A great day all in all, from the o-dark thirty meet at the landing to bringing it back to dock that afternoon. Ray, arriving earlier than I had already scoped out the locations of the other hunters on the water. I could also see in the dark that the really good locations were already occupied by the distant flickering lights in the good directions. Not-to-worry, Ray had a backup plan.
We could see as we readied the little skiff by our head lamps that there was some cloud cover to the south bringing hopes of a little rain or possibly some wind. Anticipation grew as I stood in water to my knees warming up the 4 hp outboard before pushing off into the dark weedy water. Loaded heavy with dekes and gear, with marginal freeboard, we traveled at just above an idle into the black, pushing our way towards a vague point on the horizon directed by Ray. By luck we missed the prop clogging heavy beds of weeds along the way.
Nearing the far alder covered bank we slowed even further searching the shoreline for a distant memory in Ray’s mind, a place he had hunted by himself long ago from a canoe. The alders came right into the water and dead snags appeared suddenly in the shallows by our headlights. I swung wide and cruised slowly up the bank till Ray said “I think this is the spot”. Nosing the skiff into a grassy bank Ray hopped out and we transferred the gear ashore. Then I took the skiff back out to set the deeks.
I had been thinking about the decoy set up all the way down the highway from Talkeetna to Palmer and had a pretty good idea as to how I thought it might work out, but it would depend on the weather conditions when I got there. I found the water dead calm as I rowed the skiff back into the dark. A decision had to be made quick as the light was beginning to show on the horizon, set up for possible helpful windy weather to come or set up for the flat calm water I rowed through now. The coming dawn showed the cloud cover to be breaking up, bummer. Ok put the widgeon, teal and mallard in their own tight groups forming a large pothole with the teal out the furthest and tightest at 40 yards, widgeon to the left closer to shore and mallards to the right in a slightly looser group with a couple immature’s and a butt-up close to shore.
I found a spot to hide the skiff about 50 yards down the bank, covered it with camo burlap, and hiked back up the uneven shoreline to Ray’s location. I was amazed by what I found there! Ray, who was nursing a severely injured forestock arm had collected dead alders, grass, and other brush one handed and created a large well hidden blind while I was setting out the dekes. He directed me to the way through the sticks into the roomy comfortable hide and said shooting time had started 10 minutes ago. We settled into our wait for wings against the mountain backdrop.
A few birds moved in the first half hour and I took a shot at three mallards that surprised me straight in high at about 40 yards. I missed two shots straight overhead and silently cursed myself for shooting behind them. I had made that shot successfully many times in the past. The dawning morning proved to be more and more like a blue bird day and my anticipation of a limit of tasty ducks dropped off considerably. I was not bummed out however as the banter between Ray and I was entirely enjoyable. The conversation ranged from present to previous jobs, duck hunts we had both enjoyed together in the past and so on. Suddenly, as it always happens five widgeon swung by out of range and seemingly heading for a distant draw. I hailed them long and mournfully and for some reason they turned. I whistled them encouragingly and they responded by three out of range passes, then on to their distant destination.
Now I wondered if the decoy set up was spooking them. I sat silent in my mind tossing this possible problem with that when three widgeon came in quick and dropped into the teal dekes at 40 yards, too far to scare up and shoot. I whimpered the widgeon whistle and alternated with shallow hen mallard quacks hoping to draw them in another ten yards, not to be. They suddenly decided the teal dekes were way to still and took flight away into the middle of the lake.
Way past mid morning when Ray and I were deep into as conversation about duck boat construction three widgeon swooped in straight on and one landed in the widgeon dekes at 25 yards, the other two passing behind us. Bluebird day protocol called for taking the bird in the hand and I stood up shouting and whooping the duck to fly, which it did, and I dropped it. In the mean time a flight of about six widgeon I had not seen rained in on us from behind as I was standing there waving my arms and yelling. In my peripheral vision I saw Ray’s black shotgun rise up, then I heard a resounding CLICK! Words I could not understand mumbled from Ray’s mouth.
The birds were gone and Ray was obviously nursing disappointment. I waited a reasonable amount of time and asked what had happened? “The bolt was not all the way closed”, he said. “It is a constant problem with the Stoger replica of the Benelli that I know about and should have made sure it was closed.” I did not press the discussion, but did tell him that I had willed to him my Benelli when I was going into heart surgery last winter. I knew he would get much enjoyment out of it and didn’t know of any relatives that didn’t already have every possible duck and goose hunting accessory that a person could desire. Ray was appreciative. We watched the blue bird horizon.
The trip back to the launch was thankfully uneventful as heavily loaded as we were. I was able then to see the many thick weed beds we had miraculously missed on the way out through the dark. We efficiently unloaded the skiff and I managed again to lift it onto the top of my pickup. Ray wanted to help with the lift but I asked him to heal, not tear more muscles in his for arm. It is getting harder and harder for me to lift the back of the skiff and shove it onto the top rack, but it went fairly well.
At the trucks we discussed our hunt warmly, remembering the widgeon that “rained down on us from behind” and as we prepared to leave for our homes Ray said “wait, I have something for you.” He brought out a cooler with two thick frozen Caribou steaks and two packages of Caribou sausage from the bull that he bagged a month ago. He then produced and gave to me the wonderful 10” long thickness gauges needed for setting up your jet pump impeller and copies from the Honda repair manual for adjusting the valves and balancing the carburetors on the 50 hp Honda. What a guy! What a day!