The public land where I hunt ducks is incredibly crowded, but for the most part, hunters there get along just fine.
Every once in a while, though, you get a hunter who thrives on being a major jerk. And if you're lucky like I was last week, you get to watch karma slap him around a bit.
I was hunting surrounded by friends last Wednesday. Hank and Charlie were in my tule patch. Our friend Don was a little to the west of us. And Rick, a friend who's a relatively new duck hunter, was in a patch to our north.
It was a pretty typical day: Everyone in our area was getting shots at ducks. Not that picture-perfect shot at birds coming in for a landing in your decoys - that doesn't happen too often in crowded public land - but shots at ducks flying over or past your tule patch within shotgun range.
Apparently, that wasn't good enough for the two guys hunting a patch to the northeast of Rick.
I was back at the parking lot when Rick came into the marsh mid-morning and settled into his patch, so I missed this part, but Hank and Charlie told me that the guys hollered at him for being too close. He wasn't too close - hunters occupy those two spaces all the time without any problems whatsoever.
Then one of the guys started hollering at Rick for taking shots he thought were too high, and he called Rick an asshole.
Later, I got a duck on a second shot that I usually can't make and I raised my shotgun with both hands in triumph. "I never get that shot!" I yelled to Hank and Charlie.
I couldn't hear it because I was sloshing through the water to pick up my duck, but Don later told me that one of the jerks started ridiculing me, something like, "Look, I'm a girl, I got a duck!"
Then when Hank and Charlie took shots at (and missed) some gadwalls that came straight over us, one of the jerks came unglued.
"Let 'em work, asshole! Maybe if you let 'em work, you wouldn't sail 'em so far!" (For the non-waterfowlers out there, "sailing" is hitting a bird that then sails a long way from you before dropping; the ideal shot is one that drops the bird right there.)
This was the first verbal assault that I'd heard from them that day, and it really pissed me off. I responded poorly: I yelled some unkind things right back at 'em, and we traded insults back and forth for a minute.
Why was this the wrong thing to do? 1) It's bad to escalate, and 2) it's especially bad to escalate when everyone is carrying loaded guns. I know this, but I let my temper get the best of me, and fortunately we all settled down.
Rick, on the other hand, was about to become a saint.
One problem with yelling at fellow hunters for shooting at birds that appear to be too high, or sailing birds, or shooting at birds that you think are coming your way (instead of "letting 'em work") is this: We all do it from time to time.It's not ideal, but any hunter capable of being honest with him- or herself has to admit this.
So you know what's gonna happen next, right? You got it. One of the jerks hit a bird and sailed it, and it landed right in front of Rick, still very much alive.
The hunter started sloshing out to pick up the bird, and Rick shouted cheerfully, "Want me to anchor that bird for you?"
"Yes!" the hunter answered, so Rick shot the duck before it could escape into grass where the other hunter might never find it.
I marveled as I watched the scene unfold, and yes, I delighted in watching someone from the hostile hunting party eat crow.
The jerks didn't dish out any more crap during the remainder of my time there that afternoon.
I wondered if they'd learned an important lesson, or if they'd just been temporarily silenced by karma. I'm inclined to believe it was the latter - bullies aren't that easily chastened.
But I sure learned my lesson: Next time that moron or anyone who's an ass tries to wreck my day in the marsh, I think I'll be content to keep my mouth shut and let the bastard hang himself with his own words. It sure doesn't take long.
And even more importantly, I learned that we are all far better off when we cheerfully help those around us. A little bit of nice goes a long way in the marsh.
Holly A. Heyser is a former newspaper reporter and editor who went on her first hunt at age 41 and immediately fell in love with the honesty, grace and humility of acquiring food the hard way. She has combined her two loves - journalism and hunting - in her current job as editor of California Waterfowl Magazine, and she serves on the board of Orion the Hunter's Institute, an organization that promotes ethical hunting. She does food photography on the side, and she is co-organizer of the annual Novice Women's Duck Hunt in Northern California. Click here to contact her.
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