Dark morning. Time
6:55 a.m. Temperature 22�F. Wind: northeast, 20-25 mph. Only a half hour until
sunrise but barely enough light to see. Rugged weather—wind right in my teeth,
a stinging spit of bird-shot snow. Got bone-chilled putting out the decoys. A
couple of hours of this and I'll have had more than enough.
First time in
years that I've been alone in a blind, not even a guide standing by. Ollie is
still in the hospital. Walt offered to come down and put out the decoys, but he
had a heifer calving, and I knew he didn't want to leave her, so I said I'd do
it myself. I've set a long buttonhook of Bay blackhead decoys (25-30 of them),
five mallards and two blacks around the corner, a pair of baldpates outside,
three geese in the curve of the cove. Hope I didn't grab any short-stringed
blocks in the dark. No fun chasing loose decoys with a wind like this. Bad
enough to have to pick up your own ducks.
Lighter now, and I
can see that I didn't set as good a stool as I thought I had. Hard to judge
distances in the dark.
No ducks in sight
except a little raft of buffleheads and ruddies out beyond the bar. Tide very
low with this big wind driving the water out of the bay.
7:12 a.m. Just
discovered that I left my shell box in the car. The only shells I have with me
now are the eight in my jacket pocket—all Number 6s, no 2s. Too long a hike
back to the car. Ought to be enough for three ducks. But I'll have to pick my
shots. Maybe this would be a good way to set the federal limit—so many shells
instead of so many ducks. Be a lot fewer cripples if there were some inducement
to keep everyone from blasting away. A shell limit would show up a lot of
fellows who fancy themselves good wing shots. Counting shells is always an ego
deflater; three shells to a duck, day in and day out, is as good as I've ever
seen any man do. Most hunters won't believe they're that bad, but you'll win
nine times out of 10 if, at the end of the day, you bet that there are at least
three empties in the bottom of the blind for every dead duck.
7:20 a.m. Awesome
dawn effect—sun is breaking through the thin stratum of clear air that
separates sky and earth, clouds seemingly ripped loose from the black water and
flung across the sky, ragged edges matched to jumbled waves, blood-tinged by
the red dawn light. The feeling that you are looking into a microscope at the
torn tissue of a colossal wound.
7:35 a.m. Never,
anywhere, do I drink coffee out of a vacuum bottle without triggering memories
of mornings like this—the flavor of a duckblind. Why is that odd taste always
there no matter how many times you scald the bottle?
7:47 a.m. Hen
mallard came in low, straight for the decoys, such a desperately anxious bid
for companionship that I couldn't pull the trigger. She plopped in, motionless
for a long time, seemingly exhausted. I stood in clear sight, but she made no
move to swim away, watching me with nervous alertness yet seemingly assured
that she had fairly won her safety and that I'd not go back on my bargain. Then
there was a gunshot from a blind down the river, and she took off, frantically
wingbeating for altitude against the wind that threatened to carry her back
into the trees.
8 a.m. Temp. 21�F.
Wind: N 20 mph
Wind has backed in
the last few minutes. Noticed it first because of the changed tone of the
pulsating hiss of the reeds that cover the blind. Tide still dropping. Have to
get out and move the boat or it will be so solidly aground that I won't be able
to shove it off by myself.