January 31st. Sad day in Alabama. Hunting season will end today at sundown. As the sun sets on another season I reflect back on the past season and wonder what I've learned. As far as putting up numbers, I've got nothing to brag about at all. I haven't chased deer in a few years and have tried putting my efforts into chasing ducks. Ducks in these parts should translate into "maximum effort and expense for minimal meat on the table." I'm kidding, but am learning that the amount of effort going in, just as any other endeavor, will increase the output. Typically. Most of the time.
It was a tough season for me as I only got to go for a couple of hunts this year. I'm learning that duck hunters in these parts are more protective of their flying gold than tournament fisherman are about their prized grass bed. But, I did get an invite to go and didn't give the guy a chance to retract his offer. Yes, I'll be there in the morning. Yes, I realize that I'm working late tonight and won't get but 3 hours sleep. Claim me on your taxes if you need to, I'm going duck hunting with ya.
Next morning I'm up and ready. Truck loaded. Let's do this. Just a short trip from the house, too. Starting off great! We get to our spot and quickly start fumbling into my waders, Redhead BoneDry Big Man
in Max 4. Yep, Big Man because I shopped in the husky section as a kid. No problem. Added my Redhead BoneDry Canvaback 4-in-1 Jacket
and I'm ready to go! My partner and guide for the day told me it would be a short wade in to where we were going, but it would be tough. "No problem" were my famous last words. Two steps into the murky abyss and I'm up to my thighs in water and mud! Not freaking out yet, just gotta put in the work I tell myself. I also realize that the water is deep enough that Champ, our trusted duck picker for the day, was swimming most of this "short wade" in, finding high spots to climb onto, shake off, then back in for another swim. "I'm gonna be a duck hunter" I keep telling myself. We stop for a second, and as I relay to my hunting buddy that this was my first time wading in muck like this, he offered up some advice. "Walk slow, not lifting your feet high. Feel for your next step. And don't worry, everybody falls sooner or later. We're almost there." Cool, I can do this!
Two more steps I take, twist, and my world turns horizontal. Didn't feel the step, did feel the water hit the side of my face. Kept my Weatherby
Shotgun pointed barrel up, though! Don't know how but I did, and good thing too as I could have grown rice on the butt end. I somehow popped up quickly and stood their kinda dumbfounded. I soon realized that I probably submerged 3/4 of myself. And it's 30 degrees. Cold for Alabama. Cold to be falling over in a swamp. I'm still not freaking out.
I laugh it off and keep on moving. I'm learning to feel for the step now, learning to test the stumps and sticks that I feel before putting my weight on them. "This still ain't so bad" I think as I get to my shooting hole. "Sit on that high spot, it's comfortable like a recliner" my leader tells me. No problem, I've been training for the Recliner Olympics for years. He throws me out a few RedHead Decoys
and he's on the move to his spot. I'm in my mud recliner and I'm feeling good. I shine my headlamp around the swamp and immediately that ol' Charlie Daniels song "Wooly Swamp" is blaring through my head. That's ok. I've got a gun which I quickly loaded. I'm ok, gonna do this, be a duck hunter. Right here today! Swoosh!!! Something swirled around one of those decoys and I promise that it woke up every bit of adrenaline that I owned. Headlamp back on, scanning, scanning, looking. Nothing. "Had to be a fish, a beaver would have slapped the water. Could it have been a gator? We have'em on the River! This ain't far!" is how my internal monologue spoke in my head between heart palpitations. Wait, I've got the gun. It's loaded. I'm going to be ok. Not going to freak out again. The sun will be up in a minute.
As legal shooting light hit it was as if someone had let the gates open. Pairs of woodies, teal, and mallard painted the sky as the sun rose as their backdrop. Beautiful. I'm learning that mucky walk is worth it just to see this sight, and was somewhat interested in trading my gun for a camera. I watched as the woodies and teal flew through my shooting hole like mad bombers on their final missions. The mallards would swing wide, circle, circle again. I reached in my jacket for my lanyard......gone. Not there on my neck holding my Duck Commander
call, ready for a little chuckle and tick-a tick-a. As my lanyard sat on my truck seat I learned to do a final check before you leave, don't let your excitement override your preparedness.
I don't know that those calls would have made my trip more successful or not. I do know that they can't pull the trigger for me and learned that no matter how good you look doing it, you've still gotta shoot when you get there. The opportunities were there as the ducks flew that cool Alabama morning, but now a few days removed I can reflect on how much I truly learned that morning. Things like preparation, wading, how the birds fly will make for awesome pictures and a nice dinner next season. What did you learn this year?