Imagining a chat with my younger duck hunting self
Silver streaked across the eastern sky, and during a time better suited for reflection and anticipation, I chuckled.
What? my 13-year-old nephew, Riley, asked.
Nothing, I replied. Five minutes till shooting. Keep your eyes peeled.
I wasn't laughing at him, of course, but at the fact that I was trying to guide a youngster into the world of duck hunting. It sounds cliché to say it, but it seems like I was in his waders only yesterday. And with every bit of advice or instruction I offered, I recalled how my pre-teen brain usually filtered through my dad's wisdom and only heard select pieces.
That sparked a thought. As I talked to Riley, I imagined trying to have a conversation with my neophyte duck hunting self. Perhaps I would have listened to an older, grizzled me when I zoned out advice from my dad and others. Maybe I could have gotten through to younger me.
Psst. Hey, I imagined myself saying.
No, don't look up, dummy. They'll see the glare off your face. That flares more ducks than anything.
So anyway, I know you think you know it all, but you're going to have to learn a lot of stuff to get better — how to set decoys, how to hide, how to shoot, how to identify birds in flight. Some of it's not intuitive, but you just have to stick with it.
Uh … OK.
And you need to be patient, all right? I know it's tough, but you'll never become a good duck hunter — or any kind of hunter — by being hasty or quitting when things get tough.
(Fidgeting) Yeah, but I want to shoot ducks.
Sure, every duck hunter wants to shoot ducks, dude. But unless you're rich or experience a rare day, you don't just walk out and shoot ducks. You need to plan, scout and be smart. And patient.
Yeah, well my buddy and his friend shot their limits at French Creek the other day.
Well, good for them. You should be happy for those guys. But you can't measure your success and enjoyment by what other hunters do. Dad always told me that hunting and fishing aren't competitive sports. You're not even competing against the animal — just yourself.
Yeah, but I want to shoot ducks.
(Rolling eyes, grinding teeth) I realize that, but my point is you're going to have to earn success, OK? Some lessons won't sink in for years, but after a while, you'll look back and see how much you improved. More important, you'll realize the moments that led to that point were the most enjoyable and important aspects of duck hunting.
(Blank look) When do you think we're going to shoot some ducks?
(Mouth agape, fist clenched) Sigh. Just keep your eyes open. Quit moving around so much. Pay attention, and stay patient. And cover up that blond mop.
Riley snapped me out of my daydream.
There's some over there, he said.
Yep, good eye, bud, I replied. Wood ducks. Remember how you can tell even early in the morning?
Um … the square tails? he said.
Good man, I said. Keep watching for them, because they'll streak over low and don't usually slow down. Same with bluewings. But stay alert for mallards up high, OK?
With that, Riley resumed scanning the horizon. Maybe he listened to me. I'm guessing he's brighter and less stubborn than the kid with the blond bowl cut who'd started his waterfowling journey decades earlier. Then again, it didn't matter. Riley would learn and grow just as the kid had. He'd mix mistakes with success, and the picture would slowly become clearer. Maybe he'd like duck hunting, or perhaps he'd take to something else. Eventually, though, he'd probably look back and remember how those little moments that led to the present were the real spoils of time in the marsh.
That blond kid did after a while. And deep down, he never really needed his older, grizzled self to tell him so.