Montana-based photographer Dušan Smetana captures a hunt on 14,000 acres of bluegrass farmland.
[by Dusan Smetana]
[by Dusan Smetana]
On a fateful February day in 2007, in the remote Northern Wisconsin woods, a solo independent logger named Gary Edinger severed his left leg off while felling a tree. Twenty miles from help and in forty below temperatures, Gary summoned the remarkable willpower to crawl to his pickup, and attempted to drive to safety. Gary’s struggle for survival, however, didn’t begin on that frigid winter day in the hardwoods. His whole life had been forged from adversity, rising above a meagre upbringing and brushes with death as he learned to hunt, trap and fish alone, on his own terms.
Will to Live: the Gary Edinger Story provides a glimpse of a unique perspective gained by cheating death and chasing the call of life-long adventure as only Gary can. The tough-as-nails logger, champion dog sled racer and hunting guide also has a creative side writing poetry, singing cowboy songs and calling square dances. Now, 15 years after the accident and approaching the age of 70, Gary discovers his quest to live a full life and looks back at the impact of his decisions and how they weigh on the loved ones around him.
(from Quail Guard)
Decline of the quail population in the Rolling Plains, its impact, and a solution for the future.
Lubbock, TX — February 18, 2019 — “The Bobwhite” film shares the mission of a West Texas family focused on wildlife conservation and management. Through the team effort of Park Cities Quail Coalition, the Rolling Plains Quail Research Foundation, and Texas Tech University, the Kendall family tells their story of tribulations and creating real world applications from scientific research at TheBobwhite.com.
Charged with a mission to think outside the box, Dr. Ron Kendall and his team have identified parasites that seriously impact wild Northern bobwhite quail. The Wildlife Toxicology Lab at Texas Tech University has been conducting research over the past three years in conjunction with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to formulate and gain approval for the first medicated feed developed for a wild quail in North America. With pilot study ranches in Texas and Oklahoma, the results are promising for a future of sustainable quail populations.
“This is not just a bird we all appreciate, they are highly valuable economically,” states Dr. Kendall. “The film highlights how quail hunters come to Texas and bring thousands and thousands of dollars into our economy. And as is all wildlife, they are a barometer for human life. There should be a longterm concern from us all.”
The Solution Products:
Quail Guard™ is the first medicated feed developed for treatment of parasitic infection in wild quail in North America. In the development phase this feed has been shown to be very effective in treating parasitic infection including eyeworms and caecal worms in wild quail. Pending FDA approval, this feed is expected to hit the shelves in the near future.
Quail Safe™ is the first feeder designed to target Northern bobwhite quail. It’s a predator proof feeder designed to safely administer supplemental and medicated feed to wild quail. It can be utilized for use with Quail Guard.
[by Scott Sadil]
I CALL THE TOWN I LIVE IN ALBION.
The pretty steelhead river that runs through town, and the valley above, I named the Beulah.
Good, figurative, allegorical names.
It’s not exactly Yoknapatawpha County.
But you get the idea.
For years I wrote features and a fly tying column for a California fly fishing magazine, even though I haven’t lived in the state for more than a quarter of a century. Trying to remain relevant or authentic to readers on my native turf, I settled for phrases like just across the border, north of the state line, east of the mountains, or that grand catchall, the West.
Or, for somewhat different reasons, and in different venues, I might just make up a name—a form of lying I squared with a practice that seemed widespread and socially acceptable considering what was at stake. Until the day I left California, I was a serious surfer, where for decades tribal localism in the form of broken windshields, slashed tires, and fisticuffs was real. You looked at a photo of some guy tucked into a gnarly barrel that you would give an eyetooth to surf, a spot identified in the magazine as Acidolphilus Acres, and you knew exactly what was going on.
I run into guys all the time who tease me about the Wolf River. A weird and remote desert tailwater, with big brown trout that always look up, even when they’re snooty as stuffed figs, the Wolf has been hammered and written about for at least two decades now. It’s nobody’s secret. But I still can’t bring myself to spell out its real name—an act, in this case, I equate with scratching a phone number inside a bathroom stall, after beginning with something like for a good time, call . . .
