Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Dog Named Blitz, Chapter 8 "4th Year, Part 8"

The wind blew hard all night long, and I got out of bed well ahead of the alarm.  I made coffee, fed Blitz, and got ready for us to leave.  The stars in the cloudless sky were vibrant, the wind steady out of the west, and the east showing, ever so slightly, the brightening of the impending dawn.  It was a gorgeous morning by all accounts. 

After getting my gear together, my waders on, and making final preparations for the hunt, I kenneled Blitz in the back of my truck and drove us down to the landing.  Once there I donned a headlamp and headed out to the boat to set the decoys.  Blitz whined her disappointment about being left in the kennel.  "Don't worry, girl.  I'll be right back to get you," I told her over my shoulder as I pushed the boat into the water.  As I motored to the point I decided not to set a huge decoy spread.  There just were not enough birds in the area to warrant the work, hence I set two pods of about eight mallards each, then set a small string of a dozen bluebills from the end of the point toward the east.  As I finished in the dark, I shone my headlight across my handiwork.  "Not a bad little spread, especially for this wind," I thought to myself.  "Now all we need are some birds." 

I drove back to the landing and was met by the familiar thump-thump-thump of Blitz's tail against the wall of her crate.  I said "OK, girl, let's see what we can do," and opened her door.  Immediately she let out like she was shot from a cannon.  It turns out that I was not the only one that missed being able to hunt as a team again. 

We walked slowly in the darkness down the long point, and ultimately arrived at Dean's new blind.  We both stepped up and into the slightly elevated contraption, and I was able to get a good view of the decoy spread and the impending sunrise.  With the stars, decoys, rustling cattails, and pink sky in the east, it was gorgeous.  I thumbed the light on my watch, which read 6:45 - about 10 minutes away from the legal shooting time of a half hour before sunrise.  I uncased my gun and got ready to load, when I was interrupted by a flock of teal that flew over me so low that I thought they'd knock my hat off of my head.  They were just the start of dozens of birds buzzing through the air, and I was giddy that it appeared that the cloudless sky and big overnight winds appeared to usher in new birds to the area. 

The ten minute wait until legal shooting took forever, and when the clock hit exactly 6:55, I had a hen mallard circling my decoys and quacking hard.  Under normal circumstances, I don't like to knowingly take hen ducks.  As a conservationist, it is just kind of a principle that I try to live up to.  However, on my 40th birthday on the last duck hunt with my sick dog, it was a principle I was happy to bend.  After a few quacks on the duck call the hen sailed into the decoys and was setting up to land when I covered her up with the bead on my barrel and squeezed the trigger.  She crumpled and splashed dead into the water about 15 yards away, and Blitz was right on it and made the quick swim to pick up the bird.  The wet dog retuned with the large duck in her mouth, and it seemed like Blitz and I were both grinning.  We were back!  This might just be a good day after all. 

The birds continued to buzz the small decoy spread I had set, providing me with ample shooting.  Unfortunately, I was not connecting on any of my shots.  I was pressing hard for Blitz, not concentrating or taking my time, and the toll it was taking on my shooting with obvious.  Blitz whined her displeasure at the amount of ammunition that was being spent that did not result in a chance for a retrieve.   

A fat drake mallard presented a challenging shot to the south, and in three shots I merely broke his wing, dropping him into the decoys.  Blitz was in the water immediately chasing the injured duck, who was swimming at a good pace.  As I waded into the water after the dog I shot at the bird on the water to dispatch him and bring the chase to an end, but shot after shot would not connect. 

The chase was now lasting too long, and I was getting very worried about Blitz.  I decided to call her in and to get the boat to chase down the bird.  Unfortunately, Blitz had closed ground on the bird and was now so close that she ignored my commands.  "Blitz, here!  BLITZ, HERE!" I screamed louder and louder, getting more and more worried.  What if her leg failed her out there?  What an idiot I was!  "BLITZ HERE!  BLITZ HERE!"  Still nothing.  The bird was now diving under the water to avoid the dog, and the chase seemed to last forever.  As the duck popped up, if I had a clean shot at it I took it to try and bring things to an end, but after minutes of this, I was down to my very last shell of ammunition left in my vest. 

