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Monday, September 22, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 10/15/2000

Waterfowler asks why

Cold, wet, windy. Muddy, musty, gray. Windburn. Head-nodding fatigue. Big, smelly, black dogs. Aching, chilled hands. Stinging sleet.

Duck hunting is so much fun you can hardly stand it.

A waterfowler, in his or her mind's eye, never thinks of a day afield as sunny and mild and calm. Those days, bluebird days, are for a walk in the park.

It takes a nasty, gunmetal northeaster to evoke visions and daydreams.

Why do we do it? Wish we could say, really. You can search forever but you won't find the answers chiseled in stone.

Anywhere.

I hardly pretend to speak for every waterfowler who ever stepped into a marsh blind or slid into a coffin-like layout boat. There are many reasons for hunting ducks, and geese as well. I know some, mostly my own, but also some of the reasons held by men and women with whom I have shared a blind.

Thousands of us are out there, celebrating a common and deep bond with one another and with the ducks. We started Oct. 7 in southern Michigan, this weekend for young hunters in Ohio, and for all the rest of us in Ohio on Saturday

At its heart, I think, is a deep pull to be connected to the mystery.

Consider the magic of wildfowl: They come from far beyond the northern horizon, often from wild empty places known to few men. They ride down the North Wind like they were born to it.

They circle overhead, dip and rise on the wind and air currents, wings cupped and wingtips fluttering, necks craned - looking, looking, looking.

They circle some more, wary, pondering. Maybe they sense something “not right.” Maybe they see, from their eagle's-eye view, something better. Maybe they just decide to feed or rest later.

So they fly on and disappear beyond the southern blue. And leave us mere mortals rooted in the muck.

They make me want to reach out and touch and be a part of their wonder, to know their secrets. They make me want to possess them, to consume them, to be consumed by them.

So ducks are a mystery to me. They live a secret life, an adventurous and even perilous one. And they are such gorgeous creatures, especially when decorated in their courting plumage.

Why, how, could I ever shoot a duck? What - what! - possesses me?

Deep down, it may be a childlike hope that if I capture it in death, and eat it, I somehow will share its wild, untamed spirit, somehow better feel the land, the water, the sky, attain a deeper connection with it all.

Yet at the same time there is the bittersweet taste from ending a wild life. Like I said, the answers aren't chiseled in stone.

So this partly is why waterfowlers carve and buy decorative decoys and art prints of marsh scenes and duck hunts.

This partly is why they pay to have taxidermy mounts made that pay homage to their kills.

If you don't believe that, hang around with some of them. Slog in the leg-pulling mud in their waders while setting decoys at an icy 4:30 a.m.

Go to their rousing fund-raising dinners and watch them oooh and aaah - and spend big money - over waterfowl art and finely crafted decoys and shotguns and other trappings of the trade. Eat some marinated, grilled duck breast. It's passion speaking.

For some folks it is enough to see ducks and geese through life's looking glass - be that windowpane or binoculars.

That is fine by me. It is noble and wonderful in its own way.

But for some of us it is not enough. In the end, we must have blood on our hands.

It is much like the way some folks are happy buying vegetables at the grocery, while others among us are not satisfied, way down deep, unless we get dirt under our fingernails by stewarding and nurturing and harvesting a crop from a garden.

Indeed, for nature, there is no right or wrong. Ducks die every year by the thousands, as they did before the first man killed his first duck.

Diseases, predators, accidents, storms. Old age rarely is a factor in nature.

For me there still is only wonder. If I ever stop wondering, I should stop duck hunting.



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