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Marsh Moments

Marsh Moments No.1 (Rules)

The wind was stiff. Sustained out of the northwest at 15 mph with gusts near 25. A good day for flags, free-range plastic, and duck hunters. As I snugged my jacket collar around my neck gaiter, the Michigander snapped shut his over and under.

“So what are your rules?” he asked.

We had hunted together only once before, so it was thoughtful for him to ask about expectations. Generally, we are a picky bunch. Feet down, close in is preferred, but sometimes you just take what they give you.

“No rules. Take the shot if you think you got it. I pass more than I shoot, I like it to feel right, and sometimes I just like to watch the birds,” I replied. “And you?”

“I don’t shoot them on the water. I mean if they land and get up, I figure, if they made it to the decoys, they win.”

“Very honorable. How does the dog feel about that?”

“Dunno, haven’t asked her,” he said, a slight smile showing behind his bushy whiskers.

Not long after, a couple mallards wheeled in hard and fast. I dropped one as the other landed in the decoys momentarily to my left, lifting upward as quickly as it arrived. Amidst the commotion, I heard the Michigander shoot.

“Guess I broke my own rule,” he muttered quietly as a few feathers floated away.

“That didn’t take long. Fine line between rules and guidelines, eh?”

“Yeah, forgot to mention the five second rule. He didn’t stay long enough to earn immunity.”

Marsh Moments No. 2 (Sorcery)

Slow hunting affects the mind. The sky is pointlessly empty, yet somehow you think a conjuring will make a difference. Pour some coffee. Eat a snack. Step into the brush to relieve oneself. Scientifically analyzed anecdotal evidence tell us ducks are more likely to arrive during these moments. And so you act and give others fair warning with the obligatory incantation to your hunting partners:

“All right, get ready. I’m going to (fill in the blank). That’ll bring in the ducks.”

But the most powerful summons, however, involves the decoys. You’ve stared at them for an hour or two, but nothing happened. You’ve analyzed the location of the sun, movement of the wind and ripples, presence of shadows, and you wonder how a pair of gadwall snuck in as they landed 20 feet out when you weren’t looking. Your conclusion? It’s time to adjust the decoys.

You wade out and pick one up, toss another, drag a few, all along thinking, how do I make them look natural, enticing, not too tight, not too loose? Your hunting partners watch and silently judge your choices. And as you work, a half dozen greenheads cup and lock, and quickly peel off. No one can shoot because, well, you’re standing in the decoys. More evidence of duck marsh witchcraft. You wade back to the blind shaking your head, as one decoy follows your right leg like you have popcorn in your pocket, line wrapped around your boot.

Settling back into position among the camo, you eye the newly configured deployment with satisfaction, and wait. A few teal buzz the set, and soon, a pair of big ducks approach low enough for a shot. You squeeze the trigger, the dog awakens from his nap, launching to recover the wounded, and after a few rounds of hide and seek, he swims back to the blind, a confused bird clutched in his mouth. It’s been awhile since the dog had anything to do, forgets his training, and drops the bird in front of the blind as he shakes the water off. Everyone watches in horrified silence as the bird flies off. The dog watches too, unconcerned, and I’m suspicious that duck and dog came to some agreement on the swim back to the blind.

“Well, things have improved since I moved the decoys,” says the Michigander.

“They’d be better if you would’ve moved the right ones,” sniped a voice from the far end of the blind, words flying faster than No. 2s from an Auto-5.

“I’d be doing better if your dog didn’t let my bird fly away,” came the retort and volley.

“You’d be doing better if you killed the duck,” said the man from Arkansas. “Next time don’t just scare it.”

I trim the conversation by hitting my call a few times at an empty sky. “Cease fire boys. This bird is dead.”

And the watching and waiting resumes.

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