Not that I can legitimately claim any moral high ground. Self-interest colors the finest lines. If I get far enough from home, I don’t seem to worry so much about stating a name. In some backhanded way, it’s like those guides who will never take you to the best water if they know you live within easy striking distance. Or you have your own boat. Decades ago in New Zealand I was shocked a guide and I could hold a stretch of public water for ourselves simply by showing up the day before at a nearby hospital and signing our names on a list of a half-dozen or so mile-long beats. Of course, I eventually realized the guide showed me this system only because I was leaving the country soon, not returning to a house in Auckland.
And staying tight-lipped, for whatever reason I might have, doesn’t always help. Once I spent an entire short story, events and characters pure fiction, trying to bring to life my favorite steelhead river without actually naming it. This was back when I had stumbled upon a series of wee muddlers that rose so many fish over the next few years that I look back now and wonder if it was all a dream. Nothing much to my credit; I just happened to be at the right spot before the crowds showed up. But when the story was published, the title I had given the piece had been changed to include the actual name of the river—right there in bold letters on a two-page color spread. Or maybe that’s just how it’s etched into my memory. This same editor, I should add, previously had demanded I delete a passing reference to another river we both fished, made by a character in an earlier piece of fiction.
“If I printed that name,” he explained, “my buddies would kill me.”
It gets complicated. Most anglers I meet are actually happy to share inside dope on favorite waters; they just don’t want me to run home and post the whereabouts information—along with photos of me drooling over mouthwatering fish—on social media. The picture’s not the real problem. You add the name of a place, however, and that thing between our ears clicks, wheels start turning, and the search engines and Google Earth light up.
And there’s this: Is there anything more delicious in this sport than walking blindly into a feast you never anticipated or even heard of? Discovery remains a profound pleasure at the heart of the sport. A couple of summers ago Joe Kelly and I backpacked into a wilderness drainage that really is out in the eastern part of the state. A fisheries biologist and high school science teacher, Joe claims now he knew we had a chance for bull trout. I’d been down into the canyon twice before, on the other hand, and what I understood we’d be up to was fooling wild and rarely disturbed rainbows with size 10 Humpies, a style of unsophisticated trouting I’d be happy to indulge in long after I can no longer shoulder a pack.
We went in light. For the first time in my life, I hiked, while backpacking, in sneakers; I’ve reached an age when every inch of my body can prove suspect if I fail to warm up for three and a half days. Still, I’d had to convince Joe that we carry our boots and waders; wet-wading was out of the question in these cold, crystalline waters, the sort of habitat that could have tipped me off about the bull trout—if only I’d seen them there before.
[by Richard Yatzeck]
Diane—whose maiden name was Kessler-Tinker—should really have married a handier man. Leaving to pick up her mother at a distant airport, she asked me to replace the cracked pane in the back hall window and to put the chicken in the oven in time for an eight o’clock dinner. Even before the dust had settled in the driveway, I decided to leave the window till later because I planned to shoot ruffed grouse for dinner. Added to the single, small bird in the freezer, the two birds I planned to shoot would make a regal game meal. Diane’s mom, June, loves game. I was, then, avoiding the window job for June’s sake. What I lack in handyman skills, I make up for with my powers of rationalizing.
I put the freezer grouse—sole fruit of October’s hunting—in the oven to thaw. Pyos’s nose was fine. My shooting, though, had left us mostly gameless save that one bird. Still, hope eternal and the late October sights and smells of autumn assured me that I was doing the right thing. So, Pyos the capable springer and I crossed Blueberry Road to try Sullivan’s woods. Pyos cantered, as if through a well-known filing cabinet, west into the wind on the wood’s edge. Red willow, seedling Damson plum, prickly ash, and late raspberry bordering the mature interior black ash and maple, most of the leaves still hanging, made a fine larder for browsing birds. Pyos ranged into the woods, too, checking elm deadfalls where morels sprout in April. No grouse. Not even in the cedar copse that forms the northwest corner. Nothing but a single, skittering cottontail, passed up so that the partridge would not be alarmed. They may not be so attentive to stray shots or slammed car doors as pheasants are, but then again, they may.
“We moved westward, into the wind, without mishap. Even got to admire the Uzi-like rat-tattat of a pileated woodpecker. Not a sniff of grouse, though.”
