Ep. 529 – Thanksgiving Narrative: "Duck Blind Intervention"

The Duck Blind Intervention.

A hunting partner's idiosyncrasies can force a waterfowler to take bold and desperate action.

A story by Doug Larson, narrated by Tom Gallagher.

I'm a decoy mover. If things are slow, I have to shuffle the spread around. I'll jump in the boat to tweak the diver rig and wait among the puddle duck decoys if it seems the wind might change. Trouble is, I am compulsive about it. So much so that some of my hunting partners find it a terribly annoying habit. And by the fourth or fifth move, they abandon the charade of imploring me to remain seated while someone pretends to see ducks. And they simply beg me to leave the decoys alone. I tell you this because choosing the right hunting partner is one of life's important decisions.

You'll share the most precious days of the year with this person. So if you don't like to see the spread move around a lot, a hunting partner with my proclivity for decoy meddling might make you a little crazy. While we all have idiosyncrasies, most annoying habits are not deal breakers when it comes to a hunting partner who is otherwise a sterling companion.

But within the confines of a well-brushed duck blind, some annoyances can push beyond idiosyncrasy into the realm of indiscretion. Just as there are speed limits, there are limits to what duck hunters can sanely tolerate. And most of us have hunted with someone who ignores the pleadings of his hunting partners and boldly stomps on the gas.

Before there's an ugly crash, you must intervene or leap from the vehicle and find a new hunting partner. so that you might better navigate this dark and twisty road. I've compiled a few notes on the duck-blind transgressors I've known or heard about over the years, along with suggestions, some subtle and some not, on how to deal with their particular brand of aggravation. Younger folks may not remember the peace and tranquility to be found in a duck blind before the era of the portable cellular phones. But there was a time when out of communication in a duck blind meant just that. If you needed to talk to your wife or to the office, you dropped a dime in a pay phone on the way home. Not anymore. I once hunted with a business acquaintance who introduced me to a guy, we'll call him Reggie Ringtone.

Always prepared, Reggie kept his cell phone in the pocket of his hunting coat. While Reggie loved to hunt, he could not bear to be out of touch. First, he had to change his voicemail message. Then he called the office every few minutes to check in with his secretary. Next, he called his wife to see if the package he was expecting had arrived. And as a final indignity, we were made to wait quietly while he traded shares of Widgets R Us on the Birmingham Exchange.

Sadly, while Reggie carried on via cell phone, there was no esprit de corps in the blind. It was as if we were sharing some sad outdoor waiting room, and not wanting to be rude, we didn't feel we should interrupt him, although we most certainly did whenever ducks were inbound. As we hunkered down and prepared to call to working birds, Reggie would tell his secretary in a loud whisper that he would have to call her right back, and he would stuff the phone in a pocket. Even if the ducks didn't decoy for a few sweet moments, we could relax, maybe pour another cup of coffee, or scratch the dog's ears until Reggie's phone would ring again.

Except, it didn't really ring. Reggie's phone had a special surprise in store. It played songs. Baba O'Reilly, or Volare, blared through a tinny speaker at a volume that was not conducive to effective duck hunting. While the music blared, he sheepishly patted all the pockets of his coat until he finally found the offending device. Is there a cure for Reggie? Short of asking to borrow the phone and then pitching it into the drink? I don't think so. Should you ever find yourself saddled with a hunting partner like Reggie, probably your best defense, and certainly an ironic one, is simply to wait until the next time he calls to go hunting. and then choose not to answer your own cell phone.

Caller ID is one of life's great equalizers. Another friend told me about a guy who, sadly, was a duck call junkie. We'll call him Hiram Highball. He always had a new call on his lanyard, and each one was made from a material more exotic than the next. He had a call milled from the plastic fenders of a Japanese bullet train. and another turned on the very same lathe that was used to make the legs for Rutherford B. Hayes' nightstand. But Hiram had to tell you these fascinating details about his duck calls in the truck because the on switch for his duck calls was his bottom. As soon as his backside made contact with the boat seat, Hiram began his serenade.

Ducks in the sky or no ducks in the sky, it mattered not. Whether the hunt lasted 30 minutes or 3 hours, he never let up. Being a polite sort, my friend grinned and endured his calling for a time. But at some point after listening to highball after highball, eventually he felt he must stop the insanity. So, he suggested that the ducks had been call shy lately and perhaps it would be smart to call softly or not at all. Now some hunters would have taken the hint, but Hiram had confidence in his craft. My friend hardly had the suggestion out of his mouth when Hiram reached under his coat and brought out his soft-tuned call. In the limited time he had, which is to say, long enough to draw another deep breath, he explained that this call incorporated a reed made from the special polymers sliced from one of Peekaboo Street's racing skis.

Sure, it sounded okay, but Hiram's calling was like most Thanksgiving dinners. Even if the food is good, there is always too much of it. So how did my friend handle a blowhard like Hiram? Earplugs for starters, but let's face it, what he really wanted was to run all of Hiram's duck tutors through a wood chipper. Failing that opportunity, he decided, as they say, to kill Hiram's calling with kindness. When my friend pulled up in front of Hiram's garage in the early morning hours before their next hunt, he immediately informed him that they were dangerously behind schedule and then handed him a gift, a plastic container of leftovers from last night's excellent roast goose with mushroom gravy.

