Friends In Low Places
By C.L. Marshall

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Friends In Low Places
By C.L. Marshall

Opening day of the October split of duck season had come and gone in the Free State. The spring and summer had been favorable for breeding local wood ducks. The fifty or so wood-duck boxes erected over the late-winter months by a host of volunteers had done their job. Early scouting in late summer provided evidence of the breeding success that these boxes had had on the local wood duck population. Our first two hunts of the year had confirmed it.
Opening day on a public marsh is quite an ordeal. All duck hunters should experience it at least two times. After the first time, most will walk away wondering just what the hell happened. A second experience will allow the unindoctrinated to soak up more of the chaos that surrounds it. It's a first come, first served type of environment. For many, like myself, it's a first real chance to get duck hunting. It brings out all the kindred spirits. Yes, once muzzleloader season for deer starts, the once-bustling little ramp only handles a few boats a day. That number usually falls to just one or two as the season winds down. Now, on a midweek day toward the middle of the second split, the ramp served just two.
Launching my boat early on a moonless morning on a strong outgoing tide, I thought it strange that I was the only person at the ramp. My young chocolate Lab, "Milo," and I hopped in the boat, fired it up and quietly made our way to a bush blind deep in the cypress swamp. Making our way up a narrow gut against the strong outgoing tide, I understood that this morning's hunt would last only ninety minutes or so if I planned to make it to work before 9:00 a.m. On the way in, I haphazardly tossed over half a dozen wood-duck decoys and continued to the creek. The boat was stashed in a small feeder gut, bowline lashed to a two-by-two pole planted there for that purpose. The old Remington, fifteen or so shells and my ever-present five-gallon bucket were snatched up out of the boat, and Milo and I made our way to the vegetation-covered blind.
This was Milo's first true year of hunting. I'd picked her up from Dave Bramble in Tolchester as a pup, and in her first few outings of the last season, she'd shown promise. Her skill thus far in the season had exceeded my training ability. She was eager, hyper as hell and blessed with a keen nose. In her first few hunts, she'd performed admirably. The little chocolate Lab proved to be a bit hard to control at the blind, but she marked and found birds very well. She knew what her role was. These wood ducks were primarily passing shots. Birds that were hit fell in thick vegetation, in muddy muskrat leads and in other areas not accessible by man. She found them routinely.
Things got underway quickly, most likely a couple of minutes prior to legal. A single wood duck hovered near the mojo, resulting in an easy retrieve. I shot selectively, taking only shots that I felt had a high likelihood of success. In twenty minutes and with only five shots, my three woodies lay lined up in the bushy hide. Five more minutes were allotted in the hopes that a few bluewings would pass by. The time passed with only more wood ducks being interested in our location. As the sun began to shine through the line of cypress trees to the east, we began our short trek back to the boat. About halfway there, five shots rang out only a couple hundred yards from my location. I was glad to be heading out with only a limit of three woodies. I was unsure of who had come up the little creek behind me. It was an uneasy feeling. My thoughts raced as to just who these folks were. Thinking back to other "confrontations" that I'd had in this same marsh, I could feel my blood pressure beginning to rise. Public hunting is not an endeavor for the thin-skinned. Reaching the boat, I was looking forward to chatting with these so-called hunters who had the nerve to hunt on "my" public marsh. Hopefully, stern talk and hot air would prevent them from a return trip. I wouldn't mind if they called me an ass, jerk or whatever they chose to, as long as they left my wood-duck hole alone.
Milo hopped in the boat eagerly, as if ready for the next adventure. I, on the other hand, ambled along the edge of the creek gingerly. This marsh is one of the harshest to walk in that I've ever seen. A spill in the muddy creek wasn't in my plans. Unleashing the bowline, I dropped the gun and birds in the boat. A couple shoves on the push pole and the boat entered the fast-ebbing creek. There wasn't enough water to operate the motor. Mud, seemingly fifteen-miles-deep, and silt made poling somewhat difficult. I used small, short, shallow strokes, keeping the aluminum hull away from the "three sisters" stumps exposed on the starboard side of the creek. Drifting with the outgoing tide to the front of the blind, I quickly picked up the six wood-duck decoys. Finding deeper water in the larger entrance creek, the motor was engaged in shallow-water drive. The two hundred yards were traversed with some difficulty. I was glad we were getting out of there when we did.
Rounding the last bend, I slowed due to the decoy spread at the entrance to my little creek. The spread was appropriate for the type of hunting. Across the creek, two hunters sat in their boat. I eased over to see how their morning was going. It was the least I could do after driving through their spread. We chatted for a few minutes about my fortune this morning. They confided that they had knocked down a pair earlier, but after half an hour of searching could not locate the two birds in the dense marsh. Since the morning flight was clearly over, and the clearing skies proved that the day would be more suited for rockfishing than duck hunting, I asked if it'd be all right if I tried to send the dog to find them. They agreed. Neither they nor I expected much to come out of this exercise.
I nosed the boat on the soft mud on the opposite shore, then Milo exited quickly. She stood broadside, awaiting me to come ashore with her. I had no plans of it. As she heard me order her into the marsh with the usual four-word command, "Milo, get that sumbitch!," she sloshed off through the water and mud. Moving through the vegetation, I quickly lost sight of her as she searched in various muskrat leads and crevices that made up the pockmarked terrain. Emerging from a muddy slophole with the hen wood duck firmly in her grasp, she bounded back toward the boat. Delivering it to hand, she was re-deployed in attempt the find the second bird. She returned rather quickly with the second. I must say that I was quite the proud dog owner as we returned across the creek to deliver the fowl to the waiting hunters.
Upon delivery to the two young hunters, they were very complimentary of the dog's effort. I was utterly shocked, thinking that we had little chance of finding one, much less both of the felled woodies. I pulled alongside their boat, and we sat together and took time to have a cup of coffee while Milo jumped ashore looking for whatever was next for her. I certainly didn't mind her swimming to get the mud off her prior to jumping into the truck.
Introductions were made. Prior to us parting ways, one of the young men, Elliott, pulled his duck call off his lanyard and handed it to me. I resisted, but he was insistent. Upon inspection, he informed me that he had in fact made it himself. I hit it a few times; the sound was just what I was looking to add to my arsenal. I appreciatively accepted it and made my way back to the ramp.
That call still occupies a loop on my lanyard to this day. Each time I call on it to perform, it does. Several times, it has provided me with just the right sounds to convince the birds to fully commit. Each time I use it, I can't help but think of the young man who made it. Most important, I recall my personal lesson learned. I remember that there are still some good souls who take to the marshes for all the right reasons.

All hope is not lost.


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Copyrights Bird Dog & Retriever News May 2018
Do not reproduce or retransmit in any form, and we surf the web, we'll find you.
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