By Christine Cunningham
I got the call Friday night. A girlfriend’s son wanted to go duck hunting in the worst way. After six hours of the Outdoor Channel, she was begging me to take him.
He had experience shooting a .22 and a BB gun, but had never fired a shot gun before. I agreed to take him, and we met at the Snow Shoe Gun Club with his mom and my hunting partner the next day.
We went over the four rules of firearms safety and general firearms handling. Finally, with the clay thrower set up, my hunting partner explained how to shoot flying clay pigeons. I thought back to how intimidating the clay pigeons were at first and, due to my lack of any natural talent, at second and third. I wondered if I would ever be successful in the field. Especially since ducks aren’t blaze orange.
I watched as someone much smaller than me practiced mounting my CZ 20 gauge over/under. Even with the cut stock, the gun looked especially large in his arms. It was the perfect gun to start with, but I had my doubts. My buddy cautioned him about getting a “blue whistler.”
“Why’s it called a blue whistler?” I asked. I knew what it was. I’d had plenty of bruises to my right bicep due to improper mounting of my gun. Mostly, my attention focused on muzzle control; the other end of my gun often landed right where it hurt most.
“A blue whistler,” my buddy said, “Is when someone sees your arm and says [he whistled] ‘that’s a good one.’”
We put our ear protection on and watched as the first clay flew up. A shot fired and the clay shattered.
The next clay sailed out of the thrower, and he nailed it. His mom ran to the car to get the camera as the next three clays sailed and shattered to smoke in the air. It was nine clays later before he missed again.
“You’re a natural,” I said.
I couldn’t wait to see how he would do in the field. It wouldn’t be until the next day when he showed up in his clamming hip waders and layers of sweatshirts that we would venture out on his first hunt.
My buddy had been at a blind on the Kenai River flats all day already when we met up with him at the pull-out. He hadn’t seen much in the way of ducks. The sky was clear, and it looked like the first day was going to be a bust.
There is a school of thought where mentoring youth is concerned that seeks to control the environment. This school of thought wants to ensure success by creating special seasons where traditional hunting pressure makes it more difficult for beginners. This school provides advice to insulate the trip by choosing easy access points, providing snacks (and in some cases crossword puzzles), and, above all, ending the trip at the onset of a lack interest. This theory is anti-theoretical to what is to be gained from hunting. It is exactly the effort exerted that makes for the greatest success.
I still wondered if the enthusiasm my friend’s son had for hunting would endure the long hike to the blind and eventual cold. I remembered my own reluctance and lack of patience as an adult beginner. My concerns didn’t last long. We made record time to the blind at the pace set by someone one third my age.
Once the decoys were set, we settled into the blind. My buddy poured a lid of coffee and I offered my friend‘s son some hot chocolate I had brought. He passed on the hot chocolate in favor of applying camo face paint. His fingers were black and green when my buddy said the only thing any of us wanted to hear: “Get ready, here they come.”
I looked up from my feet. I don’t know why I was looking at my feet. I sometimes do this at inopportune moments. There were four pintail in the air coming into the decoys about forty yards away. They arced up and away as I reached for my gun. I looked over at my friend’s son, who had already mounted his gun.
He fired and the second pintail dropped out of the air. My buddy shot a double on the last two.
“Yes!” my friend‘s son shouted.
I was ecstatic. I thought, I can’t believe that my 20 gauge not only brought me two ducks on my first hunt, but it apparently had the same luck for everyone. (I had to take some level of credit being the only one without a bird).
One of the conditions his mother had was that he clean any birds he took himself. He wanted to roast his duck, so this meant showing him how to pluck one of my hunting partner’s birds. We did this in the blind, so my buddy explained that a wing must be left on if a bird is cleaned in the field for identification purposes. Since there are bag limits and, in some places, limitations as to species and gender, enforcement officers need to determine what you’ve taken from the field.
We finally packed up the decoys and made the trip back across the flats, my friend’s son held his pintail the entire way. When I got home late that night, I got a call from his mother.
“You have to explain something to me,” she said.
“Okay,” I said.
“He did a great job plucking his bird, but he’s insisting that one wing has to be left on.”