We turned southward then into larger cedar, tag alder, mature white spruce, and tangles of wild cucumber and fallen elm. Since it seems to me that ruffed grouse move into the wind and follow the sun across a day, I had hopes for this western edge too. Pyos, returning from a foray into the mature woods, slowed, eyed me, and approached a medium-sized white spruce on the balls of his feet. A partridge, seeming as big as a great horned owl, slid down and away south. The hardest, for me, the most hopeless of shots: down, out of a tree. I fired without thinking lead, without thinking at all, and the bird made a 45-degree turn straight up. Head shot, it “towered.” It blasted right through the interwoven higher boughs of black ash and maple and was gone from sight. A single gold maple leaf drifted back from its flight. Pyos and I gaped.
We hadn’t a clue where to begin to look for that grouse. After the sudden ascent we froze, listened for the smashing fall, a thump, the fevered buzzing of wings that often betrays a dying grouse. We heard exactly nothing at all. Somewhere within that 20-acre wood lot, the towering bird would finally have come to rest. To find it would be the sheerest, merest luck. I do not happily leave a hit bird undiscovered, but lacking any hint of direction, I moved on southward with Pyos through the still promising edge. I meant to circumnavigate that 20 acres.
Circumnavigate is on purpose. The south fence of Sullivan’s woods stretches across low, rolling ridge land. You approach these ridges, though, through ankle-to-hip-deep water, because the intervening land is the beginning of the blueberry marsh that gives our road its name. Even at the end of October, I hunt here in hippers. Those ridges on the south, across the water, are lined with oaks and beeches, another nice grouse pantry. But today, as frequently, Byron Dalrymple was right—ruffed grouse seldom feed on acorns and beechnuts when there is still a plethora of soft fruits. I found raspberries and seedling plums in this case, though the plums were getting a bit old. This south line then with the breeze at our backs provided only, near the marshy edge, one bright brown woodcock flight. A flight, a shot, but no woodcock. Pyos may have sneered.
I was planning—an activity in which Diane finds me, correctly, deficient—to go north now, through the cattails and bluestem that border the woods on the east, and then head into the wind, through the relatively open middle of the 20 acres, the mature woods that had shaded out real grouse cover. I hoped that Pyos would wind and find that towered bird. But I knew that I needed two birds, and the miss on the woodcock hadn’t built confidence. This “relatively open” area is strewn, however, with dead elm blowdowns mixed with large and standing swamp maples, soft semi-marshy stretches, and here and there, gaping holes in black muck where tamaracks, pitched right over because of their shallow root systems, used to stand. These holes, lovely if they’d been parts of trout streams, are booby traps here. Unfallen leaf cover darkens and wild cucumber and prickly ash screen these natural mantraps. I moved with some care then but had begun to worry a bit about time. The nearing arrival of Diane and June, the eight o’clock dinner hour, made the acquisition of two grouse a sensitive issue. I probably should have just fixed the back window, roasted the chicken.
We moved westward, into the wind, without mishap. Even got to admire the Uzi-like rat-tattat of a pileated woodpecker. Not a sniff of grouse, though. A return swing a hundred yards farther north was fruitful of spooked late-season frogs, even the wheep of a belated teal, the flash of a blue admiral butterfly, but nothing at all for the table. One final swing, then, west again, 15 minutes before closing time, nearer that pre-ridge water. We struck toward a last, looming swamp maple with its ragged spread of snakey branches, low to the marshy ground. Whoosh as I lifted a particularly spiny bough of prickly ash. Ka-boom! as I tried, onehanded, from the bent knee, as this bird, at least the size of a lesser auk (but nowhere near extinction), departed around the fat maple. The knee I tried from sank out of sight over the edge of an unsuspected muck hole. The other leg tried to compensate, the recoil—I had pulled both triggers of the 12 gauge—added its bit, and I pitched over sideways where a tamarack used to be. An involuntary thrash kept gun and head up a bit. Then I subsided, as into an abandoned Jacuzzi— the double underwater in my lap, my neck propped against the roots of the prickly ash, my hippers and back pockets bubbling beneath me. Pyos, startled, sprang up against the trunk of the maple and appeared to hold it up. Was the damned maple falling too?
