Thursday, December 3, 2009

Windy Day

The weather report said "breezy" for Saturday and so my pre-dawn ritual was filled with a little more excitement. Instead of just feeding the cats, I sang them a little song in "kitty Lou" a cat-language I devised on my own. "Monties" danced around me in anticipation. I read somewhere that elderly people actually had dancing contests with their labs, teaching them the two-step. I tried a waltz with Montana but she kept stepping on my toes with her sharp claws, ripping away from me and doing prancing circles by the door. I guess it's enough that she retrieves ducks. She knows from the moment my alarm clock goes off early that she's going hunting and she shadows my every move, reading me intently with her ears back, eyes probing for a cue to jump in the truck. Funny how she will crash into my tailgate before I even open it, but getting her to "kennel up" for the ride home usually involves lifting her in. It's not that she's tired, she just doesn't want to go home.
When I arrive at the club, the flags are barely flapping and I'm worried the weatherman has got it wrong again. Just like baseball, the weatherman only has to be right 3 out of 10 times and he's in the hall of fame. We piled coyote brush into the boat to cover our blinds and dogs and set out to cut a wake down the moon tinted canal. Just before shooting hours, a flight of three sprig swung past the outskirts of our spread and came low past heyman. He balked and I made a comment about "triggeritis" even though I was fresh off a frisking with Fish and Game regarding the legal size of crabs. They let me go but I didn't want to tempt fate and commit anything that might even be considered a violation. It's tempting in the dark, in the middle of a thousand acre pond but you never know and it ain't worth it.
The weather man was apparently being conservative today because the "breeze" turned into a steady north wind-perfect for our pond and set up. Teal buzzed my side and I shot instinctively, picking the closest bird and sending it somersaulting across the ponds surface. The rest of the flock did what teal do when they're fired on and went airborne, straight up in an evasive maneuver that had me aiming over my head, past vertical. I missed the next two shots.
Soon our "winduks" were absolutely zinging with the wind and the poles tilted back at an angle, threatening to eject the spinning wing decoys, drowning them forever in the white-capped pond.
Normally, on a more placid day, the ducks will stay at altitude, occasionally flirting with a landing but for the most part these are the ducks who have gained wisdom from the shotgun's boom and the loss of a fallen partner. These same ducks, now grounded to the deck with winds gusting to 50, picked their route through the pond wisely. They skirmished the perimeter and gained altitude over suspicious looking "islands". Ironically most of the guys who normally hunted the less productive outskirts were invited to hunt the middle today, only to watch squadrons of sprig, widgeon and even a few greenheads dive-bomb their normally unproductive spreads.
I got up from the pits and pulled the spinning wing decoys in, they just didn't look right spinning so hyper actively. It paid off as a large flight of sprig and then another worked their way east, side winding in the wind, tilting, dipping and working hard but making excruciatingly slow actual progress so that when they finally came within range, it seemed as though we'd spent the morning with them. Guns blazed and labs lunged, leaped, plunged and stroked to their marks, soaking us with a vigorous shake as they handed off their prized retrieves.
We ended the day with nine birds (no spoonies thank you) and spent another 20 minutes looking for three that had sailed out of retriever range. We only found one. You've got to drop them cold in wind like that or they lock their wings and suck themselves into the ozone-shrinking into a speck on the horizon. It was the most productive day for me at the Tule Belle thus far. Normally the ducks are predictable and follow an established routine. Most of the time that routine keeps them safely out of shotgun range. That's what makes a windy day hunting so exciting though, all bets are off. The wind changes everything.
When I got home that afternoon, a mysterious thump seemed to be coming from the attic and our hefty, cast iron trellis had fallen over. Luckily no one was standing underneath the trellis and the thumping turned out to be Tanner's plywood basketball backboard. Nothing like a little storm to make things interesting.

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