Grand Days in the Marsh
We rise too early after a night that was all too short. But it was a night I would wish for anyone who loves the lore and history of duck hunting. The festivities began with a gourmet meal of teal, oyster gumbo, and blackened redfish. Next came a storytelling session with Ted; Big Pecan Lodge owner Gary Salmon; Beaullieu brothers Pat, Ted Jr., and Paul; renowned chef Ken Veron; and others.
Ted reminisced about his father's first hunting camp, established in 1935, on Vermilion Bay. "We had to row across the Intracoastal canal and then follow cow trails through the woods to get there," he said. "We made decoys from newspapers, twisting the necks up. The hunting back then was fabulous—beyond imagination!"
The men shared tales of grand days in the marsh, other hunting clubs, legendary guides and retrievers, wingshots good and bad, and storms with ladies' names and mean dispositions. The stories—some evoking raucous laughter and others quiet reflection—rolled on for a couple of hours. It was just what a night in a duck camp should be, a band of brothers in the true sense sharing all the things that make their time together extraordinary.
Finally, Ted rose from his chair and announced, "You all can stay up all night if you want to. I'm going to bed."
Now we're all wide awake as Zeke throttles his mud boat back and steers it into a narrow ditch off the main channel. We idle several more yards through a tunnel of vegetation, and then break into an open pond some five acres in size. A pink glimmer is spreading across the eastern sky. A sultry breeze is stirring the air. Zeke points his boat toward a line of sawgrass where the blind is hidden.
"Y'all be careful when you get out," he warns us. "There's a big bull gator hanging around here. Yesterday he started coming for Oscar [Zeke's yellow Lab] when he was retrieving a teal. We had to shoot near him to scare him off."
Ted springs to the front of the boat with a younger man's agility. "Let me check the blind for snakes and alligators," he says to me. "Then I'll help you in."
In the next two hours we shoot teal and swap more yarns and revel in our new friendship. The athleticism of Ted's youth is still evident in his keen shooting ability. And the years have done little to dampen his enthusiasm for being in the blind. "I'm still mad at the ducks," he laughs, and I understand what he means—not really mad but passionate about hunting them. Their call to him is as strong today as it was years ago. "When one season ends, I start looking forward to the next one," he explains. "That helps me keep going. That and being able to hunt with my boys and my grandchildren. I'm fortunate to be able to do that at my age."
Ted has one more real longing in life—to share a hunt with his great-grandson, Hayes, who is four years old. "Maybe we can do that next year," he says. "We might let him take a BB gun. I'd like to make that memory for him and for me."
I look out across our decoys and make a silent plea to the Creator of this marsh and all things in it. "Please," I ask, "please grant this good man's wish."