As I merged my F-150 onto the northbound freeway, my two way radio suddenly cackled with a chorus of frantic duck call quacking. I radioed back a belly laugh, together with a cacophony of my own duck calls in response to my son as he followed me in his truck. We were heading up to the family duck property for the waterfowl season opener and our excitement was electric. Our quacking radios were one of those great moments that will remain indelibly etched in my memory. Duck hunting has become a serious pursuit at our house. Several nights before opener, I camouflaged my canoe, and when my non-hunting husband came home and found me under the deck with spray paint cans and a flashlight, he just chuckled and shook his head.
"The Duck Property." My Dad spoke of it often when I was small, and in later years when I was grown. It had been in the family nearly 50 years, and with it, the countless hunting memories of several generations. Last year, Dad gave us The Duck Property and all the family hunting photo albums. His Alzheimers Disease had gotten to the point where he could not remember things anymore and he knew it was time to pass this legacy on to us. I intimately know every inch of this land, and we have tried archery deer hunting there in previous years, but the lay of the land was just not suitable for that. Duck hunting here now was both exciting and bittersweet. Last year, I called Dad on my cell phone from the middle of the lake to the north. He bubbled with a childlike thrill and vicariously enjoyed the experience through us. My son has inherited my Dads natural hunting and shooting ability so it is almost like hunting with Dad, something I never got to do as a child. Women hunters do run in the family, however. Though genteel ladies, both Great Gram and Grandma were deer and duck hunters, as well as anglers. Grandma and grandpa were hunting buddies and soul mates, a patently unique and to me, enviable relationship. They honeymooned on this very property during a duck season in the roaring twenties, and old photos of them together bear out their love for each other and the outdoors. It took me until I was 38 years old to become a hunter, but when I did, it was a passion fulfilled after many years of longing. To finally be hunting on the family land has brought the legacy full circle again... and sometimes even put a tear in my eye.
The quarter mile access strip into the duck property is a roller coaster of gopher mounds and potholes. You hunker down for the ride in unless you want a concussion, and you secure your morning coffee unless you want to wear it. Upon arriving, we often meet up with the other family who owns the property with us, four brothers who are my Dads age. We plot our various ducks blinds on the 114 acres of wetlands, and excitedly recount previous hunting seasons. The guys have a ritual of giving me the business about shooting a coot my first year. They tell stories of the old days, of capsized canoes and swamped shotguns, of practical jokes and grandpas signature wheezy laugh, wrought by years of smoking too many cigarettes. Grandpas dilapidated wooden canoe still lies upside down at our launch point, and each time we duck hunt, I cant help but stand for a moment and think about the history of that old weathered craft.
After pulling on waders, and loading the canoe, we paddle to our blind to wait for legal shooting time. In Minnesota, the opener is at noon on the first day. We downed several ducks before the day was through, but lost a couple in the thick cattails. We have no hunting dog, so we are the dogs, forging through the swamp grasses but having little luck with retrieval.
Perhaps my favorite part of duck hunting, aside from connecting shot with the incoming birds, is the pre-dawn trip to our duck blind. There is something strangely appealing about paddling the canoe in total darkness, over the various pockets of still glassy water and through the beaver runs that snake among the cattails. The sound of the paddles dipping in the water, the stars or moon glistening on the waters surface, the smell of dead grass and mud and even placing our decoys, all contribute to my intrigue with the sport. Stepping into the swamp in my waders, I like the water pressing against my legs, of sometimes being in it waist high, pulling the canoe to a resting spot and then sitting quietly to wait for the dawn and the first flights of ducks.
Another facet of duck hunting, quite different from deer hunting where solitude and total silence are key, is being able to make a little noise. My son and I yack a lot, work out our differences, rib each other, talk about life, get mad at each other, and laugh when the other sounds really pathetic blowing on their duck call. I imagine these same scenarios were played out with my Dad, his father, and my great grandfather, and sometimes it's almost as if their spirits were present encouraging our camaraderie.
The legacy of the duck property lives on. My son will have this land when I die, and will pass it on to his progeny. Then mine will be a spirit there present to encourage their camaraderie, hovering over the waters, dancing through the cattails, dressed in a gossamer moon and riding upon the wings of waterfowl as they flare to land in the decoys.