Okay, maybe that is not entirely true.
I don't understand, at all, what I did before I started to hunt waterfowl.
That's more like it. Yes, I cannot fathom a life without duck hunting, nor can I fathom a life without those who enjoy shooting the feathered beings from the blue vastness.
I moved to North Carolina and I was swiftly introduced to the hard work that goes hand-in-hand with hunting one's own land. The land we hunt is our buddy's, granted, but we do the work and he doesn't mind. For the first time in a long time, I felt that I was doing enough. I helped put corn out, stands up, and blinds in. I watched traveling lanes, the deer highways crisscrossed through the knee-high growth, for signs of activity while attempting to formulate a plan to trap these commuters unawares. But just as I felt that I had done enough, I fell back into the lugubriosity of season's past. Scrooge, the old coot, sat beside me in his own way, working diligently, never feeling he had done enough, only to see the ghost of Christmas past advancing slowly towards our tree from the adjoining field. We looked at one another, looked down at our work-happy bodies and came to a Robert Frostian road, diverged in a [green] wood. Either we would continue to toil in our respective ways, I working to sit in a tree for months on end, he working his life away, ignorant of the plight of little Tiny tim and his sad leg, or we would jump into something new. Scrooge, in his way, leered at me through slits in his craggy face, yelled BAHUMBUG!, stomped around for a bit and then was taken, much against his will might I add, by the ghost of Christmas past, who, presumably taught him a lesson about how change is needed for life to be appreciated, or something of that nature. I, looking down from my Tim Burton approved tree, which surely was the home of some cookie-baking elves, realized there must be something more to this hunting thing than this. Clicking my ruby-camo-red slippers together three times, I was transported to a pond, filled with quacking dinner, waiting to be slain.
Okay, maybe it didn't happen like that. Maybe there were no literary characters perched atop my shoulder, whispering sweet academic nothings into my awaiting ears. Maybe there were no ghosts, goblins, Jack Skellingtons, or Greek mythological figures doomed for all eternity surrounding our protagonist, forcing me to action like the perfect cast should, eagerly awaiting the arrival at the denouement so they could all just go home to their respective place of figurative habitation. Maybe it was just DU asking me if I would like to try out duck hunting. Maybe it was as simple as my answer of yes, my mastery of a 12 gauge shotgun, and my ultimate love affair with waterfowl hunting. If you'd ask, I may tell it differently each time, with a cast spanning The Lord of the Rings (the books, not the movies) to Gargoyle (By Andrew Davidson, my favorite book by far, read it, you really should), Dante (read the original, translated to English, not that new-age, "this is what it really means to say" version) to Fight Club (again, the book, not the movie which is a great adaptation, by the way), but the message will always be the same; I fell in love with the beauty of duck hunting and haven't looked back since.
Please don't confuse, dear reader, my love of waterfowl as a rebuke of my deer hunting passion. Hunting deer is how I feed myself and my family during the majority of the year, each morsel more delicious than the next. Deer hunting is peaceful, as I find myself ever awed by the majestic tranquility that envelopes each and every one of my hunts. The trees dance, the leaves paint themselves the color of the times, the squirrels hoard their crack nuts in trees, and I have the birds eye view, a sight that would compel any layperson to shimmy twenty foot atop a tree. I love many things about deer hunting, but my adoration for duck hunting lies outside of the big game arena, miles away on a small pond, surrounded by nothingness. Waterfowl hunting drew me in because of its inherent dichotomy between unbearable and beautiful, discouraging and exhilarating but its camaraderie has held me fast. No where is this more apparent than at a Duck's Unlimited banquet, namely the first one I had ever attended.
DU is a big deal now, not just because he's on Twitter but because he recently became a chairperson of our local Duck's Unlimited chapter. He attends meetings, talks to like-minded (read: crazy) duck hunters, works out ways to raise money, educates about conservation and adds another perspective to the duck hunting plight. Being the important man he is nowadays, I must play adoring counterpart, one of the more challenging roles forced upon me. Hence, when the Pee-Dee River Basin chapter announced their annual dinner and auction was to be conducted on October 29th, we were disheartened as Huntography's arrival coincided with the same date. However, since Rudy was not scheduled to make his grand appearance until later that evening, I was able to join DU and E4 for a night out on the waterfowl town.
Dressing like any good girlfriend should, I arrived at the banquet in Max-4 Real tree, the only girl in the entire place who decided mullet, cattails and cornstalks were more fashionable than let's say, pink or black. We arrived early, as DU was put to work selling chapter t-shirts. E4 and I sat, enjoying a complimentary cocktail or two, and surveyed all of what was offered. Directly in front of the amphitheatre-inspired seating area was a stage, filled to the brim of all of the things that make waterfowl hunters drool. Hand-carved decoys, Duck's Unlimited monogrammed knife set, duck prints, dog lamps, Duck's Unlimited cooler, full-body decoys, decoy boats and tables upon tables of waterfowl goodies arranged neatly into piles; each just waiting to be taken home by those who get the Mallard draw. Tickets were sold to support the chapter's efforts, both for conservation as well as education. These tickets were put into jars for the general raffle (ie: the absolute plethora of duck hunting amenities situated on tables along the walls of the theater) while the real action played in front of the stage.
