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A Hero in a Sneak Box
Ezra Bowen
September 01, 1969
A worshiper of sports idols, the author forever abandoned Louis, Musial and DiMaggio in favor of A Hero in a sneak Box
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September 01, 1969

A Hero In A Sneak Box

A worshiper of sports idols, the author forever abandoned Louis, Musial and DiMaggio in favor of A Hero in a sneak Box

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Van took a bite and pronounced the meat matchless. I took a bite and instantly agreed—out loud. Never, I thought while getting down the remainder with all possible speed, had I found a more perfect match in flavor for the rich, full effluvium of a mud flat at low tide. But after a good deal of Burgundy, followed by several Scotch nightcaps, I concluded that my own taste buds, rusted from the uses of the city, had played me false. Brant was really very good.

Next morning, to my enormous relief, Van did not wake me until nearly 8. All other waterfowling expeditions I had been on commenced at something like quarter to 5 in horizontally moving sleet. I have never been a morning person or a sleet person but, driven by the old Beach Haven compulsions, I had always launched myself out of bed first thing to help make coffee and load the boats. That reflex, however, amounted to nothing more than conspicuous good camperism, and I had secretly yearned to be back in the sack. Thus 7:45 on a bright, windless 50� September morning was pure bliss.

"Plenty of time," Van said. "Brant feed on the turn of the tide, and we've over an hour."

I took it all, had an extra mug of coffee and climbed into the already loaded boat. The guide dropped us off at a pit blind a yard or two from the edge of a marsh island, moored the launch at the dock of another menhaden plant half a mile away and sculled a sneak box behind a neighboring clump of island. Then we settled down to wait.

By noon my bottom was very numb. During the long interim, Van talked in a kind of deep, resonant voice that ranged over a great reservoir of anecdotal material. Thank heaven for that, for at 3:30 p.m. the birds had still not come. My legs had gone entirely to sleep. The tide was getting ready to turn again, and I had a vague feeling that another small portion of my secret life was being eroded. Then the birds came.

"Look," said Van, and nudged me, turning his head only the slightest fraction to the east. There, out toward Beach Haven, a low, broken line of what looked like smoke from a marsh fire was sweeping and undulating across the water. I started to get up for a better look, but Van's hand held me down. We waited very still while the birds flew along, about 70 of them, alternately balling up and then lengthening out in wavering lines. As we sat, heads and shoulders bent forward so as to present no silhouette, the sharp smell of Hoppe's No. 9 Solvent rose strongly from the guns in our laps. Suddenly the birds wheeled and came straight to the water before our blind.

Brant come easily to the decoys.

Landing, they began to bob and swim slowly among our decoys. "All right," Van whispered. I was transfixed.

He poked me and said, just as softly, "Go ahead."

I was still in a trance, one foot in the Beach Haven hallway and less than half of me in the Tuckerton marsh on this real September. "For heaven's sake, get up and shoot," said Heilner, aloud. Several birds hitched their wings, but remained in the classic attitude of sitting ducks, which it is considered very poor form to shoot. I jumped up and, according to custom, the brant should then have taken flight. However, these brant did not, and in sheer confusion I shot two birds that may well have had flight on their minds but could not charitably have been described as in the air.

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