Growing up in cartoons, I mean the real cartoons like Bugs & Daffy and Foghorn Leghorn, I would get up on Saturday mornings and watch (as long as there was no chore to take care of) my favorites for an hour. My favorite was the Elmer Fudd, Daffy & Bugs doing the hunting season bit – it’s Duck Season, its Rabbit Season.. ok ok, you get the picture. But it is duck season now, and I have been reliving some of my past hunts in my mind and a few pictures that I have from them.
My induction to duck hunting started as a family trek to Arkansas for Thanksgiving. The men would get up bright fuzzy early in the morning, prepare for the morning hunt, drinking coffee, consuming quarter sections of whatever pie may have been left on the countertop, getting gear put into the truck, and make sandwiches. The boys would get one wake-up call and shake – it’s time to get up – if you didn’t roll out, you didn’t go – yea, I learned that lesson the hard way once or twice.
While this was going on, the rest of the hunting party would arrive, Tommy Ferguson was often one of the participants, but there were others. The first place in my memories was Anderson Minnow Farm. In the beginning, Dad and I would walk together, and Uncle Ben and my cousin would walk together, chasing diver ducks and coots around the ponds. We may separate and sit for a while, or we would regroup and try sneaking on ducks as they gathered in the corners of the ponds.
As time passed, my brother and younger cousin would join the group and be introduced into the community. Dad and Tom would hunt together, Ben and I would pair up, Uncle Ben and Sam would hunt together. As we grew older, the pairs changed to Dad and Uncle Ben, Ben and I, Tom and Sam, and the other hunting party members mixed in. New locations would be added as well, like “The Sunkenlands,” a flooded timber pond that the location escapes me. But those were the hunts of my youth. It wasn’t about the birds that we shot; it was the socialization and the sense of family and community that I found and the foundations of my memories.
As my brother and I grew older, different trips were included. I would come home from college for winter break, Dad would come home Tom, and I would pack the gear, and off we would go to Port O Conner for a combination duck hunting and fishing trip with Jerry Bang and Tom Lempa. The same familiar shake and call in the morning – “it’s time to get up.” Wake up, get dressed, then off to Joses’ for breakfast, then a quick boat ride to “the spot.”
Then putting out the decoys, scratching the dog as he would whine in anticipation, and watching the sunrise on the horizon. The birds would work into the call and decoys, cupping and spilling air from under their wings as they started to settle into the decoys, and finally hearing Tom or Jerry yell “take ’em.” Those trips were memorialized with a camera, and the results bring back memories of family, community, and the love of duck hunting.
Then I moved off to Mississippi. A foreign land, a different community. In the winter however, when the birds would migrate, and the same familiar sounds of shotgun shots could be heard in the mornings. This was a time when I learned about guiding, finding places to take hunters, setting decoys, watching the sun cross the horizon, calling to the birds, watching them cup their wings to come into the decoys, and me yelling to the hunters, “take em.” Stories of the morning hunt would be told over coffee, bringing the same sense of community.
These last two seasons have been a little different in some respects. I have again found willing hunting companions T.J. and Steve, two different friends, doing different types of hunts. T.J. works harder than I do; he has his own business, family, and kids of his own. But we get to get a couple of hunts each season in the rice fields west of Houston. Steve is one of the officers I work with, and we have been hunting a small pond off the Brazos River. Different hunting, different partners, the same sense of community, the same love of the outdoors, the same love of putting out the decoys, watching the sun come over the horizon, watching the ducks work to the decoys and the call, air spilling from under their wings as they come in. One of us yelling, “Take ’em.”