By Jonathan Olivier
“Down they flew, quick and graceful, the whole pack in tandem with one another and almost appearing to match the motion of their brethren’s’ wings. With each second they appeared larger and with every inch they gained, my heart thudded faster.”
We sat there as the sun struggled to shine through the clouds, and a growing anticipation permeated all thoughts– it was shooting time and the ducks were about to fly.
“No shots from any other groups of hunters yet; that’s not a good sign,” I said as I scanned the horizon for any signs of teal in flight.
Listening for other volleys of blasts is a good indicator if ducks are beginning their morning flights when hunting on public land. And as the morning wore on, hunters scattered in other pockets of swamp near us yielded no shots; teal sightings were nil.
But then, when we had lost hope of a sighting, shots echoed across the swampy terrain and tiny black dots rose into the sky to our left—teal were hurriedly escaping from the hunters in the distance.
My hands gripped tighter on the shotgun positioned over my lap, ready to be fired at a moment’s notice. My hunting partner – my father, Darrell – too clung to his hunk of steel. We figured a group of teal was sure to fly into shooting range at any moment. We could already picture them skirting just feet above the dozen or so decoys we so carefully positioned a mere 30 yards to our front before dawn.
Teal are notorious for sporadic flight and “buzzing” by hunters in a flash, flying through decoy spreads and vanishing before anyone can even notice. We were ready for the diminutive waterfowl to give us their best shot.
Though as time wore on and no ducks appeared, our sweaty grips lessened on our guns and our tense muscles relaxed, if just for a second.
“There’s a group!” Darrell muttered as he peered straight ahead of us. It was a clutter of six, maybe eight teal jetting our way.
I slowly reached for my teal call with shaky hands to entice the small group to beeline to our decoy spread as adrenaline began to flutter my heartbeat.
“Dit, dit, dit” bellowed from my call, what I thought was a perfect mimic of a teal hen enticing others to join her on the water in front of us. Though it sounded spot-on to me, would the birds in the air buy my imitation?
Their change in flight pattern assured me they indeed thought I sounded enough like one of them.
Down they flew, quick and graceful, the whole pack in tandem with one another and almost appearing to match the motion of their brethren’s’ wings. With each second they appeared larger and with every inch they gained, my heart thudded faster.
For my dad, who hadn’t duck hunted in around 30 years, the ducks heading our way was almost more than he could handle. I glanced over to see him, mouth slightly agape, with his eyes so intently focused on the sky.
“Get ready to shoot,” I said. “When they get close enough, just follow my lead and we’ll start shooting.”
From the birds’ flight pattern, we were expecting them to bypass and circle the spread before coming into range, but they had other plans. When they were within around 40 yards, the flight made a 90-degree turn, dropped altitude and made a perpendicular pattern to us.
I raised my gun first and fired at the second duck in the group; it folded and dropped to the water.
The group of ducks rose into the air and made an about face to attempt to escape the danger they had just flown into. But fleeing, rising ducks are easier targets than fast-flying, bypassing ducks.
In my elation, I missed with my other two shots. My dad, on the other hand, managed to knock two from the sky as they flew back in the direction in which they came.
“Did you see that?” he asked, visibly ecstatic at getting to shoot at a few ducks, let alone meet his mark with such precision.
“Three on the water, I’ll take that,” I said, glancing at our quarry floating on the water among our decoy spread.
A 3 a.m. alarm, grueling drive, mosquito-filled wait for sunrise, and a few hours without seeing but one group of teal was worth it. While it’s never the game harvested that makes a hunt memorable but rather the time spent outdoors, on this particular morning, a few ducks on the stringer didn’t hurt.