Last night was a cold and windy night, with snow storms ripping across the valley and, unbeknownst to us, 2,000 northern mallards piling into some wheat fields on state ground. I called my brother Seth to see if he was feeling up to a good hunt; I wanted to look for a few pheasants with an occasional duck thrown in the mix. He said he was just getting ready to go, I asked him where he was heading and amazingly I was thinking of the same spot that night. We haven't hunted it for years, but we both felt the need to explore it again.....but the wind was gusting to 40 mph and the near horizontal snow wasn't feeling like a pheasant hunt. On our way to the "spot" we notice a couple thousand ducks landing in some standing wheat along the road..........I love it when fate smiles upon us, so, we decide to see what we could make of it.
I had brought along Jess; Seth decided to leave Piper, his black lab, at home. Our plan was to hunt for the elusive cock bird over a pointer along brush rows and uncut field edges. Now we were belly crawling through wheat with a pointer "creeping up" on 2,000 feeding ducks with a hundred more airborne trying to land. Occasionally they'd all lift up, circle quickly and land again; it was beautiful!
Jesse, for a pup of 17 months, is pretty well mannered. He typically does what is asked and has shown some good self restraint for his young and excited age. But that many ducks in the air at once, with a strong wind blowing from them to us was more than he could handle. He broke point, actually he shattered it, 85 to 100 yards from the mass of birds, running full speed into his heaven! Within seconds every duck in the field was airborne and circling, trying to land and feed again. Jesse came back with a drake......not a good sign for a pointer. Thankfully it was wounded and lost, not a healthy bird he'd caught out of the air. I quickly dispatched of it and made it part of my limit. But Jesse was already back into the field running with all his speed and might, putting ducks up EVERYWHERE! Seth and I took advantage of this opportunity and got into better position as Jesse ran a distraction for us.
We set up between wheat rows laying on our sides. Seth was shooting his 11-87 lefty gun, with an extended and ported choke tube--deadly. And I was carrying a 1938-41 Remington model 11 autoloader. It looks like the browning auto-5 humpback, which actually it is, only with the Remington stamp. Mr. Browning took the original idea to Winchester, who made the prototypes, patented everything, then drug their feet, so John picked up the guns, the patents and the plans, and headed to Remington, who gladly produced them for a while. I'm not sure the last time it was shot or even used as I bought the gun from an antique dealer this last winter. I cleaned it up, shot it, paid the guy the money and took it home to the boys. It's sat in the cabinet since then. I know I shouldn't shoot steel through it, but I wanted to use it and on state lands steel shot is a must; so I sinned a little, sue me! Oh, and by the way, it shoots like a dream! Steel shot patterns very nicely through its long, full choked, solid ribbed barrel. I'm pretty sure the great-great-great-grandparents of the ducks we shot, rolled over in their graves every time the hammer fell on that classic old gun!
As we laid in the wheat we watched as more ducks piled off the marsh, north along the freeway, then ducking under the wind, working their way over us to the thousands behind us. Jesse finally came to his senses and was back at my feet begging for forgiveness, which I freely gave. With intensity, he was watching every duck that slid over us in the ever present wind. When our gun barrels raised, Jesse was ready, marking most of the birds we shot and retrieving them back to the pile. Sometimes he'd drop them early, and once he found the duck but left it, hunting down field for something more interesting. I called him to me, then walked down wind of the bird and he'd fetched it to me. Seth just kept giggling because we had a pointer working the field, and doing it well.
Had we shot a little better in the wind, we'd have been done a half an hour sooner, but our 13 ducks came quickly with a few doubles thrown in. It didn't take Jesse very long to figure out the game; lay down, wait for the shot, mark the bird, run like crazy, retrieve the bird, lay down, repeat! I wish we'd had a video camera so you could have seen him.
On the way home we tried to figure out the last time we'd hunted ducks together and had a day like that. It was around 1996, the year Tyler was born. It had been a long, long time, and reliving the experience was sweet! Maggie, our black and white Springer, the Mighty Mag Dog, would have been retrieving for us that day. She'd have watched every duck, just like Jesse, but she wouldn't have lost control, that just wasn't her way. She would have found the wounded duck and brought it back to us, just like Jesse, and every duck that she claimed would have had her signature on it. She'd bowl them over, flip them on their backs, grab the tuft of feathers at the top point of their breast with her front teeth, and rip the skin. Every duck she retrieved was properly marked...............no other birds were worthy of the Maggie Mark. She'd have sat tall, intense in the wheat, with her one blue and one brown eye always fixed on the sky. When our safeties clicked off, she'd give us a quick, tense look that said, "if you miss I KILL YOU" and then she'd be off at the shot, running the falling duck down as it spiraled towards earth. She'd have it in her little mouth, head high, short legs churning up the mud and stubble, headed for the owner of the duck; she knew who'd shot it. Those were the days and my how I miss my Maggie!