Near-Death By Duck

By Brooks Potter

Tripping over the stout corn stubble in the pitch dark, we’d placed some ten dozen deke’s. Though unseeable at that hour, mallards worked everywhere above. The noise from the clipped feeding calls of the Suzies and the grunts of the drakes was like being at a rock concert. 

We were deep in the corn country of South Dakota.

Nick and I dropped into the pit blind and stowed our gear under the narrow bench seat, clearly designed for the half-assed.

From a noteworthy sugar dynasty, Nick was an over-the-top eccentric. Almost no matter the weather, he was to be seen hunting in his God-knows-how-old, oversized houndstooth coat, tweed flat cap and shooting his beloved Boswell sidelock from the days of 126 Strand.

Like the many reincarnations of Gen. George S. Patton, Nick had been wingshooting for a couple hundred years—at least. In addition to being a very keen wingshot, he was a remarkably well-read chap with a second-to-none gift of gab. We’d met in graduate school in the 70s and hunted all over Hell’s half-acre since.

Looking skyward we scanned for sharpening shapes against the soft promise of daybreak. Tipping my last bit of coffee, I looked at my watch.

“We’re good to go whenever,” I said.

Not quite yet. The blunt foreheads of the northern drakes would show soon enough. I chambered two shells and closed up with the satisfying click of a double gun.

Shortly after, Nick gave me a “Whaddaya think,” not said in the inquisitive.

We flopped the lid open looking to take care of business. We were patient, swinging only on the 747s. Our opening shots flushed some hundred birds from the field around us and turned stacked flights away. The backfill was pretty quick. These birds were hungry from the long push ahead of foul weather filling in from the north.

With some ducks down after our pick and choose shooting, we climbed out of the blind to retrieve. All were thick northern greenheads, but for one. I held up a hen by her bright orange paw.

“Ok, so who owns this one?” I asked.

“Wasn’t me,” Nick said dismissively.

We’d dropped them all within a pitching wedge of the blind and nay a crip. On that particular note I have a bone to pick.

In the 70s steel shot was merely a twinkle in someone’s eye. All other things being equal, lead killed ducks decisively and with only two-and-three-quarter-inch loads. The Brit’s forever spanked high driven pheasant with two-and-a-half-inch loads and through mild chokes—rather than trying to push a golf ball through a garden hose. They should have left that tidbit of info before we booted them off the continent. But true to the modern American way, more must somehow be better. Anyway, steel isn’t healthy for classic shotguns and for me now as an old guy, it has changed the experience. But I digress. Bone picked.

Back in the blind, we housed our fried egg sandwiches. Eggs cooked in bacon grease are unmatched.

We let a flight or two land unaccosted. On the good thing/bad thing scale, live dekes are a good thing. With the skeins of ducks in the air, calling was almost pointless.

A nice group hustled over us on a downwind leg. At cross purposes with our otherwise methodical approach, Nick snap-shot a very high bird. He’d then looked off for a possible double. I’d been looking in some altogether different direction.

Turns out that bird just folded and fell plumbob vertical into the blind. The ensuing collision with the floor startled the shit out of us. Simultaneously, we looked down and there lay a very dead drake. Not even the reflexive kicking foot.  Unbelievably, the duck had fallen unimpeded from 40 plus yards through the narrow width of the pit—missing Nick and me clean. A total hole shot.

Figuring that a mature northern mallard weighs over three pounds, being struck by one falling at terminal velocity would make for a seriously bad day—if not a death by duck.

With an economy of words, Nick simply said, “what the fuck.”

That about covered it. I had nothing else to add.

From the FE Films Archive

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