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Mares: Duck Hunting

12/27/11 7:55AM By Bill Mares
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(Host) As an alternative to his annual fruitless quest for the elusive buck, commentator Bill Mares persuaded a friend to take him on a far more successful duck-hunt.

(Mares) I haven't been duck-hunting in thirty years, but I've just gone four times in three weeks. And what fun it was!

It was all due to one man, Phil Drumheller, who came through when three others said yes but meant no. I knew him from church - and from teaching two of his daughters. I dug out my fishing waders, heavy camouflage jacket, thick mittens, and 50 year old shotgun. I got in some practice shooting clay pigeons. I bought a couple of boxes of shells with steel pellets; the lead ones are now illegal. Since I now have a permanent license, I needed only to buy the annual duck stamps.

Deer-hunting is okay, but it's largely a solitary walk in the woods, hoping for one shot. You get a lot more opportunities duck-hunting. Moreover, duck-hunting is social, especially when you don't have a boat.

Recently, on an unusually warm morning, Phil and I drove to Malletts Bay in Colchester to seek bluebills and golden eyes - also called "whistlers," for their audible wing beat. His seventeen foot camouflaged boat looked like Captain Nemo's Nautilus in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It was well equipped with decoys, paddles, anchors, extra battery, stove, heater, and fire extinguisher.

In twenty minutes of pitch darkness, the 40-horsepower engine and a GPS took us unerringly to Phil's favorite spot. We put three dozen decoys out in two pods, with an inviting open space in between. We set two anchors, put up canvas walls, loaded our guns, and waited. A necklace of shore lights gave way to the growing dawn; and we could make out the lumpy horizon of the Adirondacks. His smart phone alarm announced the legal hour of hunting at 6:50 a.m.

We heard ducks before we could see them. It was the sound of two whistlers passing overhead. A minute later Phil whispered, "Straight ahead!" From the west the two birds came in shoulder-high, like low-flying crop-dusters. We rose - and fired. Phil got his! I missed mine. More came in. I did better on the next group - and the next. I immediately saw the advantage of having a bird dog. Each time we dropped a bird, we had to pull up anchor and fetch the drifting animal.

For another couple of hours, birds came into the decoys at irregular intervals. Between those bursts of excitement, we talked quietly of past hunts, ideas, and mutual friends; and we even ate a batch of pancakes, cooked on Phil's propane grill.

At ten o'clock we collected our decoys and headed home. We didn't have our limit, but we sure had enough for a handsome meal.

On the way back to the dock, I looked down at the six ducks on the boat's floor, and Oscar Wilde's lament came to me: "Yet every man kills the thing he loves." But these somber thoughts came to an abrupt end when Phil's cell phone rang. Its tone was a quacking duck!
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