We at Gray’s Sporting Journal know all too well the flows and the wildness of the Savannah River. It’s a large formidable river teeming with life and biodiversity. In episode 6 of Das Boat, two anglers float the Savannah searching for various fishes and a good time, plus this episode has an appearance by our very own, Associate Publisher Mike Floyd.
by Dave Zoby
FOG BILLOWS OFF COOK INLET AS I HEAD NORTH ON THE STERLING HIGHWAY. I pass the village of Ninilchik, where the Russian Orthodox church perched on a hill looks like a lighthouse built during an extreme budget crisis. I’m going fly fishing for sockeye salmon on the Russian River. A diesel truck towing a seiner gnaws up the highway. He pulls out in front of me on purpose, it seems. He’s a commercial fisherman from one of the Russian communities; Old Believers they call them. The heavy bow, the inscrutable pilothouse, the corked nets coiled on a giant drum—this vessel is ready for the opener. When he suddenly brakes to turn, I mash my brakes to keep from colliding with his steel hull. The bearded man driving the truck glares at me. I remind myself that fishing, for some people, is life or death. I get it.
I’d spent the early summer working on a condo I bought in Homer. I bought it online, trying to get closer to great Alaska fishing. If you have the hunch I’m a financial idiot, you’re onto something. The condo is only a few yards from the Homer Brewery, where I’d spent too much time reading while various handymen charged exhorbitant rates to spackle, wire, or plumb my condo into livable condition and where beautiful and unattainable girls from the Russian Village would sweep in, down a porter each, and snap selfies beside the stuffed brown bear. That’s about how summer’s been going.
At Ninilchik I stop for coffee at the Buzz Café. I give my dogs a treat but keep them in the camper shell because of the highway and the moose. Sure enough, a cow moose and her calf emerge behind the café in chest-high pushki and devil’s club.
Back on the road, my mind drifts to 1988, where I’m seated in a class called Organizational Communications. Dr. Abernathy, fit and white bearded, sits on the lip of a desk talking about his days in the Peace Corps in French Guiana. His legs swing. The word is that he’s been passed over for tenure once again. He hardly even broaches the subject of communications, organizational or otherwise. Out of thin air he tells all of us to read “The Death of Ivan Ilyich.” It’s nowhere on the syllabus. He talks about a fer-de-lance he once saw in a tree over a chicken coop. He looks up at the institutional lighting in the classroom, and we all look up, too, almost expecting to see it there.
“Living in a true democracy allows one to change,” he says. Seeming to lose his thoughts, he says class is ending prematurely today, and if any of us want to go downtown to his usual coffee spot, we are welcome to tag along—his treat. There are only seven of us; the others dropped the class weeks back. His perpetually early-ending classes allow me to walk freely about Blacksburg, to stop in at the moldering independent bookstore, to mosey along the empty parade grounds with no particular destination in mind. Some of us meet him at the café only to sit in the weak sunshine of winter in the Allegheny Mountains. When he pays the bill, he mutters softly: “I am a cage, in search of a bird.” I’m almost sure that’s what he says.
IF ABERNATHY WAS RIGHT ABOUT CHANGE—and I’ve been banking on his wisdom since my college days—why then have I lived my life with rigid predictability? For example, it’s the middle of June and I’m driving up the Kenai Peninsula. I’m headed to the Pink Salmon parking lot, preferably the same slot I’ve parked in over the last few years. Ritualistically, I’ll use the same fetid public outhouse, wash my hands in the same trickle of questionable water. I’ll pull on my damp waders, march to a predetermined pinch-point where the red salmon gather in good numbers every June. I already know what my first cast will look like, how I’ll mend my line. Here we are in the freest society in the world, and I live like an iron cutout.
Abernathy, I think as I string up my 9-weight and attach the cruel pencil weight, would be sorely disappointed in how I turned out.
I dawdle along the padded boardwalk along the river. I read the signage about bears and fishing regulations. There are people already waist deep in the obvious pools. I see sleek silver bodies of sockeyes beached and strung up between anglers. Threadbare salmon carcasses tumble downstream. Seagulls and ravens in equal number pick at the pillaged bodies of formerly beautiful fish. Men crouch over them. It’s loud: the bird cries, the rushing water, and human conversations. Gangs of anglers hog the best pools. I keep walking, thinking about democracy and what keeps going wrong in my life.
