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Words That Define Us

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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

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