It’s only one. Not “one” limit. Not a half of a limit. A single drake mallard. Life just is not what it once was as an outdoorsman since my struggle with chronic pain started 13 years ago. And it definitely has made it difficult as a duck hunter. Lord knows, I do love duck hunting. Every bit of it. The smells, the anticipation, the preparation, the bonds of friendship made, the match of wits with weary greenheads, the tradition, all of it! And it is every bit that drives my wife Karen looney which is why on this day I went in the afternoon so as not to wake her too early, disrupting her work schedule(bless my heart).
So on this day, I developed a sound plan that a sound hunter would execute except I am not a sound hunter. My soundness is measured by the damned pain, the chronic pain, that I live with every single day. It is just off the charts some days and I manage it not only by pain meds but by meditation and praying and being in the outdoors when I can. It’s just that this kind of being in the outdoors goes against everything one can do to manage a life with chronic pain. It’s a duck hunt and duck hunting for those of us struggling with pain is like oil and water: no matter how you shake it, it still doesn’t mix! To complicate matters, it had rained the night and morning before my afternoon hunt which happened to turn dirt into mud. Arkansas mud. Entrapping cement mud. I do not own an ATV which is fine because I can walk which sometimes helps if it has not rained nor if I have far to walk. But on this day I would have about mortgaged off my home for one because of the entrapment I was now experiencing because of the rain. Pull one foot up and the other one is sucked into the mud.
So what was this “sound” plan? Drive over to Arkansas from my home in Memphis and hunt in a little duck hole that has a history of hit and miss. I would pull on my waders and walk about a half a mile to my flooded rice field, lug in my wooden decoys and my Browning Maxus that I had miraculously won at a DU event(for those of you who are DU members you know what I am talking about), along with my field blind, shells, and a jacket. If you believe this was heavy, well it was, and if an alarm just started sounding in your brain that said beep, beep, beep, stupido, stupido, man with bad back have no brain, your intelligence surpasses mine which may or may not be saying much.
So I packed everything up and drove over to my duck hole which is about an hour away. Once I arrived, I got out of my truck and tried to stretch and loosen up my back. I walked around to the bed of my truck, pulled down the tail gate, pulled on my waders which is no small feet, for large feet by the way, strapped everything on, locked my truck, and started walking. About 10 steps in, I new I was in trouble. My good friend chronic pain was now rearing it’s ugly head with each step and I knew I was going to have some issues. As a matter of fact, I was already planning my hot bath and ice compress on my lower back once I got home. On top of this, it was 65 degrees and I was sweating. Heck I should have worn my swimming trunks!
I really do not know what I was thinking(shut up Karen!) I cannot even lay flat in my own bed and here I was planning on laying flat in a field blind! So after my little stroll down the thick mud road, the entire road now apparently trapped on the bottom of my feet, I stood at the edge of my rice field. I threw out my decoys with my friend chronic pain, (I will call him CP for short) close in tow and bent over(CP assisted) to camoflauge the layout blind. I loaded my gun, shoved my big feet, caked with Arkansas mud, into the blind, and tried to lay down flat which, by the way, is the purpose of a layout blind. What in the world was I thinking! The rods and screws and stuff from my lumbar reconstructiont surgery about did me in. My surgically repaired neck was so stiff by now that I could hardly move it, and my legs and feet were killing me. I was hurting badly and I kept asking myself, am I having fun yet? I had to lay on my side and I thought, how in the heck will I ever shoot from this crazy position!
Well the ducks answered that question because there was not one to be found. They had probably headed north to colder grounds where they could regulate their temperature given how warm it had gotten to be. Ducks do not stay south if it gets warm. They will literally fly back and forth as weather dictates. After about an hour or so of this insanity, I said, okay, enough is enough. I had texted Karen, you know, the one in our family that functions with all of her faculties, and said I can’t do this and I am coming home. I cannot write what she said to me.
Pushing the top of the blind off, I fought through it, pulling and working to unzip it. Then I struggled to pull my mud-caked feet out of the blind, and I slowly rose from the hell I had made. I waded out and picked up my decoys, folded up my blind, and prepared for my walk back to the truck when suddenly from the heavens, a pair of mallards circled and tried to land on top of my head! What the heck? I think they had come to laugh at me. They circled and left, naturally, after seeing a big ole slouched over, camoflauged goob standing in the middle of their sushi field!
There was only thirty minutes left in my adventure so I decided that I had already endured most of the afternoon therefore, I would stay until sunset. So I pulled my three wooden decoys out of the decoy bag, threw them out as far as I could get them and went back a few yards away from the pond close to a telephone pole that was standing close by. I called Karen and said my friend CP was kicking my butt but I was going to stay a few minutes longer. Her reply had something to do with that I had been an idiot for this long and what would a few more minutes matter to dying brain cells. No more than I had picked up the phone, unfolded it(yes it is a flip phone thank you) and gave her the news than another pair of mallards dropped out of the heavens and started circling my three decoys. I folded the phone back up, dropped it in my pocket, and gave a quick feeding chuckle on my duck call, immediately turning the ducks towards my position. They set sail, lowered their orange landing gear for a touchdown just beyond my decoys and I got ready. I picked out the drake from the pair, lifted my maxus for a moving lead, pulled the trigger and dropped him while the hen flew off.
Immediately my friend CP tapped me on the shoulder and said, you want me to go retrieve him and I thought funny; but in all reality, how in the world would I go pick him up? I sat my gun down and started the trek out to retrieve the bird with good ole CP in tow(sure do wish he would find a new friend!) By this time, I was in so much pain, I really didn’t know how I was going to bend over for the retrieve.
As I approached him though, I could tell this was a mature bird. He just glowed in the rice mush! I bent over and picked him up, admiring the beauty of one of God’s most beautiful creations. The irridescent green, blue, and yellow head; the rich chestnut colored chest. And the purpleish, blue speculum of his wings. He was a big mature mallard drake. Only a couple of pellets had found their mark and he was perfect, absolutely perfect! Every feather was in its place. I made my way back across the field, feet sticking in mud, pain shooting with each step, but holding a really great mallard. It immediately inspired me to come back, since I carve ducks and birds for a living, and make that bird my next decorative carving project.
By the time I made it back to my telephone pole blind, it was just about time to go. I picked up my three decoys and put them in the bag, laid my one mallard on top of the decoys, and began the arduous task of dragging my butt, feet sticking in the mud, and all of my stuff, back to the truck for my trip home. By the time I strolled up to the truck, I was soaking wet from sweat, and totally engulfed with my friend CP. I strained and struggled to pull off my waders, loaded everything up and started home.
It was only one duck; one single solitary mallard drake. I was as proud of that one duck as any I had ever killed including those that had a band on their legs! I am still hurting two days later and the taste of duck hunting this season has at least temporarily been satisfied. Truthfully, I am not sure when I will go again nor am I jumping up and down to go. But for me, one duck, one simple duck, taken in a place my only son and I shared while he was growing up, taken while having to battle chronic pain, taken with decoys I made, was absolutely a gift!