To my utter surprise, no one is fishing at the rock where I always begin. There are wisps of heavy monofilament in the limbs above, a few boot prints, some blood on the rocks. I can see the slate blue blur in the fast water: salmon. They are packed in so tight I cannot see individuals, just a vague blue movement that a newbie might mistake for rocks. On my first cast a perfect fish somersaults out of the water. He is hooked fairly. (Snagging is not permitted on the Russian. These fish don’t take flies in the traditional sense. The method used to catch them is to “floss” them by sinking large flies to the bottom of the stream and trying to steer the fly to their open mouths. The monofilament gets caught in their teeth. When they bolt, they hook themselves. It sounds impossibly ridiculous. But the veterans from Soldotna and Anchorage can catch these fish one after another, legally, as long as your definition is somewhat negotiable.)
My first fish is a hard-fighting buck that runs downstream and beaches itself. I dive upon it with my pocketknife, hoping not to damage my waders. What I want to do is get my fingers in its gills. It’s not easy. We wrestle. It’s personal. Its tail thrums against my chest. It slips away, almost reaching the river. Finally, I force it to high ground and subdue it. I bleed it with a slash to the gills. The color of the fish, the blue-silver that dreams them to me all winter, fades immediately. Its gaze goes blank as I put it on the stringer. Fishing the Russian is a brutal endgame for those of us who want to eat wild salmon we catch ourselves. The catch-and-release culture will not take hold here. On the Russian you keep what you catch. Otherwise, you can leave it to the gill netters, I suppose. But have you ever met those guys?
No one comes along the trail, and I quickly wrestle and kill four salmon. I’ve invented a method wherein you pin the fish with your chest, and turtlewalk up the bank on your elbows. Bleed them. Do it quickly, I advise others. Keep your fly rod out of the scrum or it will be broken. If you’re not out of breath, a bit conflicted, and covered in viscera, you have yet mastered the Zoby Method.
This year, the early-run fish are small, about six to eight pounds each. The run is strong and the limit has been raised to six. I can take two more. I wonder if I have the strength to haul six dressed sockeyes up the terraced stairway to the parking lot. The next few fish I hook are hooked illegally. I try to shake them off, but they are wild and unruly. They dance across the river, crash into rocks, rattle their gill plates midair. Even though I plan to release them, I still have to subdue them on the shoreline to remove my fly. I wrestle them in the riparian vegetation. Many of these salmon have various flies already impaled in their sides. I remove these. I get them back in the water in the best shape possible. They pulse upstream, seemingly unfazed. Another group arrives at the pinch.
By midmorning the magic is gone. I can no longer floss them in the style so popular in Soldotna. I only foul-hook them. I have an audience—three thin boys from Nikolaevsk. They smoke cigarettes and speak in their native tongue. They call them Old Believers, but look how quickly they have accepted breathable waders and caffeine drinks. I wonder if they are criticizing me. Still, I have four salmon. It’s a Pyrrhic victory, as I’ve lost my knife during one of the fights. My cell phone is dazed and the screen is cracked. Slimed beyond hope, my jacket needs to be professionally sanitized. I’m covered in silver scales, salmon blood, and roe. My hands bleed. I wonder how my tribe of catch-and-release friends from Wyoming would view my state of dishevelment. The sun is up and the pods of fish are skittish. They sequester themselves in groups of four or five and hug the opposite bank in the shade. But the young men spot them and begin to move in.
I dress my fish but leave them whole. I wrap them in a plastic bag. I put the roe in a baggie for later. I begin my slog back to the truck. People are stirred up along the trail. A black bear has been on the river. He’s snatched someone’s sockeye from a stringer. The seagulls are so plugged with fresh salmon they can only sit on gravel bars and look at each other. Jolly trout fishermen bounce up the trail with their fragile fly rods and wide eyes. The trout are taking drys. The fly fishermen can’t figure out why anyone would bother with salmon. One guy begins a dissertation on size 10 green drakes. But I know this guy—he notices the bulging backpack on my shoulders and my desire to keep moving. He’s thinking of pencil weights and bucktails. At the truck, I ice the fish and let my dogs terrorize the public parking area.
I drive back to Homer, where I find my friend David Ferreira in his yard working on his boat. The engine block split, and he’s taking the whole shebang out with a remarkable pulley system he invented. I tell him I’ve been on the Russian, but with my clothes covered in slime and four sockeyes on ice, it’s obvious.
“I’m half Russian,” he says. I know this is a prelude to a joke he tells at least once a week. “—the bottom half.” I don’t really get it, but it’s growing on me. A professional meatcutter, David sets up a plastic table and gathers his knives. He flies through the four fish. We decide we’ll smoke them. Actually, David will smoke them in his ingenious smoker that once lived a happy life as a fridge. He rolls the smoker out of the shed and begins a brine. I depart with my dogs. They need a big beach walk.
