Wade Right On In
On The Back Page With Daryl Gay, January 2018
You may be unaware of this, but Walking In Waders is an officially sanctioned event of the 2018 Winter Games—sponsored by the Spanish Inquisition. These games are certainly not to be confused with anything Olympics-related. Those consist mainly of sailing off a perfectly grounded mountain and/or falling down one while wearing skis and such. And in a further attempt to bore/confuse viewers, there are competitions such as mass start speed skating, luge and mixed doubles curling. All this will be going on at PyeongChang Stadium, South Korea. Good luck with that.
Can’t help you much with a luge—nor can I tell you what in the flaming cathair a PyeongChang is. But waders? Waders I know. Duck holes, too.
And when an old buddy invites me to partake in an opening-day shoot, at a spot where “there was about four to five hundred coming in mid-afternoon yesterday,” it’s break out the waders and away we go, all stamped-up and gleeful.
Uh, not so fast.
It is a testament to how devious ducks truly are that their hole-site selection is based on weeding out all but the diehard—or die HARD—would-be waterfowler.
Upon semi-arrival, following splashing merrily through a series of windshield-high washouts, a strip of trees some 200 yards long was pointed out: they’ll come a’flockin’ right in there!
All we gotta do is walk the 150 yards in and get set up—in a place, remember, that I’d never been remotely introduced to. Might as well have been PyeongChang.
Except for the briars.
Let’s just put it like this: if briars sold for 2 cents a ton, this landowner would be a billionaire!
Having spent decades in the Okefenokee, where everything sticks, pokes, prods, rips, tears or bites, I’m accustomed to watching myself bleed. But for briars pure and simple, this place tops ’em all.
So here’s the first stage of the dilemma: briar patches plus brand-new waders equal punctured, leaky waders.
Stage two: if I’m going to walk this far in all decked out in chest-highs, please have a ‘copter standing by to whirl my corpse out following the infarction.
Fortunately, it’s cold enough to put coveralls on over a base layer, then drape the waders over my shoulders so that the swinging boots pound my hams nearly to smithereens while stumbling onward.
Whose idea was this duck hunt anyway?
As a deer hunter, I’ve come to despise a hog with the best of you, but had it not been for pig trails, I’d probably still be trying to unpin myself from a briar wall. All the while with the thought that I may at any moment be forced to present a startled porker with a snout full of steel shot foremost in my mind.
You just ain’t seen thick… and I honestly don’t believe I’ve EVER been so glad to arrive at flooded timber! Which entails shucking boots and overalls, a somewhat breezy few moments, then sliding at long last into waders and water.
Just in case you’ve never taken the plunge, to turn a phrase, with waders, know that one really doesn’t walk in them. One stumbles or, preferably, glides one’s feet along the ground under water. Know also that there has never been—in the history of the world—a single perfectly level spot to place one’s foot within the flooded confines of a duck hole.
If you’re educated, you’ll have a balancing stick; if not, you’ll soon be both educated… and wet.
By the way, remember the accounting process of the previous afternoon? Yeah, the day BEFORE the season opened. When it was cold and windy with an all-day drizzle. Absolutely perfect duck-flying weather.
Right. So just as I pick a stump to perch on, the steel-gray sky miraculously turns a brilliant blue and the sun—on vacation for a month—pops out.
Just curious: have you ever harbored a secret desire to punch a weatherman?
So what was shaping up to be a quick mid-afternoon limit-gathering jaunt has now turned into a rather arduous waiting game.
And while I may not have seen this place before, once inside the trees it’s like my living room. Settling in, it takes less than a minute to pick up the beautifully-haunting cries of squealers already on the water a ways off to my right.
Overhead, a sprawling oak plops its duck-drawing acorns into the water, which is lapping gently around my knees. Silence is broken only by the woodies’ keening cries as they draw closer. Their swirling and bobbing are clearly audible, bringing to mind the thought that just when we all believed we were going deaf the reality is that at times we hear exactly and only what we want to hear.
Camo’ed top to bottom, as still as that oak except for roving eyes, I finally pick them up: four drakes and a pair of hens. If there’s anything in the wild with a more beautiful paint job than a drake woodie, I’ve yet to see it.
They paddle past at 20 feet, hang out for a couple of minutes, then glide out of sight. Could likely have limited out with a pair of shots, but I could almost feel Daddy’s questioning eyes on me: “You gonna shoot those ducks on the water?” Uh…no. Besides, I didn’t clamber across 40 acres of purgatory to pass up the thrill of missing a couple dozen whirling overhead through the timber.
Man, these new waders haven’t leaked a drop! And, truth be told, this has turned into a really gorgeous afternoon. Hope a few ducks come in. But even if they don’t, we’re not all that far from the truck anyway…
Order your copy of Daryl Gay’s books, “Rabbit Stompin’ And Other Homegrown Safari Tactics,” $19.95 plus $3 S&H and “Life On the Back Page,” $14.95 plus $3 S&H from www.darylgay.com or 16 Press, 219 Brookwood Drive, Dublin, GA, 31021.