Such was the case when, back in mid-December, we left for a week-long Christmas visit with inlaws in Virginia. It's not that I don't have great inlaws, in that instance I am truly blessed beyond compare. But no matter how far delayed the migration or poor the hunting, to leave for a week during duck season is neither lucky nor good.
Snap! It really is duck season somewhere. So I called a friend and begged an invite.
Hank had said, heck yes come up and hunt. When I telephoned him from Virginia for directions to camp, the hunt report was less than encouraging:
Hank: "It's slow. Bad slow. We've not been hunting hard and not killing too many. We still need snow cover up North."
Me: "Story of my life. Every duck hunter's life. So where's camp?"
Hank: "We'll kill a few ducks, but if it weren't for you coming up, I'd be at the office getting something productive done."
Me: "Relax. I don't want but ONE duck. Just one."
Hank: "Yeah, yeah, I know. A black duck."
Me: "No. A banded black duck."
Hank (howling hysterically): "I'm a duck hunter, not a miracle worker, and you're crazy (not exactly his words - there were a few skillfully used expletives tossed in for proper effect, too, but that pretty much sums it.)"
Even in darkness the change was startling as the DC-Metro Beltway ceded to the manicured-looking farms of Delaware and quaint towns wrapped in blinking Christmas cheer. I was greeted at Hank's camphouse by his black, tail-wagging lab, Ryder. We looked at property maps, talked about waterfowl hunting, habitat management and conservation practices long into the night. And it wasn't lost on me that every time the words "black ducks" were mentioned Hank grinned in recalling that I only wanted ONE.
By moonlight we walked through tall, rustling corn stalks that shrouded a 2-acre duck pond. The smell of saltwater marsh hung in the near-breathless air, reminding me that we were hunting a stubby finger of land pointed into and surrounded on three sides by Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Good place for black ducks, Hank had reiterated.
Shooting time arrived soon after the last of Hank's over-sized, hand-flocked (or hand-fuzzed as I called them) decoys had been pitched. The whir of whistling wings jarred the silence and before we knew it, 3 green-winged teal pitched into the decoys and left 2 shy. The next half-hour brought a pair of mallards that soon joined them on the blind bench. We waited.
During the next half-hour, Ryder paced his wet paws in place, looked upward through the blind opening and gently pleaded to the duck gods to bring more. Reminding me of the commercial, bacon, bacon, bacon, bacon, I soon made Ryder a deal: "I'll shoot another duck if you'll bring me the band." Ryder's tail agreeably thumped on the deck.
With the duck in his mouth, Ryder passed by Hank and returned toward the blind. I was directly in his return path, and he handed me the black duck. My black duck. A banded black duck. Probably the first and last time that Ryder ever hands a duck to anyone other than Hank - because great retrievers are like that - but a deal is a deal!
We shot more decoying mallards for the remainder of the visit, watched them pour into holes after shooting light by the hundreds, but it was all afterglow. Thanks to a friends Hank and Ryder, I had my one Delaware black duck.
Ramsey Russell, GetDucks.com