Sean stood and took the lead bird with a close wing shot, and I took a hen going away to the left. She zagged once, then plummeted head over heels with her wings folded up, propelled away from me for a half-second, no more, by the violent thrust of the shot. The two remaining birds veered off, climbing powerfully. Sean wasted a second shell on the rear one.
"Yours is swimming," Pop called to Sean from his blind. "Go on, son. Finish what you started."
Sean took quick aim and finished the wounded drake. Sean was looking sheepish, I thought. We let the two birds drift out past the decoys until in the end they were awash against the cattails.
"Can I go and pick them up?" Sean called. "I want to see how big mine is."
"They aren't going anywhere," Pop answered. "Leave them be, why don't you?"
The battle went forth all around through midmorning. Hunters were gunning away at the high fliers, and Pop cursed them once or twice. No bird would come down in this rain of steel shot; the ducks were going to stay skittish. I tried calling in a stray set of teal, but they weren't falling for it and arced away over the bluffs.
Then at noon we got the winds Pop had promised, and suddenly, funneling low and hugging the terrain, no fewer than 30 teal passed through our set with their wings drumming the air above the water. Sean emptied his gun at them to no avail. They peeled off to the east with synchronous grace, climbing in a long bank of silhouettes, until distance erased them from sight.
"What happened?" Sean asked. "Caught me sleeping," I responded. "They were moving too fast. I never got shouldered."
"Working on my pipe," Pop called out. "Damn!"
When the air calmed down a bit, we stood out for lunch—sliced beef sandwiches, a wedge of pie each. Pop stoked up his pipe again and held his knee in his hand. The sun had come up strong over the desert—bad for hunters, pleasant for picnickers. We opened our jackets and passed the water around; it was cold and tainted with the canteen taste. Sean lit into his pie and Pop poured from the thermos. "I wonder if we shouldn't try some jump shooting," Sean said. "Maybe that'll be the ticket."