by Keith Sutton
In waterfowling literature, one can find many wonderful passages by great writers that describe what it truly means to be a duck hunter
Since I was a young boy, I have loved books. It is quite natural that this is so, for my mother was a librarian. Every day she brought home a new book for me to read. This continued from the time I was six until I was well into my teens. And on those rare occasions when she was unable to do this, I felt neglected for those few hours or days that passed before I got my next literary fix.
I became a book junkie, prowling dusty shelves for hardback highballs and soft-cover fixes. And like most junkies, I eventually narrowed my choice of poisons to one in particular that gave me the biggest rush. I got hooked on books about hunting and fishing.
I never made an attempt to kick the habit, and to this day, I'm strung out on the words of people like John Madson, Gene Hill, Gordon MacQuarrie, Aldo Leopold, Charles Waterman and Russell Chatham.
My years as a bibliophile have led to some unusual quirks, including one in particular—turning down the corner of each page where I chance across some magical combination of words, some wonderful passage, that says something special about the pastimes I love.
Last night, for example, I was compelled to dog-ear my copy of John Madson's Out Home when I ran across this sentence:
"I do not hunt for the joy of killing but for the joy of living, and for the inexpressible pleasure of mingling my life, however briefly, with that of a wild creature I respect, admire and value."
My God, I thought. The words define me as a hunter and a sportsman. They say what I wish I could say, and they say it better than I ever could. It is a line that is magical and unforgettable and insightful all at once. When I read it, I wondered if Mr. Madson had to struggle with the words as he tried to connect them in just the right way, or if he put them to paper with hardly a second thought.
For some, such things come easy, like turning on a faucet. For others, like me, the words never seem just right, and we must sweat blood to create sentences with far less permanence and perfection.
n this article, therefore, I have decided to give you some of my thoughts about ducks and duck hunting, but not in my words. Following are some of the many unforgettable passages about our sport, words for the ages, taken from the dog-eared pages of my books and magazines:
"I suppose it may seem like a strange sort of lullaby to some, but I have never heard sweeter music than the muffled report of duck guns on a distant marsh, and I know that others share my feeling."
—Burton Spiller, More Grouse Feathers, 1972
"There is...a deeper sense of understanding, accomplishment and downright pleasure that accompanies the ability to look at a knot of birds on the horizon and say with conviction, 'Mallards,' or 'Brant.'"
—Norm Strung, Misty Mornings and Moonless Nights, 1974
"There are no bad days in a duck blind."
—Charles F. Waterman, "Duck Blinds," The Part I Remember, 1974
"...a lone black duck came out of the west,...set his wings and pitched downward. I cannot remember the shot; I remember only my unspeakable delight when my first duck hit the snowy ice with a thud and lay there, belly up, red legs kicking."
—Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, 1949
"I intend to learn to call waterfowl even if in the process I offend every ear in the country—and I just might."
—Gene Hill, "Calling Ducks," Mostly Tailfeathers, 1971
"When done under the rules of good sportsmanship, duck hunting is a culmination of art, skill and scientific endeavor. It is also an act of love, for who loves the birds more than the hunter?"
—Bob Hinman, The Duck Hunter's Handbook, 1974
"To the avid waterfowler, no moment of truth can match the instant when a flock first responds to his call and decoys, the time when this wild, free bird of unsurpassed grace begins a descent from the sky down to gun range. It is a stirring spectacle..."
—Grits Gresham, The Complete Wildfowler, 1973
"A duck call in the hands of the unskilled is one of conservation's greatest assets."
—Nash Buckingham, De Shootinest Gent'man, 1941
"When a duck hunter gets it all right, the satisfaction is sublime. When he picks the precise spot, fashions a good blind, sets his decoys to look like live ducks on the water, calls convincingly and makes a clean kill...he has reached a high pinnacle of achievement."
—Wade Bourne, A Ducks Unlimited Guide to Hunting Dabblers, 2002
"Duck hunting gives a man a chance to see the loneliest places...blinds washed by a rolling surf, blue and gold autumn marshes,...a rice field in the rain, flooded pin-oak forests or any remote river delta. In duck hunting the scene is as important as the shooting..."
—Erwin Bauer, The Duck Hunter's Bible, 1965
"A duck hunter is a man who finds value in a pair of patched waders that should have been replaced years ago, a wooden decoy with the paint worn off and a Labrador pup that might make a retriever...someday."
—Larry Dablemont, Memories from a Misty Morning Marsh, 1999
"Still in waders, with the string of ducks across his shoulders, he stood hesitating on the sidewalk in the cold November wind...Today, all day, he had been alive; now he was back ready to be dead again."
—Wallace Stegner, "The Blue-winged Teal," Harper's Magazine, April 1950
"Out of small game came flights of...ducks, and I came to see, through them, that my attraction was not, above all else, to the killing, but to the sighting of the animal, the 'reading' of his flight, the knowing of where he would be..."
