Mallards in flooded timber. Photo by KENNY BAHR.jpg

Kenny Bahr


These are the times that try a waterfowler’s soul. I don’t know if Thomas Paine was a duck hunter, but if he was, he surely knew what I’m talking about. These are difficult days, full of difficult choices. Because another duck season is almost upon us, it is time to scout like mad. Which means it will soon be time to choose who to tell what and how much, if anything at all, about whether you have found ducks, or if you have not found ducks, and where they might be or might not be.

You can be forgiven if you want to hold these details close to your chest, but lying outright to inquisitive hunting pals goes against everything the Bible and your mother taught you. So, what’s a hard-scouting hunter to say about those three dozen greenheads milling around in the back corner of the river slough three bends from the boat ramp?

My son faced this torturous quandary once, and he came to me for advice. He’d found a stack of wood ducks and a smattering of mallards in an overlooked corner of a swamp on our hunting lease, and a good friend was pushing him for details.

“I can’t just lie,” Jack grimaced, his brow furrowed with genuine concern. “He’s my friend, and I want to hunt with him.” He shook his head morosely. “But I know what will happen if I tell him about those birds.”

The look on my boy’s face gave me pleasure and pain. Pleasure, because I was proud that he had found those birds on his own and wanted to keep them off InstaFace. Pain, because I knew the struggle was real. We’ve all been there, caught in the push-pull of protecting a honey hole but also wanting to let it slip that we’d cracked the code on where the ducks are. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be the smart guy.

“Son,” I said. “Listen unto me and behold the wisdom I am about to share.”

Well, I know I said “Son.” The rest of it I might be fudging a bit. But hard-fought wisdom, I had. Painful lessons, I could attest. I’ve done it right and I’ve done it wrong. And I’ll be honest: I don’t know which is worse.

“There is the truth,” I explained. He knew that truth is what I expected of him and what the Law and the good Lord expected of him. Truth with a capital T.

“But there is something more,” I said haltingly, looking around to make sure no one was listening. Especially my wife, Julie.

“That something more,” I continued, “is a slippery slope, but it is one that every duck hunter needs to learn to navigate. Understand that when it comes to where ducks are and where they are not, different rules apply. You should not lie to your pals. But you should also know that, in these trying circumstances, there is a thing we shall call ‘the Radius of Truth.’”

The Radius of Truth isn’t a lie. By definition, it exists within the very boundaries of truth itself. It is not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It is, however, close enough to the truth that you can sleep at night and defend yourself if ever you must. In practice, the Radius of Truth sounds like this:

Yeah, I didn’t find all the ducks in the world, but I did find a few. I’ll keep looking and let you know.

The creek snakes around, you know, and some of the birds were over there in the corner of that spot not all that far from the power line, right? You know where I’m talking about. I couldn’t really tell what they were.

A few came in early but, man, when it stopped it was like somebody turned the duck spigot off. (Which means they flew like crazy for two hours, and then you had to go to work.)

The Radius of Truth means that you tell your pals just enough that maybe they can figure it out on their own if they want to drag a canoe as far as you did. Points that exist within the Radius of Truth might be as close as the next river bend or as far as the next county over. Whatever you can live with.

You cannot tell a lie. The dictum of Paine’s pal, George Washington, still applies. But when it comes to where the ducks are, you can stretch it. You can mold and shape it. You can pull it as thin as Silly Putty about to break and make it into something that almost looks real. Because we’re not talking about cherry trees. We’re talking about duck holes. This is serious business.

Jack sauntered off, once again thunderstruck by his father’s wisdom. I’m not sure he was much relieved. I wouldn’t have been. These are hard times. Trying times. I’m hopeful that he found comfort in my explication of the Radius of Truth and found a way to live within that radius while throwing off the scent of his newfound honey hole. But for all I know, he looked his pal in the eye and lied like a rug. Looking after your soul while you’re also looking after a blazing hot duck hole can send a hunter to his knees to beg forgiveness from his maker.

I do feel bad about this: I forgot to tell Jack that while he’s down there groveling for absolution he might as well ask for low clouds and a stiff north breeze the next morning. But I suspect he’ll figure that out on his own.