Encouraged by Paul I actually got out and bought myself a liscence to hunt for ducks and pheasants this year. Fascinated by the fact that this will leave my friends in Europe pretty much gobsmacked he was happy to lend me a 20G shotgun and part with some shells in exchange for a nice bottle of wine. As an explanation for my American friends: In Germany and the UK hunting is very much an upper class sport and also a so called "blood sport". Always eager to try out new things and see for myself I had eagerly followed their invitation to join them last year, however only armed with my trusty 6.3 mm camera. This year was going to be different. This year I was not just going to be an observer.
Patrick and Tom in the duck blind. Hunting starts 30 minutes before sunrise, which means you pretty much find your way to the post in the dark, which can be the most dangerous part of the day.
Paul with his eyes and ears peeled. (For my European friend who haven't yet seen my post about last years outing, I am giving some more background info there.)
Sunrise. You can see Madam Muskrat swimming her morning errands. I saw more muskrats in the last 48 h than I have in the last 7+ years. But that's alright in my book! Apparently Sadie the dog in the party was getting quite wound up by the muskrat prancing around in front of her nose as she was getting more and more frustrated by the lack of ducks to retrieve. She's a cutie you'll see her later.
I was going to be a very pleasant day with high temps in the upper fourties (that's about 9C). I was still layered up pretty good under the duck habitat camu pants Tom was lending me. (I love those pants, very comfy, pretty water resistant and suspendors!)
Getting lighter out and the ducks still elusive. But hey on a pleasant day sitting in the outdoors watching the sun go up and listening to the morning chatter of the song birds - life is still good.
Paul restocking the amunition box to bring the ducks out, because obviously they always show up when you are doing something else and not paying attention...
I was definitely paranoid to make sure my safety is on and that the gun is not pointing at anybody. Loading and unloading the gun was plenty of excitement for me to be getting on handling a gun for the first time, even without worrying about any ducks.
Morning is golden. The first light is always worth it getting up for me, I don't know, why I don't do that more often, even without and excuse :-)
Patrick, Sadie & Tom.
At 9.30 am we called it a duck hunting morning session. While Paul and I where going to retrieve the decoys Patrick, Sadie and Tom where going to sit tight just in case...
Paul motoring me around for a grand tour of the lake. Paul returned pleased with reports of the water quality improving with less signs of carp which destroy the waterplants and consequently the duck food.
Patrick and Tom ready for us to throw decoys at them :-)
Unusually late in the season there were still predominant unharvested corn fields, which are of course excellent cover for pheasant. This meant for the pheasant hunt, that the fowl had about 10 times more area to hide in versus the brush and a lot of it inaccessible. Not so good prospects to flush birds.
Again for more for my European friends, duck hunting means a lot of sitting tight, but pheasant hunting means stalking through high grass and brush, which makes for excellent exercise. It's a good idea not just to shed some top layers, but also some bottom layers before donning the blaze orange that makes sure we see each other and have an easier time to keep a safe line. Now, since I was walking around with a loaded gun over difficult terrain, there was no way I could take any pictures like last year, which is a bit of a pity: the colors were spectacular. Platinum blond grass set of with nearly black tree skelletons still sporting a bumper crop of burgundy berries. Very different to the brillant oranges of the sugar maple we associate with fall colors, but well worth stomping through over man high grass, brush and slaloming around sod balls. There were also champagne colored berries on a lower bush with small black green leaves and the stalks of the dog wood bush in contrast with the golden and ash blond grass. It's similar to the prairy. When you first look at it it all looks brown and non-descript, but step right in and let your eyes get used to it and a diversity of grasses, flowers and shrubs open up in front of you.
Sadie scared up an off limits hen and later on a rooster surprised Tom from behind and got away. Shortly after we were done hunting and ready for a hearty breakfast at Jan's Cafe and a nap back at the hunting lodge.
Courtney who had been keeping the home fires burning at the lodge.
Yep, I also retired to one sweet snooze :-)
Back on Tom's lake putting out decoys.
Stillife with...er...hunting stuff.
Patrick fitting his lady with a nice cfd (canine floatation device). I was still joking about a strap on it and that he had a dog with a handle now, but he just said, well ya!, so you can pull her back into the boat easier. Clever!
After an afternoon of shooting the breeze with Patrick (no liscence or stamp required) one maillard hen finally landed way out of reach and had herself courted by the skillful calls of no less than 3 hunters. She taunted us for an hour with eventually approaching quackquackquacks around the corner out of sight, just to give us and miss and eventually take air and head towards Tom and Paul in the boat and her demise. A very happy Paul had met his limit two days in a row. Canvas backs yesterday and maillard hen today. At 6.22pm the hunting was officially over and we were ready for the delectables of Millerville's "muni" (= municipal bar, a bar that is run by the municipality to generate funds for the "city" coffers).
Mmmmm, pickled turkey gizzards! After trying deap fried gizzards last year I was going to leave this taste sensation for another time. Same goes for the ham hocks Patrick swore by. (I've got it on my bucket list, honestly...somewhere.) Let's just say it didn't go with my spiked hot chocolate...
Posing with a bar jar of pickled turkey gizzards and pork hocks. It may have been for different reasons, but Paul and I were totally having fun with this :-) Totally appropriate for my first time at a muni.
What we didn't have in ducks during this weekend we made up for in raucous laughter several times over! Thank you Tom and Paul for having me over again this year! Can't wait for the next, will try and shoot some clay pidgeons in the meantime.
Hard to tear yourself away from such good company to go to bed, but we had another day of hunting with a wake-up call at 6am ahead of us.
Sunday morning in the duck boat. At the end of the weekend I had shot one (trainings) board on the water on my third attempt (it takes a bit of getting used to the kick you get each shot) and at least overcome my gun shyness and had an attempt at a duck, which however was way out of reach. Tom had tried as well and was convinced we had for sure made it flinch.
On a more pensive note: Paul had set me up to pose with the 4 ducks they had shot in the last days and I was all excited about it until I felt the dead animals in my hands. I can't even get myself to post the photos yet and that's not just because I had too much too drink and too little sleep the night before. What is so different between the ducks in my hands and the chicken I take home from the grocery store? The fact that I had seen one of the ducks alive and flying until it was struck down by one of our shotguns? I know that this duck has had a good life and has done all the duck things and is now in line for being eaten, which any duck in the end will be. The chicken that I buy at your regular deli had a bad life and by buying it I am supporting factory farming. I guess I am not quite ready to shed my culural unease with being so close to the food chain and looking the animal into the eye before eating it. I hope I can shed some more of my own hypocrisy next year. Tom said hip waiters will be waiting for me again next year.