Bo's First River Hunt
I guess that age is starting to tell on me. I'm old enough, and I've hunted enough that I've seen a lot and killed a lot of birds. I enjoy the hunt, what ever way you hunt ducks, I enjoy it, but I don't see a great deal of new things any more, and I see nothing through young eyes, because let's face it, at forty-two, I just don't have young eyes to look through any more. Hunting with Bo, hunting with Bo puts a whole new perspective on hunting. I guess hunting with Bo I get to see old things a first time again through a father's eyes, and I have to admit, watching my son experience things for a first time is a lot more fun than seeing them myself for the first time was.
Joe bought a boat this fall, and we hunted the river from the boat some this past season. A few days before Christmas, Joe and I took Bo on his first river hunt. This was a new experience for the kid, and to be honest, it was probably the most enjoyable duck hunt I've ever been on.
The past few seasons haven't been the best for us. Busting beaver dams and trying to plant rice just before a two year drought did nothing to help us. It's hard to draw and hold ducks when you have no water. Now, Bo has been duck hunting with me since he was two and a half years old, and when he was really young we had some birds, but the last three seasons have been pretty bird-less, duck hunting had more or less turned into a hey, lets meet and eat breakfast at Hardee's after the birds don't fly Saturday morning kind of thing.
During this period Bo has grown and developed as a duck hunter. Now Bo is a small framed kid, and he hasn't developed enough control over a shotgun for me to trust him to shoot one during a duck hunt. But his skills in calling wood ducks have been honed to a fine edge. Being able to call birds to the gun, but relying on others to bring the birds down has not made Bo into a good hunting partner, in fact, it has had quite the opposite effect on the boy, and he is very unforgiving to the man holding the gun, which is usually me.
Now don't get me wrong, calling woodies is a fine art, one which very few people accomplish, because woodies aren't ducks that turn easily to a call. A wood duck takes off with a mind of where she is heading, and if you aren't there, she isn't going to pay you any attention, no matter how well you whistle, but if a wood duck is looking to lite, Bo can whistle her to your gun, and there are not many grown men that can claim that ability with wood ducks. But there is a price to pay for having Bo bring birds to your gun! If you don't kill them, the kid will unload on you with a lengthy guilt trip and a load of negativity that can truly try a grown man's patience, and this negativity doesn't end with the hunt, but carries over from hunt to hunt until you change the boy's entire outlook by dropping a duck.
It was within one of these moods of negativity that Joe took Bo and I on the river to hunt over decoys. We get up earlier than usual to get everything ready and take off for the river. We get to the landing which is a jumping off point for one of the “secret” honey holes Joe hunted as a teenager. To be honest, we got to the landing later than I thought we should, and the fact that we were the only ones putting in led me to question Joe's ability to put us on ducks. We take a cold trip up Pee Dee River, pull into a dark cove, shine a light about for Joe to try to get his Bearings, then we pitch out decoys. Not a lot, a half dozen mallards and four or five woodies. We tie the boat up across the cove, use some netting to cover the outline of the boat, and now there is nothing left to do but wait for shooting time.
Now, as long as we were moving and doing Bo was fine, but with a half hour to wait, Bo starts listening, and he does not hear what he wanted to. Bo was listening for the keen whistle of the wood duck drake, but nothing was coming from the surrounding swamps but silence. It was a cloudy morning. It was threatening rain. It was dark, cold and there was the silence. Negativity starts pouring out of every pore of Bo's body, but this was expressed mostly out of his mouth. “Why did we get up so early?” “It's gonna rain and I'm gonna get sick.” “Why did we come out here when it's supposed to rain?” The boy has no couth.
With no birds whistling, I had doubts myself, But Joe is my friend, and I didn't want to seem ungrateful, besides, I wasn't out there just for the hunt. I love being outdoors, and being on the river is always a treat, as I have never had a boat of my own. Being outdoors, on the river at daybreak, with my son and my best friend, birds or no birds, it just doesn't get much better than that. I told Bo to quit complaining, to be quiet. Inside I was cringing, because my son was insulting my best friend.
As I said, the boy has no couth. What was really bothering the boy started spewing forth from his mouth. “I don't hear any ducks.” “We aren't going to see any ducks here.” “We should have stayed at home.” This is a waste of time.” The negativity continued to spew forth from the child's mouth, continuously, until shooting time, and beyond, because ducks never fly at shooting time on a dark cloudy morning. Bo was making the wait unbearable, and I was ready for day to break just so we could call it quits and leave, just so I could get Bo to shut up.
Then it happened. About five minutes after shooting time, a small flight of birds flew over Joe' s end of the boat, and he cut one out of the flight. Bo shut up. A Duck had hit the water, and all was well again in the life of this young duck assassin. But the day was just getting started, and Bo was about to see some things he had never before seen. Things that would fill his young mind with awe, things that would make his eyes widen to size of saucers, and put a smile on the boys face as wide as the great Pee Dee itself.
When the birds started flying, Bo started blowing on his wood duck whistle. This comes natural to him, if ducks are flying, he doesn't have a gun, he has calls, and he is trying to bring them to the gun, it's what he does. Now I have no idea if his calling led to what happened next or not, but for the sake of argument, I'm going to say that it did. A flock of eight to ten wood ducks banks from out of the swamp into the cove, wings locked, toes dropped. They're headed to the decoys, dropping fast, swinging from left to right. Joe and I fall in on them. Well, you know how you're watching a video or a hunting show, and you see a guy get a chance at an awesome shot, and he misses. You ask, “How on earth did he miss that?” because it is beyond your comprehension how such an easy shot can be missed. Well, Joe and I can explain it to you now because we didn't cut a feather, neither of us. The boy literally starts yelling, not because we had missed, but because he had never seen a flock of birds decoy before. “That was awesome!” his eyes wide open, his mouth wide open, he's ready to roll. The birds keep flying and the boy falls back onto the call. A few minutes later another flock of birds bank into the decoys. Now the first flock took me by surprise, and in all honesty, I hadn't shot a decoying bird in nearly a decade, but when this flock drops into the deeks I'm ready. I take my first shot and drop a drake into the spread. I shuck the gun and take a second shot in vain. When the smoke cleared there were two bird in the decoys, Joe didn't see the second bird drop, and neither did I. As close as the second bird was to the bird I know I put on the water, I could guess that I dropped both with one shot, I could guess, but I'm not going to. I know I dropped a bird, and I know Joe dropped a bird, and I know that between the two of us we killed three, beyond that, the only thing I know for certain is that Bo was one happy kid.
By the end of the hunt, Bo's smile was the biggest thing in the boat. Joe took pictures, and we both shook our heads at the boy, he couldn't stop talking. He was so happy that he couldn't put it in words, but that didn't stop him from trying. I've never seen any kid so happy, so overcome with emotion. Over and over again he tried to describe the birds dropping on the decoys. When he finished with his story, he would start over again. I was amazed by a boy's amazement, I had seen something new through Bo's young eyes, and I couldn't have been happier.