Memories are shared in a multitude of ways, the telling of a story when family is gathered around the table, a picture of 1,000 words, or simply a tradition that is carried on to generations to come. Memories are found in moments that initiate recall… such as the smell of apple pie taking a trip to grandma’s kitchen, or a song sending time back to the dirt road outside of your hometown. For me, the cold crank of the Evinrude outboard on a November morning will forever remind me of the hunt that left us floating.
It was a dry 39 degrees Fahrenheit, the type of dry-cold that burns the inside of your nose when you blow it into your shirt sleeve. The tundra feeling that accompanies the first winter wave of the season was present, and in force. This 39-degree temperature will not seem cold in the middle of December, but bouncing off a seemingly unending summer makes 39 a treacherous feat. Public land means that the boat ramp is the one opportunity to strut your stuff and prove worthy of the brotherhood. This morning was no different, with the trailer half-submerged in the mirky slough, the outboard cranked for a second and fired off the line like she had a quarter-mile drag ahead. As we pull out of the cove, 3rd in the long string of public land waterfowl enthusiasts, the memory-to-be began.
In the boat was my cousin, Damon, my labrador “Lady”, and our guest, uncle Jerry. Uncle Jerry is 72 years old and is a retired minister whom has recently returned to Oklahoma to enjoy time with family and the marvelous outdoor opportunities our state provides. From big whitetail bucks to great duck and goose hunting (not to mention bass fishing), Oklahoma is quite the dreamland for “my kind-a folks.”
We chugged along the channel to our secret spot, which is simply a small island that all of the other traffic passes by on the way to the marsh land. We have killed many limits here because the birds avoid the war zone that all the other duck boats race to each weekend. Public land success, when chasing waterfowl, is reliant upon the hunter’s ability to adapt and experiment. We first hunted this small island (maybe the size of your living room) two years ago when we were late to the boat ramp. After setting out a giant spread of 4 decoys (did I mention we were late?) we killed a 5 man limit in just over 22 minutes. From then on, this island was our sanctuary.
As we traveled by the dim guide of the spotlight and mimicked the hand motion of measuring the stars from Disney’s Moana, (I have a 10 month old at home) we headed to “our island.” As I pressed the throttle down and we began to feel the crisp wind as it dried lips and forced tears from our eyes the eerie “chug-chug” of an outboard before it cuts out ended the hopes we had of a perfect morning in the blind. The engine cut out, dead as the mallards we hoped to bring to the table that night, and we were left floating in the channel with no paddle (this is not in the sense of the age old saying… I literally couldn’t find the paddle). As the sun began to rise, we touched shore after drifting back towards the boat ramp. The wind was a blessing this day as we could have been drifting away from the ramp which would have proved to be unfortunate when it came time to pack up and plan our escape.
When we floated to water shallow enough for us to bale out in waders, we knew it was that crucial time before shooting begins. If we had any hope of bagging birds, now was our chance. After strolling 150 yards from the boat (whistling the theme song for Gilligan’s Island) we set up a small spread of 1 dozen decoys and a few flapping decoys. We sat for 3 hours with nothing but laughs and a plethora of game plans for making it back to the safety of the boat ramp. While mid chuckle upon reflecting of our luck, a green winged teal dove like a fighter jet into the spread. Damon quickly shouldered his gun and the teal folded into a splash. The blast of the shotgun awakened Lady from her slumber and she retrieved the trophy flawlessly.
As we unfurled plan C, which seemed more like Z, I remember watching uncle Jerry pull a 40 year old duck call from his coat and he filled those lungs and gave the prettiest hail I have heard to this date. Would it win a competition? No chance… would it convince ducks to land in our improvised spread? chances are slim… would it be the highlight of this story each time I tell it at a family gathering? Absolutely. It was in that moment… when all hope of harvesting ducks was lost, that the drive of uncle Jerry reminded me why we do what we do. The hunt is about more than the harvest, and there will be plenty of birds harvested this season. This hunt is about cherishing the time we have with the people we love most. The outdoors are simply that, making memories with those around us.
To answer your question… yes we survived. After countless jokes of drawing straws for who had to swim us home, the trolling motor had enough juice to get us back to beloved safety. Before you accuse me of embellishing the story, (I can almost hear your comment, “they had the trolling motor the whole time?! They were fine!), this is the trolling motor that died while sandbass fishing and left me floating last spring… but we will save that memory for the next campfire…
See you in the blind… be safe.