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At least five amazing things happened on my first duck hunt of the season back at the Delevan National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday.
1. I discovered my new workout routine – going up and down stairs in a six-story parking garage a few days a week – turned out to be great preparation for walking through ankle- to hip-deep water in waders. I’m usually sore after my first rigorous duck hunt; this time I’m not.
2. After five years of duck hunting, a first: I managed to take a leak in standing water. Guys do this all the time, but it’s a lot harder for women because we have to pull our waders all the way down and squat. I figured out how to do it without getting the inside of my waders wet. I tell you, it was a freakin’ miracle.
3. My calling didn’t suck. I got lots of ducks and even specklebelly geese to make mid-air U-turns and head back my way. I know it’s much easier to call birds earlier in the season than it is later, but it’s still gratifying when they respond like that.
4. On a windless sunny day – the kiss of death to good duck hunting – I successfully used my jerk rig to attract ducks’ attention from great distances. I’ve had the rig for a while, but this was the first time I could see that this was THE reason they were coming in.
Now, dear readers, did you notice anything missing from this list? Yep, you got it: Good shooting. That’s what was missing.
I missed and missed and missed and missed and missed. I may have gone through nearly a whole box of shells before I got my first duck of the season – a drake spoonie – and while I managed to bring in a couple more, I should’ve had a double limit for the amount of shells I went through.
It was easily my worst day of shooting in three or four years.
But this leads to the fifth amazing accomplishment of the hunt: I managed to keep a good attitude throughout most of the shooting debacle.
This is huge for me. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a bad habit of sulking – if not getting outright pissed off – when I don’t do well. I’m not proud of it; that’s just the way it is.
But duck hunting, more than anything else, has shown me vividly that bad attitude poisons your chance of turning things around.
So on Sunday, I smiled a lot, told my buddy Charlie how happy I was to be back at Delevan, and cracked jokes about what I must’ve done to incur the wrath of the hunting gods this time. I’m pretty sure it was the Stinky Butt Gadwall post, in which I wrote that I was going to be more selective about the ducks I shoot – a sure-fire way to anger the hunting gods, making them wreck your shooting until you give in and humbly take spoonies.
Which I did.
Keep your spirits up, and soon you’ll get the amazing shot that will turn things around, I kept telling myself.
It lasted right up to the last five or ten minutes, which is when I realized I wasn’t going to get that shot. That meant I’d be going into my next hunt in fear of continuing the streak.
Fear is bad. Huge risk of self-fulfilling prophecy. Crap.
So for the next few days, I’ll be trying to figure out what went wrong.
Maybe the adjustable comb on my stock was out of proper alignment? I’ve already adjusted it.
Maybe I was lifting my head off the stock? I’ll practice gun mounts in the mirror, re-imprinting on my memory the feeling of my cheekbone pressed hard onto that stock.
Maybe I’m overthinking my shots? The only cure for that is a surprise shot – something that forces you to shoot without thinking. I kept hoping for that on Sunday, but I didn’t get it.
Or maybe I just need to get my mind right about it. Maybe my five amazing accomplishments actually were enough. Maybe this is just one of those periodic cosmic reminders to be grateful for what I have.
I can live with that.
© Holly A. Heyser 2011