It’s raining now and the scent of salmon is not just on my jacket; it’s on the wind. The drift fleet is heading out into Cook Inlet for the opener. I hear the low thrum of engines. I see seiners escorted by birds.
Read the full version of The Russian by Dave Zoby in the May/June 2019 issue of Gray’s Sporting Journal.
Dave Zoby is a freelance writer who splits his time between Wyoming and Alaska. He keeps a lively fishing blog at davezoby.com, and his book Fish Like You Mean It is available in bookstores in Homer, Alaska, and Casper, Wyoming, as well as from online booksellers.
Austin, Texas (August 22, 2019) — YETI® Holdings, Inc. (“YETI”) (NYSE: YETI), a leading premium outdoor brand, today launched the latest evolution of its soft cooler collection, the Hopper® M30. The Hopper M30 features a new leak-resistant HydroShield™ magnetized closure that provides superior ice retention and usability.
“We’re committed to providing our customers with the most innovative and highest quality gear on the market to use as they pursue their active adventures,” says YETI President and CEO, Matt Reintjes. “We know the Hopper M30 design will deliver incredible portability, durability, and ice retention, and we’re excited to officially introduce it to consumers.”
The Hopper M30 is completely waterproof and uses high-density fabric that resists punctures, abrasions, mildew, and UV rays for unmatched durability. It offers superior thermal performance due to its closed-cell foam insulation and is engineered with a 50 percent wider opening for increased ease of use.
The Hopper M30 is the latest product within the YETI soft-sided Hopper family and joins the Hopper Flip™ 8, the Hopper Flip 12, and the Hopper Flip 18. While it’s the first Hopper product to use a novel magnet technology, YETI began incorporating magnetic closures in 2017, first with the Rambler® MagSlider™ Lid and most recently within the SideKick Dry™ and Daytrip™ Lunch Bag.
The Hopper M30 retails for $299.99 and is available in Charcoal, Navy, and, for a limited time, River Green. For more information regarding the Hopper M30, and YETI’s other premium products, please visit yeti.com.
by Rusty Ward
AS I UNDERSTAND WHAT WE THINK WE UNDERSTAND OF EVOLUTION, it does not necessarily progress toward a higher order, rather is concerned only with differential reproductive success in response to selective environmental pressures—progress toward any defined goal not involved. I have no quarrel with the fact of evolution as the powerful and overarching framework of modern biology; still, I think we may not yet have grasped the whole warp and woof of it. The same biology that decries evolutionary change as progress teaches that inert matter self-assembled into cells and, after a billion increasingly complex iterations of microbes, worms, fish, dinosaurs, birds, shrews, and primates, in more or less that order, composed the Ninth Symphony and Hamlet. I might add to those achievements the eventual crafting of elegant 6½-pound double guns capable of extending our diminished fang and claw with an ounce of 7½ shot. It seems that reconciling our present understanding of evolution with the observed progression of life without acknowledging something like linear progress is like forcing a camel through the eye of a double helix. And yet . . . , and yet . . . , my own journey as an aspiring duck hunter seems to have followed the textbook evolutionary formula—of adaptation to opportunities presented randomly when life exposed me to various waterfowlers, each of whom pursued the craft in a manner distinct from the others.
“Much as an ancient fish waddled out of a primeval ocean and found new ways of doing things on land, I knew that if I was to evolve as a duck hunter, I needed to explore new environments…”
ALAN WAS THE FIRST. Transitioning out of high school into college, I was already a determined hunter whose thoughts lived in the woods more so than anyone I knew. Alan, a year older, dabbled at hunting but was driven by political and career ambitions I lacked, so he sought out and befriended community movers and shakers. To my good fortune, he wasn’t shy about asking them for favors.
“Hey, Rusty,” his call came breathlessly one winter afternoon as the north wind rattled the windowpanes with needles of cold rain. “I met a guy who owns some catfish ponds south of town, and he said they’re full of ducks and we are welcome to come hunt them!” A whirlwind hour later, we were on the road with newly acquired duck stamps, high brass 4s, and our go-to shotguns—mine a Remington 870, Alan’s an 1100.
