By Antoinette C. Wetzel

Dan burr.jpg

"The Story" by Dan Burr


The story is the best part. That’s what my father always told me. And as I grew older, I learned that he was right. The hunt is exhilarating, but the story afterwards is still my favorite thing. My father, who loved listening to my hunting adventures, has been gone for nine years. I find myself missing him most after a good hunt, when I used to sit and tell him my story. 

He was not always just a listener, of course. He was an avid duck hunter back in his day and a quick and proficient wing shot. Once he had children, he took those of us who wanted to hunt along with him. I fell in love with the sport, so we hunted together often. Together, that is, until time and age left him patiently waiting for my return from the slough, ready to tell my story.

I can still see him, waiting in the warm kitchen as I blow in the door, a rush of crisp October air following me inside. He is seated at a wooden table with a cup of coffee and the morning newspaper. A magnifying glass sits next to the paper to help his old eyes with the tiny newsprint. There is no “hello.” There is no “sit down and have some coffee.” There are only numerous versions of, “Report! What’s the story?” His still-commanding voice is a betrayal of his age, but his body tells that story—muscle has sunk into bone, and the points and edges of an old man press at his baggy clothing.

As I join him at the table, he leans in and stares intently at me. No interruption at this stage will be tolerated. First, I have to tell him where I hunted, so he can acclimate himself to the exact location. And as I start to relay the tale, my solo hunt gains an eager partner. Across the vastness of time and distance, we are carried back to the slough.

As I tell him of the high water and tough walk to the blind, his withering legs feel the pressure of the viscous mud. As I tell him of decoying ducks dropping into the hole, he hears whistling wings and the crack of the shotgun. The aroma of his morning coffee is replaced by the pungent smell of swamp and burnt gunpowder. At my report of the duck falling to the south of the pothole, he grimaces, knowing the brutal conditions that await the retrieve.

Through water, cane, mud, and meadow grass, he follows me, though his body never stirs from the kitchen chair. He knows that the angle we take is designed to work the dog into the wind. He hears the dog’s labored breathing change to feather-muffled snorts, signaling the find. He always gives an animated and heartfelt cheer at this point. “Good dog!”

With every description and explanation, he sees what I saw, smells what I smelled, hears what I heard, and feels what I felt. With my account finally complete, he reluctantly releases his hold on that other world and sits back in his chair with a contented sigh and a satisfied look. After cleaning the ducks, I leave, knowing that one of these times with him will be the last.

I never knew how much I would miss those simple, time-honored talks. I never knew of the dull heartache that would ride home with me from each and every hunt after he was gone.

But even today, I stop and give my report, though it is to a bronze footstone. The cemetery where he rests is on my way home. If the hunt was successful, I tuck a curled tail feather into the ground. It is normally not the only one there. My brother and my nephew stop there regularly too, and they leave the same kind of parting gift. We are without him now, but not without each other. As I leave the cemetery, I usually pick up the phone and call one of them. My first words are, “Well, what’s the report?”