SI Vault
Jim Harrison
October 25, 1976
A hunter from the Midwest strains to concentrate on Okeechobee ducks as an imaginary swarm of dangerous creatures slithers all around his feet
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October 25, 1976

Not At All Like Up Home In Michigan

A hunter from the Midwest strains to concentrate on Okeechobee ducks as an imaginary swarm of dangerous creatures slithers all around his feet

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"Ducks! A single coming in from your right," my friend hissed.

By the time I shot, the duck had spread its wings to settle with the decoys. Rain burst from her platform and retrieved the bird. I gave a few whoops to honor our change in luck.

"It's a redhead," my friend yelled. "A female."

I slumped in my inner tube low enough to fill my waders. Redheads are protected in Florida. Each redhead shot represents 70 points of an allowable 100 points for a day's shooting. I now had a cripple and a 70-point duck to my spurious credit.

Another hour passed. Rain sneezed and I whirled and screamed, thinking the sneeze was the attack cry of the bull alligator. There was nothing behind me but darkening swamp.

We loaded our gear and picked up the decoys. The long-suffering Rain huddled in the boat demanding a tummy rub. The motor wouldn't start; the battery was dead. I held the light in the gathering dark while my friend dismantled the cowl and tried to start the motor by hand with a piece of rope. It was some 15 miles back to the lodge. Short of lassoing and riding the alligator, how could we make it? Then part of the cowl fell into the black water. My friend, who works out daily in a karate dojo, stamped and yelled. I feared he might kick the boat to pieces. Finally the motor started, and we made our way haltingly back in the dark.

At the lodge our hunting friends, a young couple from Palm Beach who shared our two-room cabin, listened sympathetically. They shyly admitted that they had shot their limit. After several drinks we cooked a meal of venison chops and went over to the main lodge to play Bingo. I hadn't played Bingo in 20 years and looked forward to it, but when we entered the hall, a local wise guy asked, "How many ducks?"

"Forty-seven redheads," I yelled to the assembled Bingo players. It was a show-stopper.

Dawn again—a butter-thick, damp dark full of bugs. During our sleepy wait at the lock, the keeper called down to say that the week before a crew of vacationing Miami homicide detectives had shot their limit every day. Then he said that it was too warm and still for duck hunting and that we should have stayed in bed. Or gone bass fishing. As a trout fisherman, I look at bass as a variety of hyperexcitable carp.

After the usual long run, we chose a spot with no real confidence. As the sky lightened, some high-flying ducks passed over but did not pause at our decoys. Then we heard shooting from well behind us, perhaps a mile into the swamp. More shooting came from down the lake shore a few hundred yards, but also well into the swamp. Our irritation grew as we watched high flights pass over, followed by more shooting. As the shots became intermittent my friend left me to do a little spying down the lake. After 15 minutes he returned looking happy. He had hidden in the rushes and had seen a small skiff emerge from a channel so narrow that it was invisible from the lake proper. We loaded up and went for a look with a conspiratorial air.

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