As Hiram scurried off to the kitchen to refrigerate his prize, my friend knew he had to act with great haste. With the precision and swiftness of a master spy, he removed the call-laden lanyard from Hiram's blind bag and slipped it onto the wall hook underneath a rain parka. When the great caller returned, he hurriedly gathered up his gear without looking inside the blind bag and then wondered all day in glorious silence how he ever could have left his duck calls at home. Another fellow you may have run into at some time during your hunting career is Quentin Quickdraw. Quentin hunted geese with some friends of mine who had a pit blind in a harvested cornfield. But Quentin had a terrible time waiting until the geese were close enough to shoot, or until someone pronounced it was time to do so. In fact, he was usually the one who yelled, take him, which he did with one hand on his shotgun and another pressing firmly down on a hunting partner's shoulder.

These antics generally allowed him to kill a goose or two before anyone else in the pit could get off a shot. But such behavior, as all well-mannered waterfowlers know, is frowned on in virtually every goose pit on the continent. One day, the other pit residents reached a boiling point. That morning, Quentin had jumped up early on the first flock of the day. He killed two geese before his partners even had a chance to snug down their caps. The men had finally had enough. They waited until Quentin took a moment to root around in his blind bag for more shells and then told him to freeze. At that instant, Quentin was locked in a pose very similar to the emergency crash position taught by the airlines.

The other hunters then began to call to an imaginary flock of geese. While Quentin remained motionless near the floor, After some theatrics coupled with extensive play-by-play account of the imaginary geese leaving the field and then being called back to the decoys, somebody yelled, take them. Quentin went from crouching tiger to springing dragon. He was so wound up he almost left out of the pit, only to find the sun shining brightly and the sky void of geese. His partners laughed so hard that for a long while after that little episode, Quentin waited for someone else to shoot first, just in case. You may have bumped into the next guy, whom we'll call Harry Canine.

Harry was a neighbor of mine several years ago until his job took him out of state. Nice guy, but this poor man had one of the most high-strung duck dogs I've ever seen. And while Harry loved that dog as much as anyone ever loved a hunting dog, he was just not able to see its faults. Very simply, every time Harry's dog accompanied us on a duck hunt, we returned home with empty game straps. For starters, you dare not let the animal off his leash, or you would be searching for him for the rest of the day. And if you succeeded in getting him to the duck blind in the first place, then you'd wished he had run off. The dog could not sit still. He was like a giant Muppet with a jet engine. He was everywhere.

On a typical morning with Harry and his canine, our first flock of ducks would lock up just after shooting time and then flare wildly. The second flock, and all the subsequent flocks, would follow that same flight plan. Because Harry's crazy dog would be running sprints through the spread with one of my decoys in his mouth. But he'd not simply be admiring the craftsmanship of the decoy. With his eyes rolled back in his head, he would toss the decoy in the air and then, while growling, chew on it as he rampaged through the spread. By the time Harry corralled his animal, the morning flight would be over. So for the rest of the hunt, I would entertain myself by watching the beast chew through the leashes or dig giant holes. And when he finally tired of running, chewing, and digging, he spent his downtime eating my lunch and the container it came in.

I don't know if this animal was actually a competent retriever of ducks, because he never gave us a chance to find out. There seemed no cure for the dog, but I like Harry, and devised a plan so that we might actually shoot a few ducks together. One afternoon, I called Harry, and when his wife answered the phone, I made some small talk and then told her a little white lie about a rumor of burglaries in the neighborhood. I downplayed it, telling her it was just amateur stuff, but unsettling nevertheless. Several days later, when I called Harry to set up a hunt for the next morning, I suggested in my best television detective voice that with rumors of a cat burglar about, perhaps we should leave his dog at home to guard his wife and belongings.

Harry's wife, it seems, had mentioned something along those same lines just the other day. And, of course, he had no choice but to agree. The next morning, three things happened that Harry and I had never experienced while hunting together. First, we shot some ducks. Second, we had an enjoyable time. And third, I ate my lunch. Will Yegimi was another guy who desperately needed an intervention. Will never had any of the things he was supposed to have to go duck hunting. He was forever borrowing basic items like shotgun shells, a cup of coffee, or an extra pair of warm socks. almost every morning on arrival at the hunting spot. Will would announce that he had left his shotgun shells in the garage, and then he'd ask, will you give me a handful of shells? Sure, I'd say, as I handed over enough duck loads for the morning. Later, as conditions or leaky hip boots would dictate, I'd also have to hand over socks, snacks, a cup, a game strap, or whatever else Will needed.

While I certainly believe in helping a friend in need, it is quite a different kettle of fish to finance a cereal moocher. So early one morning, with the boat in the bed of my truck, I picked up Will to hunt a big slew of puddle ducks. But on the way, I pulled the truck into Archie's all-night market. I had prepared a list for Will and instructed him to go in and buy everything on it, including a box of duck loads, a pair of socks, several candy bars, and some gloves. He scrambled out of the truck and as he entered the store, I pulled away and went hunting, leaving Will to wander the aisles. I had previously spoken to Archie about my plan and he had agreed to give Will a ride home after letting him cool his heels. Will was pretty hot for a couple of days, but now when we hunt together, he always brings everything he needs.

But to be honest, Will had the last laugh. Just the other day, when I announced for the fourth time that I was going to get out of the boat and move some decoys that didn't look quite right to me… Will, strangely, offered no reply. He just sat quietly as I waded toward the decoys. A couple of minutes later, I was on the far edge of the spread with a pintail decoy under each arm when I heard the outboard motor start. I looked back to see Will waving as he headed for the boat ramp. Obviously, he had decided it was time to straighten me out about my decoy shuffling and had devised what he felt was a particularly appropriate intervention. He left me standing there for an hour or so. But I learned my own lesson about being a good hunting partner.

Ep. 529 – Thanksgiving Narrative: "Duck Blind Intervention"