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Wild Bulletin is a free e-mail newsletter offering information about Indiana's fish and wildlife resources and recreation opportunities. Subjects covered include profiles, information about hunting and fishing season dates, regulation updates, wildlife and fisheries research status reports, tips on wildlife watching and reminders about important dates for Hoosier outdoor enthusiasts.
Why I duck hunt
by Sam Whiteleather, Sugar Ridge FWA Property Manager
I sometimes wonder why I duck hunt. Is it the need to rise at an ungodly hour, so early that I can catch the comics on the late late shows getting in their last punch lines as I pull my wader pants on? Is it the sheer pleasure of walking in ice cold water and then suddenly plunging in over the tops of my waders as I step into a beaver run for the umpteenth time? Or rather the priceless life experience of possessing fingers so cold and numb that even the simplest tasks like pulling a gun trigger become as difficult as performing brain surgery on a fox squirrel, in the dark with one hand tied behind my back.
And still I love it.
I recall a most memorable evening hunt from a few weeks past. A fellow fish and wildlife employee, Dan, and I had established ourselves with shooting sticks in hand, in the middle of one of the grandest marshes, in my humble opinion, in the entire blessed Middle Western portion of these United States. The place had a wildness about it that made me wonder if this is what it would be like to hunt in the Great North Wilderness some call Alaska. "Hear that?" I asked, "No" Dan replied, "exactly".
Not a truck, car, plane or train to be heard in any direction. You could have dropped us back to the days when wild-hearted Frenchman roamed the woods plying for new fur trapping grounds, and from where we stood we would have never known the difference. And the smell of the place. Rotting plants and decaying animal matter, intertwining like the strands of a piece of licorice to form the primordial muck from whence all marsh life originates. It’s the most natural and unaltered smell I’ve ever known.
In this magnificent muck, knee deep in coffee brown water we stood. We sometimes heard the ducks before we saw them. Some ducks subtly emitting a low whistling noise, others sounding like the rush of air left in the wake of a fighter jet. They would fly rhythmic circles over the marsh, constantly scanning the water surface with bobbing heads that moved like a marker buoy afloat on a windy day. Finally they would descend with cupped wings and disappear into some unseen pocket of water concealed by dense thickets of button bush.
The presence of the bush gave the marsh a tangled and unkept appearance that lent itself well to the wildness of the place. After several minutes of watching ducks descend into one particular corner of the marsh Dan and I decided to move in for a closer look. We crept through the marsh, carefully cradling our guns, playing an intricate game of cat and mouse with marauding beaver runs and submerged logs which seemed to lie in wait for us like German U-boats. We arrived where we supposed the ducks to be.
"Where are they" I whispered, no response from Dan, just a shrugging of shoulders and a quick searching scan of the marsh. We ventured further. Just as we had begun to give up and had decided the ducks had taken a page from Amelia Earheart's flight journal, five drake mallards rose from a clump of button brush with a mad flutter of wing beats. I fired; Dan fired.
Moments later we each stood with a mallard in hand analyzing and critiquing the exciting moments of the chase. By this time the evening sky was beginning to redden as the sun made contact with the horizon and nightfall began to slowly elbow its way into the marsh. We paused to watch the sky fill with several hundred ducks descending upon their nocturnal roost site as they've done for thousands of years. And I suppose everything else aside, that's why I duck hunt.