This has been a most unusual duck season, and this year I’m looking forward to the last day with just as much enthusiasm as I had for opening day. Sunset won’t come soon enough Sunday evening.
This season has beaten me down. I’m physically exhausted, hoping my aching muscles will carry me through the final weekend. The mental fatigue is worse – a total collapse of my psyche isn’t entirely out of the question.
But as you’re reading this, chances are I’m leaning against a tree or squatted down on a marsh seat under some buck brush, watching the skies, waiting for the next flight, trying to finish strong.
Duck hunting is a sickness.
How else explain it? Despite copious evidence to the contrary, I still believe there’s a chance the mallards will pile into my spot this weekend. And that I’ll fill my duck strap. And that my hunting buddies and I will sit around the campfire, basking in its warm orange glow and the glory of a fantastic closing weekend.
I know I’m kidding myself. I know that it hasn’t been cold enough or snowy enough to fill our state’s skies with birds. I know that eastern Arkansas was one big wetland for the first two-thirds of the season and that the ducks were scattered. I know that my new duck camp didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped. But none of that matters.
I’ve endured early mornings and late nights and a perilous diet that would destroy ordinary mortals, fought through tangles of buck brush to reach my favorite hunting spot, lugged heavy bags of decoys long distances, stood in frigid water with leaky waders.
My hands look like they belong to an 80-year-old Gloucester fisherman.
The pursuit hasn’t been cheap. I’ve personally accounted for a surge in Exxon Mobil stock for the past three months, pouring profuse quantities of gasoline into a varied assortment of boats, trucks and ATVs.
My family life has suffered. I’ve spent so much time away from home that I might be eligible to vote in several eastern Arkansas counties during this year’s elections. I’m fortunate to be married to a saintly and understanding woman; otherwise I’d be dodging process servers.
Discomfort has been a constant companion, and unfortunately, misfortune also has been a fellow traveler. My duck season started with a phone call from a friend who was reporting that his trailer – which was filled to capacity with layout blinds, dozens of decoys, a pirogue, multiple power tools and an ATV – had been stolen from the side of his house just four days prior to opening day.
Fortunately, my friend’s insurance covered the loss, but not in time to recoup our losses in time for duck season.
And hunting success was in no way a salve for my misfortune. The good days were few and far between, and the great days were nonexistent.
To be sure, there were some high points. I made some new friends this season, found some new places to hunt, saw some things I’d never seen (just this week, a friend shot an unusual hybrid of a pintail and a green-winged teal).
I saw some brilliant sunrises and sunsets and witnessed the spectacle of hundreds of ducks coming into the roost mere feet from where I watched.
I even convinced my aforementioned saintly and understanding wife to spend part of a day in a duck blind with me one chilly morning.
Still, it’s been a disappointing season on the duck-killing front. And while I’m a firm believer that hunting is about a lot more than killing ducks, I’d be dishonest if I didn’t admit that the ultimate goal of the exercise is to bring home some duck meat. Even though I’ve eaten my fair share of duck meat this season, there’s not much of a stockpile to carry me through the coming months. Let’s put it this way – I won’t be grilling duck poppers on the back deck this summer without implementing some extraordinary conservation measures.
But that’s only part of the reason I’m subjecting myself to additional misery this weekend.
Duck hunting is a sickness, and I’ve got it bad.