Charles Trey Marion Hughes of Covington, Louisiana earned national recognition from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards of 2016 with this submission of The Hunt a story based upon his experiences as a duck hunter. Hughes, currently a 17-year-old junior at St. Pauls School in Covington, earned the Gold Key, which represents the most outstanding work submitted out of more than 230,000 submissions.

The door to the black F-150 thudded shut. Trey was very successful, but preferred to drive older trucks: trucks with character. Trey's boots splashed through the puddle onto the muddy ground. The clock on the dash read 3:30. He looked around, and as usual, he was the first one at the launch. An intensely cold wind whipped across the dark and desolate marina.

Trey uncrated his eighty five pound black Labrador, a seasoned and experienced retriever; she jumped into the boat and sat in the corner. She knew what was expected of her. Trey petted Shell on her head. Fourteen seasons together; she still impressed him. Slowly, he lowered his boat into the stained muddy water of the Mississippi River. He may as well have been doing this blindfolded, the only light to guide him was the that of the stars. The boat had belonged to his grandfather, a sleek 17 foot aluminum workhorse. After a few hard pulls on the starter cord, the boat's 25 horsepower motor sputtered. Trey wasn't worriedthis always happened. After a few more pulls, the 2 stroke motor roared and let out the consistent thud thud thud thud thud that old motors do when they idle.

A few people were showing up as Trey idled his boat into the current of the Mississippi; it was 4:15 on the opening day of duck season, after all. It was eerily quiet. The only noise on the water was the steady hum of the boat's motor running towards the mouth of the mighty river. The waves from freighters heading towards New Orleans crashed against the side of the boat, this may have been terrifying to rookies, but Trey knew that to run the river successfullyas hehad for many yearsone must keep his mind focused on only positive outcomes. After about 15 minutes, but what seemed like an eternity, Trey arrived at the vast expanse of marsh known as Pass O'Loutre Wildlife Management Area. The water became choked with vegetation of all sorts as he entered the small canal on the river's bank.

The pirogue, a small canoe like boat, made a satisfying splash as Trey dropped it into the stained water. Shell was running around in the marsh on the side of the bayou. She couldn't contain her excitement. Meticulously, Trey transferred his gear from the large boat to the rickety skiff. He wasn't a believer in large spreads and motorized decoys; he liked to keep his profile to a minimum. He and Shell had used the same five teal (two green wing, three blue wing), two pintail, three mallard, and two widgeon decoys, successfully every opening morning for the past 14 years. He slung the 870 pump gun over his shoulder, grabbed his lanyard full of calls, and jumped into the pirogue. He and Shell eased off into the marsh as the first wave of hunters entered the bayou.

The paddle was a strenuous one. The water was exceptionally shallow, so sometimes the old fashioned cypress paddle was used to push the pirogue across the muddy flats of the Delta. Along the canal he was navigating were stands of Roso Cane exceeding 10 feet. He couldn't see what was on the other side of the cane's breaks, but he could hear them. They usually aren't very vocal this early in the morning, the sun hadn't even peaked over the marsh yet. There was no telling if it was the heavy boat traffic, or the abnormally cold weather, but something was making these birds talk. Normally, he wouldn't be so sure of his underused sense of hearing. However, he was certain it was the sound of whistles and quacks when Shell's ears perked up.

Trey pulled the pirogue up the muddy bank and into the stand of canes. Normally, mosquitoes would be tearing at his ankles, but the bitter cold kept them at bay. Trey hid the pirouge well so that no one would convince themselves that they needed it more than he did. He grabbed his assortment of decoys, a box of Winchester's premium shells, and his trusty Remington 870 as he trudged off into the brush. Trey and Shell quietly made their way to the pond where they both heard the unmistakable quacks of mallards and whistles of pintail a few minutes earlier. As the duo neared the slew that bordered the thicket, hundreds of ducks jumped up off the water and flew a little ways before settling down again into a small pot holes.

Trey was early, but he didn't mind. He meticulously set out his dozen decoys. Most people thought more decoys were better; Trey knew that twelve well placed decoys would always attract more birds than 100 poorly placed ones. Waiting for the sun to rise, he and Shell listened to the noise behind him. They heard the muffled voices of other hunters who were traveling deep into the marsh. Little did they know the figurative gold mine sitting just a stone's throw away on the other side of the thick canes. As he waited for legal light to arrive so he could begin his hunt, teal darted into and across his decoys. He could do nothing about it then, but their time would shortly come.

Finally, it was here. Trey reached for his gun and grabbed three shells.

The silence was abruptly broken. In the distance, muffled blasts of shotguns could be heard "woofing." This beautiful sound can only be heard in the marsh. The perfect combination of plenty of water and no trees to deflect the blast of the shot made for an awesome sound. The closer the shot, the louder and sharper the crack of the gun. Trey and Shell sat quietly, expecting to have birds in their small spread soon enough.

It was 8:45. Trey was gathering his decoys and Shell was patiently waiting by the pirogue. As Trey walked back towards the bayou through the canes with his limit of six ducks, he contemplated the simple nature of his hunt. Many people had large and overly complicated guns, boats, decoys, and calls. Trey preferred the basics, and he was nearly always successful.

The ride back up the river was an uneventful one. He arrived at the launch, put his boat on the trailer, and drove away. He was there alone yet again, everyone else was still in the marsh scrambling complexly to do what he did quite simply. First in, first out.

Author: Trey Hughes
Junior St. Paul's School
Recipient Scholastic Art and Writing Award