I have never been a part of a live auction and I now know why; they are simply one of the most adrenaline-filled events I have ever been privy to without a gun or hockey stick in my hand. Both the live and silent ones were being taken place at the banquet, both equally enticing to my novice ear. Being the pragmatic couple we tend to be, DU and I decided what we really wanted (the Duck's Unlimited ((Ps. I am starting to get sick of typing out the group's name and would shorten it but unfortunately, like an idiot who did not foresee this being a problem, I dubbed my domestic partner after his DU shirt. So, for the sake of being repetitious and not meaning to be so, I will continue to type the entire thing out, even though I really don't want to)) 2011 decoy of the year, one of the duck prints, the Duck's Unlimited cooler and ottoman and maybe, just maybe the over-and under shotgun at the end of the table.), then decided on a price limit.
Before we were allowed to spend money on things that we really didn't need anyway, the president of the club motioned for all to be still for a moment of silence. We all paused in respect for two youths who had passed into God's hands after a car accident shortened their already brief lives. Once moment passed, we then removed our caps to thank Him to allow us to gather and to bless the food we were seconds away from ingesting. As all stood, necks slightly reclined, I briefly remembered a sign that I had seen recently which read like a letter. It went something like, "Dear God, why are you letting all these terrible things to happen in our schools?" to which He replied, "Dear Child, I'm not allowed in schools." God, even more so a reverence for He who creates nature and allows us to hunt, was present there. Humbled, I again realized why I love this community, it felt holier, more respectful than the innards of a Catholic Church.
Our food was put out, delicious might I add, and the show began. We had put in for a cork decoy on the silent auction which we had believed we won during the live portion, a misstep which put our wallets a little deeper into our pockets. The live auction began, the auctioneer rattling off numbers that far exceeded what we had wanted to pay. DU, for some odd reason, allowed me to hold our bidding card while he retreated to sell more shirts. Upon his retreat, the knife set that DU had wanted from the beginning went up for bid. We held steady at $80, our maximum, until someone bid $90, interpreting DU's hand signals for CONTINUE TO SPEND MY HARD EARNED MONEY as STOP, PLEASE STOP, SPENDING OUR MONEY, I ceased bidding. Once the victor was named, DU looked at me with the look so I decided it was best to join him atop the stadium seats. After many more waterfowl-inspired items found their homes, one gigantic misstep where we mistook a $30 for a $130 bid for a print we really didn't want, and one big sigh of relief when someone bid $140, my treasured prize came up for sale. The Duck's Unlimited 2011 decoy is by far one of the coolest decoys I had ever seen. A paintail, with all of the adornment of a Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, painted to perfection, had my eye since I first walked in. Knowing full well that the decoy I purchased for DU's last "Jesus is born! Here's a gift!" day, cost a hefty sum, I was nervous for how high the bidding would go. Fortunately for us, the biding stopped well under what we expected to pay. DU, happy as a clam that his significant other extracted so much joy out of a generally male-only, dead-duck focused function, was all too happy to hand over the sum as an early December 25th gift.
The bidding continued to go north from there, the over-and-under we had wanted so badly went for more than $1100 and the Browning Maxxis from God's Country slipped out from under us, a ten of diamonds when all we needed was an eight. Once all that was to be had was possessed, the banquet slowly disassembled. I walked around, thanking those who I had spoken to about becoming the first female chapter member, and looked around in amazement that such a small, tasty bird could bring so many people together.
I, again, was struck that I would have missed out on all this had it not been for DU's (or the Keebler Elves, you choose) divine intervention. The waterfowl community is an obsessive, tightly-knit group who depends on one another for not only support outside the blind, but within it as well. I found that deer hunting lacked something essential; the walk to my stand wasn't labored and the time sitting in it spent in breathless wait, a luck of the draw. What I thought missing in deer hunting, I found in duck hunting. The laborious months to prepare, the oftentimes disastrous wader walks to the blind, the fervent calls and the absolute still that precedes shooting as the ducks cup filled my adventurous, hardworking soul. It has been months since I have last been able to shoot some fast food from the air but I still feel it each time I move my gun or look out onto our pond, each time a distant quack reaches my ears. It is the sound of waterfowl hunting, an orchestra to my now finely-tuned ears that now plays lightly. Saturday, the tunes will begin to rock this cabin, but until then we will wait, together, as a community, for that first light when the ducks will fall.