Sunday afternoon was my second crappy hunt in a row, and I was grumpy as hell.
The first bad hunt was on Christmas Eve at one of our club's properties. That could be a whole story unto itself, but suffice it to say we did not get any ducks, we did not see any ducks, we did not fire any shots, and no the gate wasn't unlocked like we were told it would be, and no, the blind was in the fifth check, not the fourth, like were were told (and like the map indicated), which of course we couldn't see at 5:30 a.m. in the rain on a moonless morning, and yes, when we finally found the pit blind, it was flooded. But we're not bitter, even though this club membership costs four times what we spend hunting public refuges.
But really, I'm over it. And Sunday would be better, because we were planning to hunt the Delevan National Wildlife Refuge, right?
When we pulled in, we were pleased to see hardly anyone ahead of us in line waiting for blinds. But we couldn't hear much shooting either. We waited for decent options, and it came down to this choice: Blind 28, next to a southern closed zone and a 1.7-mile walk from the nearest parking lot, or Blind 1, very close to the check station next to the northern closed zone. I'd hunted both before and gotten decent shooting opportunities.
I asked Diane, my favorite check station employee, what she thought.
"I don't know," she said. "One's good if you have cover. They got four birds out of it this morning."
Cover? Hmm, I'd just gotten some camo netting. I wasn't sure what the problem was at Blind 1, but we decided to go for it. The shooting probably wasn't going to be good, and at least this one would be a shorter walk.
When we walked out, we realized what she'd meant.
Here's what Blind 1 looked like when I hunted there with my friend Evan last year. Note the little clumps of tules that a hunter can hide in/behind:
And here's what it looked like on Sunday:
Seriously, what the hell is wrong with some hunters? The beauty of Delevan is that you don't have to hunt beat-down pit blinds - each "blind" is really an island of clumps of tules where you can hide yourself, and move around as the day's flight dictates.
But it seemed that hunters using Blind 1 this year had made a special point of tromping down every damn bit of green there was. We were aghast.
Some hunters had put up improvised blinds, though, bringing in eucalyptus branches to create some artificial cover. Boyfriend parked near that setup, and I began efforts to get creative with my camo netting.
What happened next was a complete reversal of last weekend's hunt: Boyfriend started getting ducks, and no matter where I was positioned, it was the wrong place. The very few shots I fired did not hit any ducks. Pissiness welled up in me, and Boyfriend, being the only human in earshot, bore the brunt of it.
To make matters worse, the weather forecast had been completely wrong. It was supposed to be in the mid-40s, with the light south wind diminishing as the day went on, so we dressed light - no sweaters under our jackets.
What actually happened, though, is that the wind changed directions and hurled in from the north at about 15 mph. I'm not sure what the temperature was, but I'm pretty sure wind chill put it somewhere in the 30s. Not bad - I mean, I used to live in Minnesota, so I can handle cold - but not what we'd dressed for.
Now, a 15 mph wind is normally a great thing for duck hunting - stirs 'em up - and it's typically not a problem because ducks land into the wind, so you always position yourself with the wind at your back. But for some reason, the ducks were coming in with the wind yesterday, so we had to face into it, and that meant the wind was blowing straight into my hood, its icy tendrils caressing my neck.
We could see that some hunters were leaving early, but not us. We were going to tough it out with our chattering teeth and icicle fingers. We sat about eight yards apart, behind what cover we could fashion, staring north, waiting for birds to make incursions from the closed zone.
We kept seeing spoonies coming in straight toward us, then banking left just before they came into shooting range to land in a happy little feeding area a good 80 yards from our blind. Over and over.
I was staring at them on that pond - the bright drake spoonie plumage standing out in a sea of black coots - when I caught motion to my right. As I turned my head, I saw them. Birds speeding toward us, about four feet over the water. By the time I concluded they were ducks, and therefore shootable (it took about one second), they were about five yards in front of us.
Boyfriend raised his gun, but before he could even get it to his shoulder, they were literally 40 yards away.
As he stared after them, another one zipped between us. If I'd reached out with Bionic Woman speed, I might've been able to grab it.
Boyfriend swung back my way, his expression still frozen in gape-mouthed shock.
And then we started laughing, deep belly laughs.
We retraced what had just happened. It appeared a group of ruddy ducks had been sitting in the closed zone and they saw us sitting there in our pathetic little blind.
"Hey, wanna have some fun?" one duck quacked to another. "Let's go freak out those hunters!"
And boy am I glad they did. We kept laughing about it all the way until sunset. The Great Attack of the Ruddies had saved my day.
Never mind that I didn't get a single duck, and that Sunday would not - as I'd hoped - be the day that I beat last year's record of 23 ducks (and geese). Moments like these when the animals kick my ass are actually some of my favorite moments in hunting. I can only hope they enjoy laughing at us as much as we enjoy laughing at ourselves.