If you follow this blog, or my Twitter feed or any other medium I use to communicate, you know I shot like absolute crap for most of this duck season. My confidence in shreds, there were days I left the marsh early because I just couldn't take the epic suckage, and days I stayed to the end, only to be rewarded with more bad shooting right up until sunset.
But for the last two weekends of the season, I rallied. I finally started shooting like I had during the previous season. Relief coursed through my veins. It was intoxicating. And it made me shoot even better.
On the last day of the season, I made what had to be the best shot of my life. Read more...
Closing day was slow from the first minute of shoot time. In sunny and windless skies, the birds just weren't moving around much. The ducks were tired. The hunters were tired. We were all ready for it to be over.
On days like that, we tend to gather periodically in our tule patches: We grab snacks, take drinks of our sodas and yak casually.
This is, of course, precisely when ducks strike.
So I was standing there around noon, talking to Monique and Charlie, my gun resting on my little decoy boat, when out of the corner of my eye, I caught it: a duck barreling in from the south, low and already close enough to shoot.
Normally when ducks are coming in, we whisper to each other: "Single from the west, high." "Five from the east, low." This gets everyone's eyes on the birds so we can be ready if they come our way.
But with this duck, there was no time for that. I grabbed my gun, wheeled back to face south, raised my gun - out of time, out of time, out of time - and pulled the trigger. The butt was a good six inches from my left shoulder. The comb was nowhere near my face.
That duck dropped, stone dead.
"OHMYGODDIDYOUSEETHAT?!?!?!?" I shouted to, oh, everyone in the marsh.
I had to plow through 15 yards of thick mush grass to get to her, but there was no rush. She was very obviously dead, floating on the water, twitching in the way only dead animals twitch.
I exclaimed again: "Did you see that? Did you see that?" But I don't think anyone actually saw the shot, because they didn't have time even to see the bird, much less watch me shoot from the hip. (OK, from the low chest, but still.)
Now, I have taken shots like that - with an unmounted gun - many, many times. When you least expect it, ducks will come out of nowhere. Usually, if you even get a chance to fire a shot, you miss by a mile, and everyone has a good laugh.
But this? Wow.
That duck - a hen spoonie - was my fifth duck of the day. My last duck of the day. My last duck of the season. And even though I'd really hoped to finish the season with a limit of seven ducks - I'd gotten seven the day before - I was perfectly satisfied to end my season on that note.
I still can't say for sure why I shot so badly for most of the season. I'm just glad that I don't have to go through the next nine months wondering what the hell's wrong with me.
And just for insurance, I'm going to get my ass to the shooting range a lot more this year. I've got to ride this wave of confidence while it lasts.
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.
WHY PUT UP WITH MISSING? Your shotgun needs to fit your proportions for you to shoot consistently well. Click here to learn about what a Dale Tate gunfitting can do for your shooting. And if you go see Dale, tell him Holly sent you.