Doves began their not-so-clandestine parade from one tree to the next- a safe haven game of musical chairs- as our awaiting barrels exhaled in the morning fog. Reloading could not have happened quicker, for the delicious feather balls whizzed by with the quickness of jet fighters, each struggling to stay aloft in order to make it home.
Ever the student in the ways of hunting, I have learned a great many things from my big hunting buddy, the grey ghost as some like to call him for his unyielding, relentless, partially psychotic pursuit of fast food; those with wings, those that quack, those whose numbers reach millions in flight. Many have heard of him, but none know his name or face. He knows just about everything about hunting, knowledge that I am sopping up like a desiccated cacti amidst a drought. Though I am practically a toddler, a huntress-in-training, compared to him, I've found it is still possible to, as the cliche goes, teach an old hunter new tricks.
Thrilled with a day away from the grind of building houses for people who never tire of complaining, I was simply happy to be afield, until the doves began their scheduled departures. As my boss-cum-master hunter [who, for reasons of brevity shall heretofore be known as Cap'n Root, Cap'n, or Grizzly Bear, which isn't really brief at all], stalked the trees before us, I made myself into a shadow statue, camouflaged with the nearby tree line. Before I had time to react, doves sped overhead only to fall as my trigger breathed in, and back out again.
He, just as overjoyed as I at my ever-evolving shooting prowess, was on the verge of further complimenting his protegee until he noticed my naked feet.
Shaking his grizzly visage, he barked a laugh and said, "Trixie, haven't you learned anything? Wear shoes when you're hunting out here!"
I looked down at my cut, bleeding, dirty foundations while muttering in a way that is only cute on insolent children who grabbed one too many cookies from the jar, "But my feet got sweaty."
The Cap'n sauntered over to my abandoned footwear, a temporary shrine to everything killed that day, gave the pair a real good once over and said, "well no wonder, you're wearing those Muck Boots- they're only good in winter."
Weeks had passed without another word muttered concerning boots or unclothed toes but I was in the background, plotting mischievously with bunsen burners and schematics. Our main issue was forcing Cap'n Grizzly Bear to abandon his beat-up, 20-year-old boots in favor for a shiny new pair, which would be too newfangled for his wizened hunting reputation. I was quick to realize that facts and figures, charts, tables, potions, or even brainwashing would do nothing but turn his attention to everything he's ignored in the hunting world; he still shoots the same, duct-taped boat paddle of a gun for a reason.
So, I decided to go for broke and reached out to Muck. We decided on the Woody Elite for the Cap'n, Woody Max for myself. The boxes arrived in time for yet another dove hunt. I praised myself for the timing of the thing and practically threw the box at the Grizzly Bear the moment he stepped from his truck.
He ducked from the offending package and looked down at it with palpable distain. In a swift motion, he pulled the boots from their entrapment, chucked them into his truck and refused to wear them.
Figuring he asked for it, I loudly, excessively at times, praised the fit, the comfort, oh the lack of humidity! of the boots. After each shot I exuberantly proclaimed, "THESE BOOTS- MY SWEATLESS FEET- LOOK HERE, UPON MY FEET ALL YE CITIZENS OF THE DOVE GROVE- LOOK UPON THE DRYNESS---FREEDOM!"
The Cap'n wondered briefly how freedom tied in any way with dove hunting or boots, shrugged his shoulders, pushed the birds, shot some, took my picture on Trophy Rock, invited me for pizza at our town's only operating establishment, a bar that takes the smoking ban far too lightly, drove me home, and disappeared into the horizon.
I assumed the boots were being sacrificed in some arson ritual in veneration to the god of technology-free hunting until, many moons later, on opening morning of resident North Dakota waterfowl season. Imagine my shock, dear reader, when Cap'n Root emerged from our remote duck camp* sporting his Woody Elites.
Opening days wish they could have resembled what we experienced that morning from the limits obtained to the outstanding scenery and everything in between. Cap'n Root never said anything about the boots but since they were still on his feet, as opposed to at the bottom of a slough, riddled with number four steel shot, we assumed he was rather smitten with them.
The next morning, we chose the wrong spot. Nothing flew so our guns remained quiet, which usually doesn't sit well with the Grizzly Bear. But, as we collected the decoys, he quietly mentioned, "They don't leak."
Nodding, I asked, "Feet sweaty?
He barked another hearty laugh and said, "Nope- better than bare feet too!"
Those boots stayed on his feet all weekend. This level of commitment didn't have to do with what product was coolest, had the best commercials, or the best celebrity advertisements- it was about what worked, what did the job and did it well.
Later, I moved the Cap'n's truck to make room for the butchering table. I couldn't help but notice with a sense of sage pride that atop the back seat, in a place of pseudo-reverence stood not one, but two pairs of boots. One old, worn, so pockmarked with dents and dings they've weaved their many adventures via boot braille. The other, newer, now destined to, eventually, turn into the latter, acted as a testimony to the cliche: an old hunter can indeed learn new tricks.
*Duck camp 2 is officially on our property in the form of our house and a trailer for visiting friends and family. It's been insane but I love it.
**Once again sending out a heartfelt thank you to those at Muck Boots for a stellar product and even better customer service!
Written in loving memory of Cap'n. You'll be forever missed; duck hunting will never be the same.