For me, this is the time of year that memories are made, and over the years I have stored away a treasure trove of them.
Nowadays, I am warmed all over when I allow myself to wander down my own Autumn memory lane. The interesting thing is that much of what I remember has very little to do with killing.
Yes, the shooting of animals and birds certainly plays a part, but it is more of what one might call a supporting role. The things I remember most are my friends, the places we hunted, the situations we were in, the trips we took, the things that went wrong, and the plans that all came together.
Even remembering the coldest, wettest, most miserable day of terrible duck hunting I was ever involved in, brings a wonderful, comforting warmth to my body and soul as I relive it.
I can remember nights in a duck camp when my hunting buddies and I stayed up way later than we should have, playing cards and talking about past hunts. Getting up the next morning was a circus, but we were still in the marsh early enough to hear the mallards quacking as they awoke and the whistle of wings in the darkness overhead, as more unseen ducks swooped into the marsh around us.
I remember using a canoe to access one of the best marsh hunting sites I have ever had the pleasure of hunting with my best duck hunting buddies. I remember the deer camp I hunted from down in Deposit, NY, and the high school friends that hunted with me.
I remember many of the glorious fall days that I walked the fields and woods around Sandy Creek with my older brother while I was still too young to hunt myself. I remember each one of the few times that I had the chance to hunt with my father.
I am sure that every hunter that reads this column has their own Autumn memories tucked away in their own treasure chest. Those memories are what makes spending time in a hunting camp or even just a day in the field, something so much more than just a chance to shoot something.
I have listened to many stories being told over the years, some of which I had been a part of and some that had absolutely nothing to do with me. I loved all the stories even if some happened to be ones I had heard many times before over the years.
It is my desire to share with you, my readers, some of my memories over the next few weeks. I hope you will like reading them as much as I love telling them.
I apologize ahead of time if I should happen to enlarge on something I might have already written about at one time or another. I have learned after many pleasant evenings spent around a campfire or in front of the camp cook stove, that a good story is worth more than one retelling.
I will begin my series today with a short story that has a good ending and a good moral message.
One duck opener in the 1970s found Gary Narewski, Charlie Ottmann, and myself hunting after school on a marsh just a ways off the Smokey Hollow Road in Phoenix. We had some decent shooting and each of us had taken two or three ducks before the end of legal shooting hours began to close in on us.
There were still birds flying and there was still shooting in the marsh when we started out to the road, but it was well after the day’s shooting should have been over.
We were crossing an open field before reaching a large patch of brush we had to go through before we would be in the clear and in sight of the road. As we were walking, a big drake mallard came towards us just loafing along about 30 yards above the ground.
There was a great temptation to shoot, and unfortunately we still had shells in our guns, fortunately we resisted the perfect shot and held our fire, but back behind us the drake learned the error of his ways as he tumbled out of the sky, the result of a single shot.
We unloaded our guns just before entering the brush, and as we exited the side nearest the road, a voice said, “Hold it right there boys. You’re shooting a little late aren’t you?”
It was the area game warden, Tom Millbower. We told him it wasn’t us, but he said, “I heard plenty of shooting where you were and I saw that big mallard go down right where you just came from. Let me see your guns.” He grabbed each one by the barrel and after finding none of them were even warm, he told us to open the actions.
Of course the guns were all empty. He then asked to see our ducks and he felt of each one. Thankfully none of them were as warm as they would have been if it had just been shot.
Without any evidence that we were the miscreants, he was still unconvinced. “What did you do; leave it to pick up tomorrow or couldn’t you find it?, he asked.”
We insisted that we had seen the duck, but it hadn’t been us doing the shooting. We told him there was someone else that was shooting all the time we were coming out.
It was at that moment that providence came to the rescue as a veritable fusillade erupted back in the marsh and old Tom disappeared into the brush on the run.
It wasn’t long after that we heard two more shots followed by a distant, “Hold it right there boys.” True story, you can ask Charlie. It always gives me a warm fuzzy feeling when I remember it.
I won’t claim that I have never shot a duck that winged in a minute or two after closing, but after that brush with being accused; albeit, only with circumstantial evidence, of shooting after hours, I have tried to err and the safe side.
The moral of the story is, “it’s better let the late ducks land and try to catch them on the way out in the morning, than to take a chance and pay a fine.”
I was never a dusker, but I observed hunters doing that up in St. Lawrence County one time; watching from the road as muzzle flames shot into the growing darkness, and the guys doing the shooting were looking for downed ducks with flashlights.
That’s an accurate account. Charlie Ottmann and I watched it in disbelief from our car. We had been hunting the same spot until the end of legal shooting had come and hadn’t seen a duck.
As we were going out a couple guys were walking in with their guns. They told us that the birds would start showing up in the next 10 or 15 minutes, and they were right. They came in large numbers, flock after flock, ignoring the roar and flames of numerous guns.
Charlie and I waited and watched for the game wardens or police that we were sure would show up and put an end to such a massacre, but instead it finally grew too dark for even the duskers to shoot, and soon they had all left unmolested.
I for one did not feel at all bad that I had not participated in such a travesty. It was just plain wrong.