It’s been over a year now. An entire hunting season has been relegated to memory, yet the incident is still vivid. When something’s that important to you, that troubling, it lodges in the synapse as to be recalled easily and often, sometimes consciously and sometimes unintentionally in dreams.
It started out as simple local duck hunt less than five minutes from my home—just the dog and me. The weather was unseasonably warm so the flight was slow. I bagged a couple mallards on a public hunting area by slogging deep into the kidney shaped slough to a spot that’s seldom hunted. At the parking area after the hunt, a fan of my TV exploits recognized me and brought his son over to introduce themselves. They’d enjoyed some success, too. In fact, it was hard to tell who was more excited—the boy who’d bagged his first duck, or Dad! I was excited for the youngster, too, and shook his hand and congratulated him.
The boy was reserved, but Dad gushed all the details. He told me where they were hunting and what they had seen. I smiled and nodded, enjoying their enthusiasm, but then Dad continued to tell me about his son actually shooting the duck. He said, “Yep. It came right in. I was calling hard, and that duck loved it! It landed splash in the middle of the decoys, and I shouted, ‘Shoot, shoot!’ and my boy got it good!”
That began to turn me off. I know a lot of young hunters get started shooting a duck or two on the water and work into shooting birds in the air. I guess it keeps enthusiasm up and builds confidence, but it didn’t happen that way when I started out; I believe I’m the better for it. We shot birds, waterfowl or upland, in the air or we didn’t shoot at all.
I didn’t say anything to Dad or his son, but started to work on my getaway. Dad kept on, then asked if I’d take a picture of him and his boy with the duck.
“Aw, sure,” I said, and thought, “Heck. Why not share in this father/son kind of moment I so loved with my own pa?”
Dad handed me his phone and grabbed the limp bird from the back of their truck. They rested against the rail fence which surrounded the tiny parking area and held up the disheveled bird for a classic “grip and grin” shot. I composed the picture of the disheveled duck as best I could and snapped a couple of shots.
I handed him back the phone and Dad said, “Thanks for taking a picture of my boy and his Teal.”
It was all I could do from whipping my head around and correcting him! I’d just taken a picture of the two of them holding a hen Bufflehead stretched beneath their grins nearly wider than its wingspan.
Did Dad not know the difference, or was he just trying to make it an even bigger deal for his son by labeling it as a more “desirable” duck? I don’t know and never will. I just bit my lip, climbed in my truck, and drove out.
To this day and into the future I’ll wonder if I did the right thing. Every fiber of my hardcore duck hunting being tells me I should have set the record straight with Dad about encouraging his son to shoot a duck on the water and then not even giving him the right information about what it was. How is the kid ever going to know right from wrong and learn the fine points of duck hunting, like waterfowl identification, that make it so interesting and addicting?
On the other hand, this is coming from a guy (me) who is over the top when it comes to ID’ing waterfowl. When his best high school friend and hunting partner’s first child was born, I brought to the hospital a handmade set of waterfowl I.D. flashcards! No bull! I still can’t think of a better gift of legacy for a day-old baby!
Did I do the right thing by just minding my own business and allowing father and son to have their fun and moment together? Or should I have stood up for the heritage of American waterfowl hunting and corrected them both with the hope of setting them on a better course? What would you have done? I’d really like to know, but will probably always wonder.