By E. Donnall Thomas Jr.
I felt the truck rocking in the crosswind as we drove down the highway in the dark, and by the time we reached our destination, I could barely open the door against its force. I hadn’t visited the slough in several weeks and wasn’t even sure it contained any open water after a recent cold snap, but the gray light revealed wavelets breaking over the ice along its edges. “This is terrible!” my hunting partner, a novice waterfowler, observed as the gale tore away his shooting vest before he could buckle it to his body. On the contrary, I assured him. This was perfect.
Fifteen minutes later, we sat huddled in a clump of brush beside a minimalist spread of a dozen decoys, each tacking crazily back and forth against its anchor line as if it meant to sprout real wings and fly. A few more knots of southwest chinook wind spilling down across the mountains’ eastern slope likely would have overwhelmed them, but the anchors held and they all managed to stay upright somehow, not that events let us worry about them for long.
I hadn’t even loaded my gun when my Lab Rocky’s face turned skyward, a cue I’ve learned can only mean one thing. Inbound from a nearby stubble field, a large flight of mallards was rocketing through the downwind leg of an approach to the slough. “Ready?” I hissed to my partner as I fumbled a pair of shells into my double. I’m not sure what I would have done had he told me that he wasn’t.
The birds offered a spectacular performance on their final descent. Fighting the wind all the way, 200 of them banked into the turn, cupped their wings, and slid downward in slow motion. Transfixed, I nearly forgot to stand and shoot, but suddenly we had greenheads hanging right in front of our faces. “Take ‘em!”
I cried, and the two of us rose to do just that.