We drove close, saw ducks on the ponds, sneaked up to the nearest pond, Alan to one side, me to the other. We jumped up, ducks flew, we shot, nothing fell. Undaunted, we flattened ourselves on the bank and for the next hour shot at ducks as they arrowed overhead, the wind driving them at relativistic speeds from which they arced like falling meteors into the ponds. Speeding up our swings, we finally killed a few, but our plan hadn’t included how to retrieve water-bound ducks. Stymied, the wind, which had been our nemesis, became our friend as it slowly nudged the floating birds to the bank.
Proud that I was now a duck hunter and eager to feast on nature’s bounty, I removed the smallish breasts from our entire take (Alan’s interest ended when the ducks hit the water) and noticed for the first time a faintly fishy smell as I chunked them on the grill. Innocent of even rudimentary cooking skills, I hoped if I cooked them long enough, the smell would go away. They were, of course, mergansers, and their fish-fed breasts condensed in the flame to the size and density of golf balls and smelled like cheap cat food gone bad. True caveman style, I ate them to the last bite, proclaiming them excellent fare to my dubious parents, and thought, Hell! Yes! I am a duck hunter! Of course, I was no such thing. I had merely shot a few ducks, but it was a start.
A FEW YEARS LATER, Alan and I stood at the edge of a backwater slough dotted with towering cypresses and laced with duckweed and hordes of high-balling, quacking, chuckling mallards. Ducks streamed in as we crouched in the shadows and planned our attack. By then, my evolution as a duck hunter included leaf-pattern camo, rubber waders, a Yentzen call around my neck, and a dedicated light duck gun in the crook of my arm. I had bought the Parker long-distance from an older gentleman who sent a couple of Polaroids along with a two-page description that concluded with the magnificent hook line, “She’ll gut a duck at forty yards.” She was a skinny 16-gauge DHE (these were pre-steel-shot days) with 30-inch barrels, twin ivory beads, and a stock of flame-colored walnut pretty enough to palpitate the heart. Duck-gutting patterns with high-brass 6s were the norm, and 4s weren’t far behind. Life just didn’t get any better.
Though Alan had more spare change than I did, he was also shackled with a boring pragmatism and clung to his 1100, wore GI hand-me-downs gleaned from the bins of army surplus stores, and— get this—wrapped plastic bread bags around his boots to keep his feet dry. In evolutionary terms, I was eons ahead of Alan.
Our plan, actually Alan’s, called for him to remain hidden where we were (so as not to put his bread bags to the test) while I worked around to the far side of the slough. Alan agreed to sit tight and not disturb the ducks until I got into position; then we would rise in unison and have our way with them. It was a good plan, but I had barely rounded the end of the slough when Alan’s 1100 clattered itself empty and the sky filled with more ducks than I had ever seen, mostly streaming away from me. I tried to run and immediately swan-dived into the duckweed.
Sputtering foul water, barrels plugged with fetid mud, dripping duckweed, and filled with dark anger, I told Alan he had five seconds to explain why he ignored our agreement before I throttled him. He said with a little too much glee that he had agreed not to flush any ducks before the appointed time, but nothing forbade him from popping the easy pair that came in on set wings.
Later, I discovered a philosophical gent named Montaigne, who had something lively to say about everything; I read of a Spartan king who, after agreeing to a seven-day truce with his foe, fell upon him after nightfall and vanquished his army. The Spartan afterwards declared that the truce stipulated seven days but made no mention of nights. Montaigne’s conclusion—that “the hour of parley is a dangerous time”—would have benefited me had I read him earlier. As the years flew by and my duckhunting experiences broadened, I found the wily Frenchman to be a reliable companion, guide, and sometime source of solace, and determined that even if he himself hadn’t been a duck hunter, he was no stranger to their ways.
The MeatEater brand first became a household name through its host, Steven Rinella’s uncompromising work and conservation ethic while filming his outside-the-box show that focused on ethical hunting with a penchant for well-prepared wild game. Now, MeatEater is turning its sights to the fishing world. Bolstered by the storytelling aptitude of its new fishing director, and previous long-time Gray’s Sporting Journal Angling columnist, Miles Nolte, the show Das Boat follows Rinella and the MeatEater crew across the Southeast to different fisheries as they modify and customize what can only be described as a boat past its prime.
It looks to be one hell of a ride.