Ducks float; Duck hunters don’t.

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The 2013 hunting seasons open next month and my hunting buddies and I eagerly anticipate taking to the field with our dogs. One of our favourite past times is waterfowl hunting. My hunting buddies and I have successfully gunned for wild ducks and geese over land and water over the years. My first duck hunting experience was in 1976 when I was fifteen years old. I was new to the sport and really clueless. My father and I sat, waiting, in our Ford Pinto for legal shooting time to start; it had not occurred to us we could be sitting in our blind waiting for shooting time to start. I may have been clueless about waterfowl hunting, but I had taken to heart what I learned in the Ontario Hunter Education Program about hunter safety. New hunters are required to take this course and  pass written and practical examinations before obtaining a hunting license. I have been careful over the years to strictly adhere to safe and ethical hunting practices, but found, one morning while out duck hunting, how the most minor lapse in judgement can result in disaster (near disaster in my case). What follows is an account of events from that morning, October 8, 2009.

Picked up Omer at a little after 0500 to go gunning for ducks on the Castor River. Arrived at the farm in good time, but was dismayed to see the soybeans still standing. Was hoping they had been harvested in time for the Canada goose migration. Dismayed further in finding no geese roosting on the river. Began to think it would be another morning where we sit and watch the sunrise. We toyed with the idea of calling off the hunt and taking Juno into the uplands later in the morning, but decided to proceed. I put out seven goose floaters, not realizing until after the hunt that one anchor line was snarled, preventing it from mooring the decoy properly. Said decoy was carried away by the current in the dark. Put out the ten puddler duck decoys and selected a site to sit and wait for the morning flight.

As it happened, ducks are back along the Castor. Early into shooting time a lone wood duck flew past at a spanking pace over the decoys. This was quickly followed up by a small flock. They approached over land so there was little notice before they appeared in front of us. I quickly shot five: four wood ducks and a drake mallard, before things went terribly off the rails. I was wading after a downed wood duck that was drifting east on the river. The water level is higher than usual because of the days and days of rainfall. As I finally neared the downed duck, just at the stretch of the river where the depth increases abruptly, I thought one more step and I’ll have it, but that one more step took me into water far too deep to wade. Next thing I knew the situation went from inconvenient to life-threatening. My waders filled up with water and I could no longer reach the river bottom with my feet. My float coat was keeping me buoyant, but with the weight of the water in my waders it was a struggle to keep from keeling over, basically floating, but with my head under the water. I dropped my gun, brought my knees up to my chest, then with a few measured breast strokes brought myself back to water shallow enough that my feet reached the river bottom. Better the gun end up on the river bottom than me.

Because of this misadventure, three of my downed ducks were lost. They drifted away while I was struggling to keep from drowning and getting back to shore. Omer let me take a hot shower at his place and offered me dry clothing. We called a diving supplies shop and the owner offered to come to the river and retrieve my gun in exchange for a $300 donation to a charity he and some of his colleagues operate. They offer diving lessons to people with disabilities. I was careful to note the approximate location where I dropped the gun. We met up with the diver, Bob Curzon, and after searching the river bottom for about 30 minutes, he emerged with my gun. Omer is taking the gun to Jason Spencer, proprietor of Gunco, today to have the gun taken apart and thoroughly cleaned.

We are going back to try our luck on the goose fields tomorrow morning, but Eric, the owner of the farm, has granted access to some idiots who work at the Experimental Farm. They were out all week, sitting in a tree line next to one of the fields, blazing away at geese more than a hundred yards high in the air. We saw and heard this yesterday morning. In addition, because of the rainfall I mentioned above, the soybeans have not been harvested. We are going to rig the decoys in the adjacent wheat field that has been harvested while hiding ourselves among the standing soybeans. Hopefully the yahoos will stay home tomorrow. Time will tell.

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