Only the Hunter

This is the tale of two ducks.

As a well-worn hunter of waterfowl, I now appreciate quite a few things that I used to take for granted. Tonight, I was reminded of one.

I’ve had several discussions about waterfowl table fare this season. I think it’s somewhat related to the fact that the season has been a bit slim. The number of waterfowl eaten has been limited by take and I’ve dug a little deeper into the freezer of the past.

Ducks that have been in the freezer for two, three or four years are substandard. But I have to admit that I’ve eaten a few of those over the past few months – sometimes in an effort to clear the way for a new season.

However, events have slowed down the progression and I’ve not eaten as many fresh ducks as usual. Today was different.

Yesterday I hung around the Kerry Club long enough to knock down two pintails. Seeing as I can only eat one on any given night, I had the privilege of surveying the two birds carefully.

The first bird was taken at about 9:00 AM. He came directly over the blind at maximum shootable range. I pulled up and increased the lead to about six feet. When I pulled the trigger he died instantly and did a spin down. Which means he spun in circular motion, but did not coast at all. Despite a slight breeze, he hit the water almost directly beneath the spot where he was hit. One shot and done.

Lola retrieved the bird and I noticed right away that its belly-feathers were yellow – almost the same color as Lola. Some say that this coloration is a stain created by hanging out in rice fields. Others say the stain is because these are birds that have been living in the Susuin Marsh where the brackish water stains the birds. This scenario sounds more credible. In either event, this bird had spent some time elsewhere before moving to the grasslands.

The second bird was shot about three hours later and its breast feathers were pure white. Since this is the natural color of pintail, I don’t know where it had been. However, according to some of my knowledgeable duck hunting friends, it is likely that this white bird has been living in the grasslands for a while. In the grasslands it probably has had plenty to eat and has not been overworked searching for food. And, the grasslands water is very high quality.

After I plucked the two birds, it was even more clear that their life styles have been quite different. The yellow-stained bird appeared to have zero body fat and when stripped it looked gray. The snow-white bird had so much body fat that the fat showed through its skin. It looked yellow.

I’ve eaten enough ducks to know that a duck with a layer of fat is much tastier than a duck with no body fat. So when dinner time came, guess which duck I selected?

You got it. I salted, peppered and seasoned the duck. Then I placed it in a convection oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. When I pulled the bird from the oven, it had swelled up nicely and was crispy looking on the outside.

Here’s what a great duck looks like when it comes out of the oven. I sliced the bird to see if it was done. It was – medium rare.

roast-duck

It was fantastic. I ate every drop and finished the last vestiges of meat from the carcass while holding it with two hands and leaning over our sink.That says it all. The second duck will be a let down, but I’ll eat it one of these days.

The moral to the story is pick out the whitest drakes you can and hope for a layer of fat.

Staying Safe

Wednesday I hung out at the duck club waiting for a second sprig. My energy was high and there were enough birds around that I figured it would be a matter of time before my chance appeared.

As a light rain picked up, a few sprig came in and landed. A single drake circled over the open water in front of me. I whistled a bit on my four-in-one call. The drake passed by just out of range and began to settle in about 75 yards out.

Instinctively my calling became more excited. As the rhythm increased, the bird took notice. It began to helicopter in my direction. Then it sped up and came into range. At 30 yards I stood and the bird panicked, but it was too late for him.

After the shot I laid my gun down across the blind next to me and watched as Lola retrieved the bird. When she reached me I bent across the dog box and picked up the bird, noticing how snow-white its breast was.

snow-white-pintail-drake

I decided to take a photo of the bird and my shotgun. Then a photo of Lola and the bird.

And I was done. I packed up and hiked to my truck, loaded my gear, plucked the second bird and headed for home.

Later, I unloaded the truck and opened the gun case, unlocked the gun safe and pulled out the double. As a matter of routine, I opened the breach to assure myself that the gun was unloaded. It wasn’t. There sat an empty round and a fresh round. As I opened the breach further the dead shell ejected and the live shell remained. I removed it and closed the gun.

I stood there in a state of disbelief. Then I realized that I may have carried that gun from blind to gun safe with, not only a live round, but also I cocked gun. Could I have done that? I had a sick feeling in my stomach.

The thought of that live round ate at me as I walked to the house and sat down at my computer. I wasn’t sure that I could admit such a huge mistake.

Then I remembered the photo. Maybe I had put the safety on and my mistake was not so egregious. I downloaded the photo and expanded it. The safety was on. Although I’d not unloaded the shotgun, which was a mistake, at least I’d done a couple of things right.

safety-on

I didn’t feel so bad. However, this series of events points out the importance of following all the gun safety rules. Redundancy is a major factor in staying safe.