—Thomas McIntyre, The Way of the Hunter: The Art and Spirit of Modern Hunting, 1988
"What finer recreation could fall to the lot of any boy than to tramp with his dad, gun in hand, through forests ablaze with autumn leaves; over pungent marshes where swift-winged quacking waterfowl await his coming?"
—Raymond S. Deck, "Take Your Boy Hunting," Parents' Magazine, October 1942
"The joy of hunting was beyond accounting, once I was old enough to be trusted...with my father's old shotgun. I loved to bring birds down, to take quick aim at mallards, pintails, teal...and feel the twelve-gauge bounce against my battered shoulder ..."
—A.B. Guthrie Jr., The Blue Hen's Chick: A Life in Context, 1965
"...the magic visitation of ducks from the sky to a set of bobbing blocks holds more of beauty and heart-pounding thrill than I have ever experienced afield with rod or gun."
—Gordon MacQuarrie, The Stories of the Old Duck Hunters & Other Drivel, 1967
"Grand ideas can be born in duck blinds, for many of America's leading conservationists found both inspiration and motivation from what they saw and felt as they awaited encounters with wildfowl. Leopold's 'land ethic,' Darling's determination and Teddy Roosevelt's vision likely owe their genesis to the same wetland cathedrals..."
—Chris Dorsey, Wildfowler's Season, 1995
"When blizzards and storm winds strike, other hunters curl up by the hearth. Waterfowlers go forth."
—Zack Taylor, Successful Waterfowling, 1974
"Without hesitation, [the ducks] swirl and funnel into an opening in the trees and, as needles to a magnet, drop quickly and quietly into the water, rafting and crowding as though surface rent were a thousand dollars an acre...It is a never-to-be forgotten sight."
—Edgar M. Queeny, Prairie Wings, 1946
"A day in the blind is a delightful occasion. If there are ducks to be shot so much the better, but even a day in the open watching the bobbing decoys and the changing weather, with the good companionship of friends, is in itself a more than worth-while experience."
—J. Kemp Bartlett Jr., "Chesapeake Bay," Duck Shooting, 1947
"...duckhunting stands alone as an outdoor discipline. It has a tang and spirit shared by no other sport—a philosophy compounded of sleet, the winnow of unseen wings, and the reeks of marsh mud and wet wool. No other sport has so many theories, legends, casehardened disciples and treasured memories."
—John Madson, The Mallard, 1960
"It's during duck hunts, and particularly at private duck clubs, where young boys first see how their fathers move among other men. Not how they act at work or at church or at home being 'dad,' but how they really are."
—Steve Wright, Arkansas Duck Hunter's Almanac, 1998
"...the best duck blinds are those designed to give us a chance to think, for the periods between flights were meant for musing..."
—Matthew B. Connolly Jr., in the foreword to Wildfowler's Season by Chris Dorsey, 1995
"Like a largemouth bass or a brown trout, a wild duck is too valuable a creature to take just one time—but that's the way we have to do it. Much as you'd like to, you cannot release this light-yet-heavy, this common-though-exceedingly-rare, this simple-but-complex creature of the wild yonder we know as a duck."
—Jim Spencer, "Why You're a Duck Hunter," Arkansas Wildlife, Winter 1997
"Duck hunting is conducted in a pleasurable and paradoxical atmosphere of relaxation and anticipatory tension. You never know what is going to happen next—but something usually does."
—John G. MacKenty, Duck Hunting, 1953
"A symbiotic relationship exists between waterfowl and the waterfowler. The birds provide sport, relaxation and that indefinable something that comes over anyone who's ever watched a flight of canvasback against a gray sky. The hunter, in turn, provides for the well-being and very existence of the birds."
—Norm Strung, Misty Mornings and Moonless Nights, 1974
"…at least half of the fun of a duck shoot is the company and work of a good retriever."
—Edgar M. Queeny, Prairie Wings, 1946
"...we have placed before us a wet lunch bag, complete with Lab teeth marks. Inside...there is a jelly sandwich, a wilted pickle, three stale and somewhat soggy cookies and an apple that had seen its best days sometime before the Truman administration. A typical waterfowler's lunch."
—Steve Smith, "The Duck Hunter," Outdoor Yarns and Outright Lies, 1983
"... any meal of wild duck is a special treat, special enough to make even the most resolute complainer forget about how frustrating it was to pull those pinfeathers, or how cold the pond was as it came in over the top of his hip boots when he reached for the prize."
—Russell Chatham, Dark Waters, 1988
"You know, Dad," he said..., "the funny part of it is that I really got as much of a wallop out of seeing you get those last mallards as though I had done the shooting myself."
"And that my boy," I answered, "is the mark of a duck hunter."
—Sigurd F. Olson, "Mallards of Back Bay," Sports Afield, October 1939