A seemingly endless parade of wood ducks buzzed low over the hole. He made practice swings with the old double on a pair or two, but he held his fire. By sunrise the squealer had all but stopped flying and the occasional flight of grey ducks was all that gave the opening a look for the next half hour. His heart began to sink, just a bit. But again, the words of his grandfather’s gunning log ran through his mind, melding into his own experience, knowledge born of countless days in the timber, his, his fathers, and his father’s father’s. “Wait. Be patient. They will come to the timber when their bellies are full.”
He past a bit more time, watching a fat red squirrel make its morning rounds through the oak and bitter pecan trees of around him. The sound of cast aside acorns plunking down into the water marked the busytail’s path through the bare limbs. Waves of noisy black birds swept through the forest, lighting in great waves and moving on with a roar of wings and a chatter that blocked out all other soft sounds of the morning woods.
He was twisted around, facing back into the thick stand of young trees behind him, seeking out the travels of the old fox squirrel when he heard the soft call of a drake mallard over his shoulder.
In one fluid motion he spun, raise the gun to his shoulder drew down on the single mallard hovering inches above the nearest wooden block, and missed clean, with both barrels.
Old habits die-hard, and he kept the gun aimed at the fleeing greenhead as its wings drove frantically to push the bird high and away, he felt himself pulling on the trigger, wondering why his last round wouldn’t fire. When all that was left was the sight of tail feathers and the silence after the echo, he lowered the gun, laughing at his poor shooting and his puzzlement as to why this dang broad barrel wouldn’t fire a third shell. “This ain’t your auto.” He scolded himself lightly.
Opening the breech he drew out the two spent shells. The swollen paper hulls made a satisfying “fhwoop” as he pulled them out, a thin trail of smoke escaping from the warm tubes. The smell of the paper hulls warmed his soul. He lifted them to his nose and breathed in deep. His mind whirled back through the decades; to the first day his Papaw had let him fire a gun for real. That old twenty-eight gauge was gone, lost on river hunt years ago when nature turned violent and his father had saved them both from drowning though the bulk of their hunting gear had been lost.
He slipped the spent shells into one of the large billow pockets of the coat. It didn’t matter to him that they were supposed to biodegrade, he had been taught never to leave his hulls floating, not so much out of fear that the ducks might see them, but out of a respect for the wild. Sure they had a few small man-made intrusions here in the woods, but the men of the camp had always kept the place as pristine as possible. They came to the woods to be in the wilds, not to be reminded of the world that awaited them when the season was done or the business of life required them to return to town. It gave them a feeling of being the first to see these woods, unspoiled and mysterious. They just liked it that way.
Two more shells were loaded into the gun and he turned back to look out over the decoys. “Sorry Papaw. But, at least he knows what team I’m on.” He spoke out across the decoys.
The words had hardly left his lips when a dozen mallards, low and looking drifted past the opening. He put the call to his lips as they moved away and hit a note that almost made him cry. But without hesitation he regained his composure and sent out a comeback call in perfect pitch and cadence. The lead bird spun like its left wing had hit a pole and the rest of the birds followed right on her tail feathers.
The boss hen of the bunch belted out a greeting call and he answered with an equally exuberant invitation. She led the pack back over the opening, right down on the tree tops, well within range. Her neck was craned down and scanning side to side as she passed. Hugging tight to the tree he turned his face downward and watched the birds in the black mirror of the backwater as they drifted slowly over. The hen called again and he answered, kicking the water with one leg to create ripples once the birds had their tails to him. Again the old hen belted out a song and he shouted her down as soon as her last note cleared, then at once set in to a mix of chatter and quacks.
The flock swung again riding past the opening heading south a bit faster now but on gliding wings. He let the group get down wind about seventy yards and eased off of pleading comeback call. In and fraction of a second the group turned closed the gap and set their wings.
They came in down the shoot, the low spot in the canopy left by the fallen oak. Fluttering down from his left side the group back paddled down to the water straight in front of the Y Tree.
The old hen hit the water first and at once began calling to her descending companions. The double gun came up, roared twice and a pair of greenheads crashed the last few feet to the water as the remains of the flock scattered out through the woods in several directions.