That's when we caught our big break of the morning. 

After getting close again, the greenhead mallard dove under the water, and ended up popping up behind the dog, and closer to the point.  Blitz noticed, and started the chase again, actually driving the bird toward me.  "One last shot," I told myself as I lowered my gun on the injured bird swimming toward the cover of the point.  "Make it count."  With that I squeezed off the last round I had out in the water with me, and our drake finally rolled over.  Blitz picked him up in short order, and we reconvened at the blind. 

Blitz was panting due to the long swim, and I was kicking myself at the whole situation.  I took a borderline shot at a bird because I wanted a nice experience for my dog, and instead I put her in danger.  Idiot!  I told myself that I'd not take any more borderline shots, and that I needed to settle down, concentrate on my shooting, and execute. 

Birds continued to buzz, by us, and I passed all of them up as they didn't present a shot in which I was confident of a clean, close kill.  Fortunately, my patience was going to be rewarded.  A massive flock of ring necked ducks buzzed up the eastern shore line, banked hard to their left, and were lined up to come right down the bluebill decoy string that I had set.  They closed the gap between us, swung down the the sting of decoys, lowered their feet, and were committing to land seemingly at the end of the point when I stood and picked out a bird.  I squeezed the trigger and crumpled a fat drake, and swung my gun on a second bird.  I squeezed off another round and dropped that duck as well.  A double! 

Dropping two birds out of one flock is a feat, as once the shooting starts, ducks move very quickly to leave the area.  But the birds were so close and my shooting so true that the double was actually easy to achieve.  With one more shell left in my gun, I picked out a third bird from the still very close flock.  I touched off the shot, crumpling the bird at which I was aiming, and also dropping a drake that happened to by flying behind it.  A quad! 

In all of my decades of hunting, I've only had a triple one time.  It was years before, and it elicited a "Great shot!" shout not only from my dad at the back of the boat, but also from a boat about 100 yards from us.  But I'd never had a quad.  I couldn't even imagine it.  But sure enough, when the flock had departed and gun gone empty, there were four birds down.  Two were right in the decoys; the easy retrieves I was looking to provide the dog and Blitz picked them up in very short order.  The other two birds had sailed a bit, and given the length of the swim ahead of the dog, I decided she had enough, and walked her over to the boat for us to pick them up via that method. 

Throwing my cased gun and blind bag into the boat, we shoved off to pick up the birds.  As I motored to them, I was doing the math in my head - two mallards plus four ring necks was our six bird limit.  Blitz and I were done.  I grinned as I remembered Ron's admonishment about wasting my time, and looked up at Blitz at the front of the boat, ears flapping in the wind, obviously having a ball.  What a morning! 

We gathered the birds, and since we were already in the water and had our limit, Blitz and I puttered around and quickly picked up the small decoy spread.  Once complete with our decoy chore I motored back to the landing, still unable to believe the good fortune we had.  I wanted just one last hunt with Blitz.  I did not expect it to be the best hunt of my life.  Upon hitting the dock, I tied up the boat, went down on my knees in my waders and with Blitz licking my face, said a long and heartfelt prayer of thanks.  I felt that a morning like this had to be a gift from God, and I was thankful.  I'd like to think that He saw my suffering about Blitz and decided to reward me with the best birthday gift I could have ever wanted. 

I quickly put the boat on the trailer, hauled everything back to the farmhouse, and got the birds out for some pictures with Blitz.  In doing so, I happened to look at my watch.  It was 8:20.  Accounting for the picking up decoys, hooking up the boat, and jacking around with pictures, Blitz and I had to have finished our hunt by about 7:30.  A limit in a little over a half hour!  Incredible.  I quickly cleaned the birds, got things packed and looked again at my watch.  8:45. 

Now what was I going to do? 

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