By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter
The weather was the worst I’d ever seen it — blue skies and warm enough to get a fall tan. That might be good for the complexion, but not for duck hunting. Even worse than the magnificent weather was the fact that the flats were dry. There weren’t any ponds, and ducks like ponds.
I was on a three-day hunt at a remote duck shack where I was supposed to be wet, cold, miserable and so exhausted by the end of the day that a cracker with butter on it would taste like a New York steak. Instead, I was hanging out on a lawn chair by a tidal slough in my long johns with the overly optimistic hope for a shot at passing ducks.
“This kind of sucks,” I said to my hunting partner. It had been two hours of walking and then two hours of sitting with nary a duck in shooting range.
“Yep,” my hunting partner said.
“I’m going to walk up to the shack and get another snack,” I said. The last time I’d left for a snack, ducks had flown by. It was a phenomenon. Or, if it wasn’t a phenomenon, I had to reconcile myself to the fact that the ducks were waiting around the bend laughing at me.
“Wait,” I imagined one duck saying to another. “She’s about to get another cracker. Let’s all fly at once so she can see us from the window.” Then they duck laughed, a rare and fascinating sound of the natural world much like the cackle and hoot of a hyena, only raspier.
When I got to the shack, I looked out the window just to see how bad my luck really was. This time, the ducks had got buddies in on the joke. Two low-flying cranes flew well within range of my lawn chair.
I ran out to the porch and yelled to my partner, “Why didn’t you shoot those crane?!”
“What crane?” he said. He had been craning his neck looking at an owl and didn’t see the birds overhead.
“Those were crane,” I said. “I am not going insane.”
“Incoming,” he said.
I shuffled down the mud bank in my Xtratufs and mounted my shotgun, dropping crackers as I went. The widgeon slowed down to near neutral as I took aim and shot the first two. The dogs both did grand belly flops into the tidal slough while I ran along the mud to catch them on the incoming tide, pulling up my long johns as I went. My little duck dog, Cheyenne, brought one of the widgeon to me and ran circles, which is her victory dance. Gunner brought the second duck to my partner, out of a sense of fairness.
When my partner lifted the camera to take a photo of my glorious double with my fine shotgun and stunning little Labrador, I didn’t have time to consider the horrible state of my attire. I was standing in the mud in long johns and rubber boots like a homeless clammer. I wasn’t going to share this story. Except that wouldn’t be fair to the ducks, which spent so much time plotting to make me look ridiculous.
Well played, ducks. Well played, indeed.
Christine Cunningham was born in Alaska and has lived on the Kenai Peninsula for the last 20 years, where she enjoys fishing, hunting and outdoors recreation. Her book, “Women Hunting Alaska,” was released by Northern Publishing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on her book, visit Northern Publishing online or Women Hunting Alaska on Facebook.