched a plan: I should hunt today, because even if it made me sicker, I'd've at least gotten out in the good duck weather, which surely would not stay with us until our Sunday hunt.

That's how I found myself out in Pond 11 today, blazing away at ducks and snow geese struggling mightily to advance in the crazy north wind. Everything was flying low!

But wow, everything was really hard to hit. I missed a lot. My first hit was a snow goose, but geese are hard to take down, unless you hit their wings or their heads. I saw him do a bit of a mid-air stagger, but he kept flapping those massive wings.

Man, he's probably gonna just drop somewhere else and die.

I was disgusted. Minutes later, though, as I was shifting my position in my pond, I saw a snow goose sail in front of me, obviously struggling. It sailed past my pond and dropped into the next one.

I started hoofing it over there. If it wasn't mine, it was at the very least karma: I hit a goose, I got a goose. When I got to the edge of my pond, I could see that goose in the next pond - in the water, head down, dead.

And there was a canal between me and the next pond.

Crap, was I going to have to hike around the canal? Should I try to cross it?

Just then, Providence sent me a little gift: two hunters calling it a day, walking toward me, on the other side of the canal. They saw me looking flustered about that goose. Using hand signals - with wind like that, there's just no point talking - I made my plight clear. One of them fetched that goose and tossed it over the canal for me. Wow. Yay!

Yes! I wouldn't go home empty handed. At this stage in my education as a hunter, merely having one bird in hand is success.

But... I really wanted one that I knew for sure was my shot. The only problem was I just kept missing everything. As I was standing in a clump of tules wondering why I sucked so bad, I saw a duck drop into the water in front of me, maybe 50-60 yards out. Taunting distance.

I watched her. I watched geese overhead. She swam away. She swam back. Then something amazing happened: She lifted off the water, and flew straight toward me. This never happens!

I stood and fired. Missed. Fired again. Missed again. Fired a third time, and thank God I actually hit her. She sailed down in front of me, hitting water where I couldn't see her because tules obstructed my view. I stumbled out of my clump of tules, falling to my knees in the water and lurching out of the water just as quickly. Must not lose this duck!

When I rounded the corner to look where she should be, she was actually there. I picked her up: hen gadwall. Sweet.

Not long after this, while I was blazing away at and missing a variety of other ducks, I realized I was running out of shells. I remembered the scene from that morning when I was getting ready to head out.

I grabbed my bag of 25 shells from the safe. They were all counted out perfectly, and for good reason: There's a 25-shell limit when you're out in the field on public refuges here. You can go back to your car for more, but I have never done that. I'm usually so far from my car that it wouldn't be worth it. Why bother bringing extras?

I closed the safe.

Then I opened it again and grabbed another box to leave in my car.

Whew! Turns out my blind today was literally a stone's throw from my car. I went back for a refill and returned to the blind.

I was grateful for the reload, because I shot a lot after that. But I didn't hit a damned thing. I would have to settle for what I had in hand - which was so much better than how I did last year as a new huntress that I was pretty happy.

And by the time I got back to my car, I was pretty beat. Felt great during the hunt, but pulling up the decoys and hauling them across the water turned out to be a huge ordeal in the wind. By the time I got everything back on my game cart, my chest was heaving from the effort.

Not good when you have a cold.

As I headed home, I fantasized about a nice hot toddy and prayed that I hadn't just given myself pneumonia.

Who knows. Everything else went great today - maybe I'll get lucky on this one too.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008


The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Well played!
I'm thrilled for you. It sounds as though your really getting the knack for it

Blessed said...

Congrats - that sounds like a great day! I'm trying to decide between duck hunting and deer hunting for next year since I won't get to do much of either until the little one gets bigger... more stories like this one and it will be duck hunting for sure!

NorCal Cazadora said...

Thanks, SBW and Blessed!

I tell you, Blessed, I'm gonna go deer hunting this year, but I can't imagine how it can hold a candle to duck hunting - the challenge of the moving target; the fact that you typically get many opportunities in every hunt, so you get a lot of practice; the fact that you fill your freezer bit by bit with one- or two-serving birds.

I know, I know. I am a quack addict.

Anonymous said...

"A quack addict"? Oh, Holly.

Well, it sounds like you made a good choice. There's always time to have a cold. There are only so many good days to duck hunting.

Phillip said...

Glad you got out there, Holly! It should've been a great day... the only thing that might've made it better was a spitting rain.

Of course, now you're gonna have to fight that cold twice as hard.

SHOT Show is right around the corner!

Ken said...

Is Hank a co-conspirator, Holly, or a co-dependent?


NorCal Cazadora said...

Actually, Ken, Hank acted in self-interest. It was his suggestion that I stay home on Wednesday to preserve my health, and when I acquiesced, I told him I was doing it just so that he'd have to listen to my health advice (like, "You should put ice on that") one of these days.

Now he's off the hook!

HELLEK said...

You are a madwoman! Hope you're feeling well. Who knows? Maybe a day out in the tules was just what the doctor ordered... at least for your spirits, anyway!

NorCal Cazadora said...

I'm actually not feeling too bad - probably no worse than I would've felt if I'd sat home all day staring at my laptop.

A little Sudafed at 3 a.m. tomorrow and I'll be ready for the marsh again.

Only four hunts left in the season!

Happiernmost said...

Holly...I love your stories and photos!!! It really resonates the things I know alot about (like not making every shot, tee hee) but have never seen in print. Thanks for the hunt last week at Yolo. Keep penning so we women waterfowlers have a place to connect!

NorCal Cazadora said...

Thanks, Happier!

I think writing about mistakes amd missed shots is actually really important! When I started hunting, I thought I should be a crack shot, like the guys on TV. Reality is, most people miss a fair bit.

That said, I'd still like to be a crack shot so I could write stories about limiting out with just seven shells. But then everyone would think I was a liar...