A Duck Hunter’s Time Out

Yancey C. Mooney | March 3, 2020

It is no secret that I love duck hunting.

I love my wife and my two wonderful children, but the love of duck hunting causes a man to do some pretty strange things. When my wife asks me a question, I’ll often answer with a duck call. I threw my shoulder out throwing a decoy for my lab. My underwear is camouflage, and I test my waders in the bath tub.

When duck season rolls around, my responsibility is planning an annual trip from my home in Macon, Georgia. I spend all year planning “The Trip,” searching flyways, watching weather partners, looking at food sources. Will it be Oklahoma, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi? Well, this year it was Arkansas.

Now, I am not going to share specifics because true duck hunters don’t tell anybody exactly where they are going or have been in the past. You disable “Find My Friends” on your phone and take out the SIM card. Use cash so your credit card can’t be tracked. My mother asked me where I was going, and I accused her of spying on me. The standard answer from me is the Terminator response, “I’ll be back.”

So, Arkansas it was. Having properly and thoroughly de-briefed my two companions (don’t be fooled by the fact that they are lifelong friends) and provided sworn blood oaths, we began the process of equipment management. In the old days, a duck hunter got out of bed, grabbed his gun and his dog and went hunting. I have heard their stories of coming home with a a bag full of ducks, but I just don’t believe it. Success depends on proper equipment management. This requires multiple trips to Bass Pro Shops in order to match your clothing camo pattern with what is on the boat. Now when I say boat, I actually mean “boats” because you need a boat to get across the lake as fast as possible, and then you have to have a sneak boat to be able to get into the holes where the mothership can’t go.

Once you get there, you need decoys. Do you have any idea how many species of ducks require decoys? Anyway, all of this is a necessary part of equipment management required for The Trip.

We couldn’t leave until after work, so we drove all night cramped into one truck with dogs, bags, boats, guns, waters… all a finely tuned equipment management system, which would have stressed a U-Haul truck. The was no time for a stop at a motel room. As soon as we arrived, we loaded the boats and raced through total darkness across a lake we knew nothing about in search of a spot we had never seen. However, the duck hunting spirits were good that night. We found a spot without interlopers and proceeded to try and get a couple hours of sleep in a wet boat. By the way, it was wet not just from water. Dogs can’t pee off the sides of the boat. Thankfully, my careful planning did allow for a motel room the rest of The Trip.

That first morning I had anticipated swarms of beautiful ducks coming from every direction, flaring into the carefully place decoys. We were guaranteed to limit out in a matter of minutes. Wait for it… not even close.

Besides a few curious coots, there was nothing even resembling a bird anywhere within binocular range. Well, more research and reconnaissance is all part of the plan. The one thing that is never part of the plan is the weather. Having found what looked like a honey hole, the next morning’s weather made it impossible to even get a boat in the water, let alone hunt. When the dogs get seasick, it is time to reconsider the plan.

I attempted to ease the frustrations of my companions by assuring them that our last morning would find us in a duck hunter’s nirvana. Enough ducks to block out the sunrise. The shooting would be legendary. It would be the kind of day that could only be described as perfect.

Upon awakening that last day, the weather was indeed perfect, crisp and clear, just like I had planned. The decoys were out, I had placed everyone strategically so that no birds could escape. I knew it was going to be good.

Before sunrise I could hear wood ducks whistling and began to see swarms of mallards on the horizon. The work began. Duck calling is a true art and requires special talent. I am not going to say that we are the best callers in the world, but the plan was working, as mallards were responding to the calls and began circling.

I had made it clear that the plan was to let the first flight land to make the decoy spread even more attractive. Then as more ducks came in to join them, we would open up together. Everyone understood the plan.

The problem was that I underestimated my own slightly heightened degree of anticipation. As the first group of ducks finally decided to join the decoys, they came in loud and active. As they flared at the water’s surface I could not contain myself. I jumped around the tree that was hiding me and fired, immediately causing the thoroughly frightened ducks to vanish before anyone else could get a shot.

Yancey C. Mooney

Here I stood waist deep in water and neck deep in shame. I had ruined the perfect day. What could be worse than this? It was then that our eldest companion appeared from his blind, took one look at me and said slowly and clearly, “Yancey put your gun against that tree and go sit on that stump… You are in time out!”

When I was a kid and did something stupid, I knew that time out was inevitable, even if I didn’t fully understand the point behind it. As an adult, I finally got it. I screwed up. I put my gun on a tree and went and sat on the indicated stump. As I sat looking ashamedly at my friends, they were laughing so hard they were about to wet their waders. They had never seen an adult being sent to time out, particularly someone who professed to be in charge. So here I sat, a lump on a stump in the dumps. The hunter’s time out.

No one is ever too old or too in charge to get it. Lesson learned. But there’s always next year.

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