Cupped Wings: Blind Ambitions

Whether ramshackle or regal, duck blinds represent the hopes and dreams of their builders

© Todd J. Steele

The boys wanted to build a blind, so build a blind we did. Jack and his pal Robbie had watched way too much Duck Dynasty and drooled over far too many two-story duck blinds with bunk rooms and bacon-and-eggs breakfasts cooked on a propane stove. They were agog over the prospect of crafting their very own duck-hunting pad, even a rudimentary one. Chris, who is Robbie’s father and a good buddy of mine, agreed with me that the boys might not have had a fully formed idea of the work involved, but when your kids want to spend time with Pop, you raid the basement for spare wood and hit the swamp.

I gathered some old 2x4s and aluminum tubing from an ancient boat blind I hadn’t used since the last century and kicked out pieces of decorative uprights from a headboard I wrenched out of a backyard junk pile. Chris brought a toolbox and a more refined understanding of nail hammering and sawing skills than I possessed. But there’s really no way to mortise-and-tenon a broken bed rail to a spare piece of angle iron. That’s what baling wire is for.

I cut my duck-hunting teeth gunning public lands for puddle ducks, which required crafting one-of-a-kind and one-at-a-time Lincoln Log–like structures from sticks and branches and marsh grass and mud. My partner-in-grime and I were justifiably proud of our blind-building skills. Many times, we concocted a four-sided blind with a partial roof out of little more than willow branches and grass woven between the twigs in a wickiup style.

And for many of my most formative waterfowling years, all that work was done for fleeting experiences. At the end of the morning, we had to tear our blinds down. All the way. For starters, you couldn’t build permanent blinds on public lands, and we didn’t want anyone to know where we were hunting anyway.

The idea of a semipermanent blind on a piece of leased water would have been a dream come true for us too. Which explains why I understood the appeal for Jack and Robbie to build their own hide, a place where they could make memories and eat a Pop-Tart without fear of spooking birds. With a truck full of gear, we took off.

At the Faison farm pond, we hauled in our stash of secondhand wood, plus a chain saw, machetes, cable ties, parachute cord, a post-hole digger, and a family-sized bag of chips. We analyzed the shoreline to pin down where wood ducks were most likely to land—on the south end, I figured—with the rising sun to our backs. And then we commenced the hacking and clearing, the hole-digging and frame-building. It was summertime and summer-time hot, with summertime mosquitoes and chiggers and ticks. But the boys never complained. They had a vision.

As it turned out, the boys shot only a handful of woodies out of their blind. The ducks knew where they wanted to land better than I did, and that was on the other end of the pond from our carefully chosen blind location.

But these days, I think Jack and Robbie are apt to remember less about the lack of hunting success than they do about that day of pounding, wiring, and nailing together a duck blind that was all their own. For those of us who love all the stuff about duck hunting that has nothing to do with pulling the trigger—the companionship, the hopes, the year-round scheming—that should come as no surprise.

For waterfowlers, the blinds we build are all monuments of a sort. They are waypoints along the long trail of memory, to mark where we’ve been, what we’ve learned—about ducks and ourselves—and with whom we’ve shared those unforgettable moments.

That’s a lot to ask of such a simple structure covered with brush, but there’s always been a certain alchemy to a homespun duck blind. They may lack a few creature comforts. They may lack any comforts at all. But once you crawl in and take a seat on a wooden bench or an overturned five-gallon bucket, a DIY duck blind can turn any morning into a front-row seat to wonder.