They say timing is everything! True to form, when we pulled into the parking lot of Duck Commander/Buck Commander in West Monroe, La., we learned Phil, Willie, Jase, Uncle Si and the entire television crew of “Duck Dynasty” were attending an NRA banquet in Alaska.
No TV stars were on hand, but we can say we toured the most lucrative gift shop in the entire South.
After roaming by shelves and racks holding hundreds of T-shirts, I reached the first of the duck call display cases loaded with calls. My mind wandered back to my first try at waterfowl hunting.
You might say my waterfowl hunting skills were based completely on what I’d read. It was a total Do-It-Yourself endeavor and a predictable disaster. Fired up by waterfowl hunting stories in Field & Stream and Outdoor Life, I was determined to bag a duck or two for the holidays. I could picture a perfectly cooked bird coming out of the oven, golden brown, juicy and succulent!
Rush County is known for a lot of things; fertile corn and soybean fields that are the envy of the agricultural world, but in the early 1960s, it was not known for its duck hunting. With only Big Flatrock River flowing by the little town of Moscow, you might see a very lost mallard, a high flying V of migrating Canada geese or perhaps a couple of coots at best. There were no duck hunters in Moscow.
Every evening, I would get off the school bus and race for home, change clothes, put on my hip waders, grab my hat and hunting jacket and my bolt action, JC Higgins 16-gauge shotgun.
The gun had seen better days, but for $15 — it was a bargain. The stock was cracked and the front bead sight was shot out, but some budding gunsmith replaced it with an aluminum screw. The bead was a little big, but the bright aluminum actually improved shooting in dim light.
My hip boots weren’t much better than my gun. They were too big, old, hand-me-downs with dry rot pin holes, and leaked profusely in deep water.
There was only one body of water in the area remotely attractive for waterfowl … the old quarry hole. Production had recently shut down, and the water was only a couple feet deep. There was an inlet with a nice stand of cattails and young willows where I carved out my duck blind. It was the perfect spot, except for a complete lack of ducks.
The only thing waterfowl related was a lone coot occasionally showing up just before last light. For anyone not wise in the ways of waterfowl, a coot is not held in high regard by duck hunters … kinda like “carp of the sky.
Evening after evening, I made the trip. And evening after evening, I would come home soaked with nothing to show for my efforts.
Time was running out, and I made up my mind … if the coot shows up tonight, it’s coming to dinner. About 15 minutes before the end of shooting light, the coot showed up.
BOOM … coot was on the menu!
I leaned my unloaded shotgun in the fork of a young willow tree and began to wade out to collect my holiday harvest. I could feel the pin holes squirting ice cold water on my legs as I quickly shuffled to pick up the coot in the middle of the pond.
When I reached down for the coot, I heard something overhead! Glancing up, I could see in the still bright sky a huge flock of migrating Canada geese dropping out of the stratosphere intending to spend the night on the old quarry hole.
My unloaded gun was a 100 feet away, and I had nowhere to run and nowhere to hide! I tucked my arms under my chest and leaned over looking face down at the water. I froze and tried my best to look like a stump. The sound around me increased until it was a din of goose cackling and a roar of wind through gliding and flapping wings.
As the first of the flock began to land around me, I looked up. When the geese realized I wasn’t a stump, they started slamming on their air brakes and back pedaling with their wings. They were so close; I could feel the wind from their wings on my face. I could almost reach out and grab one!
By the time I reached the blind and got my shotgun, they were long gone.
After a flat refusal by my mother to bake the coot, I borrowed a buddy’s oven. We agreed about two hours at 375 degrees ought to be about right. The bird came out so tough and dry even my buddy’s family dog turned up its nose at it.
Back to West Monroe, La., and the present, I shuffled past the last of the cases of duck calls. I saw calls for mallards, pintails, widgeon, black ducks, teal and wood duck. Pretty much a call for everything waterfowl graced the shelves … but I didn’t see any coot calls. And no, I didn’t ask.
Jack Spaulding is a state outdoors writer and a consumer of RushShelby Energy living along the Flatrock River in Moscow. Readers with questions or comments can write to him in care of Electric Consumer, P.O. Box 24517, Indianapolis, IN 46224; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.