Perspective Prompts a Simple Suggestion for Waterfowlers
While thumbing through old hunting photographs recently, two realizations struck me. First, mullets and Jones-style camo caps don't mix in any circumstances. Second, I've been darn lucky to enjoy lots of waterfowl hunting through the years.
One of the oldest photographs shows an awkward teenager with three mallards — the limit in those days — taken one November day with a single-shot 20-gauge in the Wisconsin River backwaters near his home. One of the most recent, ironically, shows three mallards taken by a creaky, bald middle-aged dude with a modern 12-gauge auto-loader, probably 90 minutes from the scene of the first hunt. The thousands of images in between reveal a slow progression of age and adventures, with new boats, bounding puppies, favorite hotspots, exotic destinations, embarrassing blunders, triumphant hero shots, and friends old and new — and departed.
Of course, the photos don't reveal too much about my state of mind when they were snapped. You can tell if I'm happy, proud of my dog or perhaps even a bit smug after a good day. But none really reveal my hopes or motivations at that point in a hunter's journey. Shots of individual birds likely indicate I was elated to have taken a new species or prime drake. Pile shots usually just meant I wanted to thump my chest. Group images commemorated trips or really memorable hunts. And dog pictures typically marked first hunts, final hunts or memorable retrieves. None of the pictures come with captions that provide perspective about where I was in life or how I approached and viewed hunting. I remember, of course, but no one else would know unless I explained. And that, I'm sure, would be regrettably self-indulgent.
Ambiguity aside, the parade of images reveals one undeniable truth: I've really enjoyed almost every moment associated with duck and goose hunting, even though I've gone through many phases, from newbie insecurity to limit-lust to perhaps a better perspective of the activity. Maybe that's my point (and I know you were wondering if I'd get there). Twenty-some years ago in the turkey woods of western Kentucky, the great Harold Knight led me on the heart-pounding pursuit of a henned-up gobbler. As we slipped into position for what would be our final setup, he looked me in the eye and delivered a lesson I'll never forget. Whatever happens here today, enjoy it.
I did, and hopefully, I've tried to follow those words every time I've stepped afield since. By the time you read this, I will have started my 40th hunting season, and more than ever, I remind myself that my ultimate goal is to cherish every sunrise, boat ride, push-pole and hour in nature.
Sure, I still enjoy shooting ducks and geese. I'm still tickled when I get a limit or take a prime drake. I might even kid a buddy when I do well and he falters a bit. But whether I end the day with a full strap or an empty boat, I strive to appreciate every aspect of the hunt. To do otherwise would make the activity pointless, and I love hunting too much to trivialize it that way.
So listen to an old guy who once wore a 1980s mullet under a Jones cap: Hunt hard. Hunt long. Hone your skills. Strive for success. But please, enjoy it, because 40 seasons can pass in a blur.