Friday, January 8, 2010

Irony and Frostbite

It's seven degrees outside, with a north wind at 15 gusting to 25. At least that's what the computer told me before I left the house. But the frozen snot on the end of my nose tells me the question of whether it's warmed up any since then is, semantically speaking, moot.

 We're making our way down the riverbank, Lewey and I, crunching through the frozen grass, when it happens. Ranging out thirty or so yards ahead of me he suddenly shifts out of his normal I'm-just-a-happy-go-lucky-goofball lope into "what's this smell" mode. Moments later the covey bursts out of the grass and flies across the river.

I don't shoot, because I'm standing here in a pair of waders, with a decoy bag over one shoulder, camera and gear bag over the other, and a trio of three-inch #2s in the 870.

And the reason I'm standing here in waders, holding a decoy bag and a shotgun full of steel is because several days earlier I had been standing along this same riverbank in brush pants and a vest, holding a 20 gauge full of #8s, and all I saw were ducks. Piles of them, all up and down the river.

Today, however, all I find is quail. Lewey flushes another small covey huddled along the ribbon of cottonwoods, eastern redcedars, tamarisks and sandsage that flank the river. I find no ducks, anywhere. All I find is an inch of ice covering the river and silence. I've long since dumped the decoy bag and resigned myself to sneaking along the ice, hoping there might be a mallard or two we can jump.

Finally, when Lewey flushes the third covey, I can stand it no longer. Screw it. Full choke and duck loads be damned. I pick out a bird, shoot and - predictably -  pulverize a completely innocent bystanding tamarisk branch.

The quail flies on. And predictably, my shot flushes a group of mallards loafing on the ice just around the next bend. Unpredictably, they decide to fly right over my head as they make their escape. Survival-wise, this is generally a pretty sound tactic when I'm shooting. This time, however, I manage to knock down a drake. Thinking double, I rush the third shot and hit only atmosphere.

Lewey tiptoes onto the ice. Halfway across it gives way with a loud crack and Lewey plunges into the icy water below. All six inches of it. Gotta love prairie rivers. He jumps out of the icy water, grabs the duck and gives that area a wide berth coming back.  As he gingerly crosses the ice and drops the duck in my hand I realize this is by far the best quail hunting day he's ever had...

But I've had enough. I'm a half-mile from the truck, my waders are stiff with ice, my hands are like clubs and I've got to take a leak. And there's no way in hell I'm pulling my waders down out here...


  1. You are a very poetic writer. And I like your photographs.

  2. Nice line: "I pick out a bird, shoot and - predictably - pulverize a completely innocent bystanding tamarisk branch."

    Glad you got your bird! I am a very dedicated hunter, but very spoiled by the fact that I've done all my hunting in California. I'm not sure I'd have the huevos to go out in those temperatures.

  3. Hi Chad,

    New to your blog via NorCal. Love your header photo! You take nice shots in general. I've often thought that learning to duck hunt with my dog would be a 'blast'. So far, I'm just learning to stalk deer and moose. Got my first moose this fall. Gotta say, moose hunting season won't come around fast enough--I'm hooked!


    Kristeva Dowling
    Howlindg Duck Ranch

    Incidentally, Lonesome Dove is my favourite book!

  4. Chad

    Forrkdat!! It turns out 7F is -13C!!!! Minus effing thirteen!!!!!!!!

    It's dedication like that that is the while reason you are so exulted amongst us. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr


  5. Chad,

    Great account of a good hunt! Love the photos.

  6. Thanks all.

    SBW, if you must know I had planned on going back out the next morning when it hit -2, just as an exercise in masochism and to say that I had done it.

    I wimped out...