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"You really want to do this?" he asks, and I know what he's trying to say. Where Donald Leatherman hunts, at this point in the season, you're lucky to get a crack at buffleheads at the edge of the decoys with a single bluebill that you'll have to pick out of the crowd. That's pretty much the game. Where Donald hunts, and no offense to buffleheads, it's nearly always bluebills or nothing. And half the time, nothing might be all that's on the plate.

But I'm not signing up for the ducks. I've heard about Donald's hunts for years, and I want to see one for myself. He hunts a post blind a few dozen yards from the shore of a broad creek that flows into a wide river that dumps into North Carolina's massive Pamlico Sound. And he hunts it nearly every day of the season. He's out there alone nine frosty mornings out of ten. The same spot, no matter the weather, the wind, the forecast, the duck reports, or any of the other data inputs that most of us factor into when and where and how we hunt. Donald will tinker with the decoys, perhaps cluster the set upwind or downwind of the blind, move them closer or farther. But for the most part, Donald hunts like Donald has always hunted, and he doesn't let a lot of things alter the program.

Most mornings, he picks up the decoys before lunch. Maybe he's fired his gun or maybe he hasn't, but he heads home with exactly what he came for and never—not ever—anything less: Another sunrise. Another morning as a duck hunter. When it comes right down to it, Donald is batting a thousand. He may be the most successful duck hunter I've ever known.

His duck blind lies beyond the end of a sandy farm road, beyond his friend's house and garage and dog kennel, at the end of a little path through bay shrubs and pines, where a fringe of woods clads a saltwater creek a half-mile wide. Donald grew up not far from here, and not far from here is where he taught high school, where he coached football, where he retired as a high school principal. He's gunned in the Dakotas, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Canada. All fun. All just fine as can be. But this is where he really hunts.

"Be careful when walking to the blind," he cautions as we shuffle along a sandy bottom. "There are four posts from an old blind and you can't hardly see them. You'll trip. Don't ask me how I know that."

It takes all of 10 minutes for us to set a couple dozen decoys. Then we meet up in the blind, which is sheathed in cedar boughs. "You're in for a treat," he says. "You just wouldn't believe the sunrises and sunsets I've seen from here."

He's quiet for a minute or two as we both strain to listen for duck wings overhead. Then he strikes up the conversation again.

He talks about the pull of this place. His place. He talks about his dog, Sonny, and the day he thought he'd lost Sonny. The black Lab took off after a winged bird and swam a quarter mile, and then a half mile through rough chop, getting smaller and smaller as the lump in Donald's throat grew larger. Donald could no longer see the dog, even through binoculars, and was about to call a friend across the creek—Get your boat now, Bill. Now. I've lost Sonny. Then he saw what he thought was a crab pot float. The float was moving. Only it wasn't a float. It was Sonny on his way back with a duck in his mouth. For 13 years they hunted together. Here. Always here. And they still do, I'd say, even though Sonny has been gone for some time.

For a while Donald is quiet and I am quiet but it's not the kind of quiet that seems empty.

"You can solve a lot of the world's problems just sitting by yourself in a duck blind," he says.

"And a few of your own, I bet," I reply.

"Oh, yeah," he grins. "We've worked out a few things here."

Just him and himself.

We all get caught up in waterfowling's gritty, aspirational, go-big-or-go-home allure—the epic boat rides, the unforgettable wilds, the hunts marked by extreme weather and extreme effort. To be sure, duck and goose hunting can involve some gnarly mess and gear that can tough it out. But I'd bet that for every duck hunter who revels in death marches through the marsh and breaking ice and turning a collar to the storms there is a Donald Leatherman who asks for little more than a piece of water and sky to call his own. For every hunter who posts straps of greenheads on Instagram, there's a hunter out there grateful down to the marrow in her bones that she still has the grit and gumption and a place to go to try and shoot a duck or two.

And on this morning, that's precisely what we do: Shoot a duck or two.

"Looky here, looky here, look at that!" Donald says as seven scaup bank downwind of the decoys and turn toward the blind with never a flutter of a feather, never a hint of hesitation. We've been in the blind for no time at all, and in no time at all we have filled our limits of bluebills.

And only then do the ducks really start to fly. Fifteen there, four here, a half-dozen now. They follow Donald's flight plan perfectly, funneling down the big river into the small creek and turning into his blind as if he's done this once or twice before.

"Would you just look at that," he says, smiling.

We stay for another hour, maybe. Passing the time. Passing the peace.

"I hope this wasn't a waste of a morning for you," Donald says as we pick up the decoys. "A lot of people don't understand. Whether I fire a shot or not, I just have to be out here."

He's right, of course. A lot of people don't understand.

But some of us do.