Several seasons have slipped into muted memory now, yet one incident several years ago still stands out to me. Some nights I lose sleep over it—when something’s important to me, it tends to lodge in my synapse, recalled too easily and too often. I guess that’s called conscience. I will probably always wonder if I did the right thing.
It began as a simple local duck hunt less than a five-minute drive from home—just the dog and me. The weather was unseasonably warm; the flight was slow. I managed to bag a couple of mallards on a public hunting area by slogging deep into the oxbow slough to a spot that’s seldom hunted. In the wildlife management area parking lot after the hunt, a fan of my TV exploits recognized me and brought his son over to introduce themselves.
They’d enjoyed success, too. In fact, it was hard to tell who was more excited—the boy who’d bagged his first duck, or his proud papa. I was excited for the youngster, too, and shook his hand and congratulated him.
The boy was reserved, but Dad gushed all the details. He told me where they were hunting and what they had seen. I smiled and nodded, enjoying their enthusiasm. Then Dad continued to tell me about his son actually shooting the duck. He said, “Yep. It came right in. I was calling hard, and that duck loved it! It landed splash in the middle of the decoys, and I shouted, ‘Shoot! Shoot!’ And my boy got it good with one shot!”
That turned me off. I know a lot of youngsters get started by shooting a duck or two on the water and work into shooting birds in the air. I guess it keeps enthusiasm up and builds confidence, but it didn’t happen that way when I started out, and I believe I’m better for it. We shot all birds (waterfowl or upland) in the air, or we didn’t shoot at all. Period.
I didn’t say anything to Dad or his son, but started on my getaway. While I loaded the back of the truck, Dad kept on. Then he asked if I’d take a picture of him and the boy with the duck.
“Aw, sure,” I said and thought. “Heck. Why not share in this father-son kind of moment I so loved with my own pa?”
Dad handed me his phone and grabbed the limp bird from the back of their truck. They rested against the rail fence surrounding the tiny parking area and held up the wet, disheveled bird for a classic grip and grin. I composed the scene best I could and snapped a couple of shots. As I handed back his phone, Dad said, “Thanks for taking a picture of my boy and his teal.”
It was all I could do to not whip around and square off with Dad! I’d just taken a picture of the two of them holding a hen bufflehead stretched beneath their grins nearly wider than the bird’s wingspan.
Did Dad truly not know the difference between the two, or was he just trying to make it an even bigger deal for his son by labeling it as a more desirable duck?
I’ll always wonder if I did the right thing. Every fiber of my hardcore duck hunting being tells me I should have set the record straight with Dad about encouraging his son to shoot a duck on the water and then not giving him the right information on what it was. How is the kid ever going to know right from wrong and learn the fine points of waterfowl identification? Those are the things—to me, anyway—that make it so interesting and addicting.
On the other hand, this is coming from a guy (me) who is over-the-top on IDing waterfowl. When my best high-school friend and hunting partner’s first child was born, I brought to the hospital a handmade set of waterfowl ID flashcards! No bull! I still can’t think of a better gift of duck hunting legacy for a day-old baby! Can you?
Did I do the right thing by minding my own business and allowing father and son to have their fun and moment together? Or should I have stood up for the heritage of American waterfowl hunting and corrected them both with the hope of setting them on a better course? I’d really like to know, but will probably always wonder.
What would you have done? Leave a comment and let me know. Maybe it will help me sleep better.
Posing for pictures with your game is a wonderful hunting tradition and the best way to preserve memories of special moments. Take your time and do it right—a ThermaCELL can help with that. Wear one on your belt to help keep you comfortable while you set up a great shot! Then be sure to post the picture on the ThermaCELL Hunting Facebook page for the world to see!
Featured image courtesy Bill Miller