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We passed through a long reedy cut into a small pond but could find no blind. Then we found yet another small channel, and now we had to get out in our waders and push the skiff. The going was obnoxious and oozy, the surroundings resembling an aquatic viper farm. Rain watched us from the stern of the boat with modest curiosity. Eureka! We emerged into another pond that held, smack in the middle, a lovely little duck blind built of palmetto fronds.
We sped back for lunch and a quick nap. At the lock we joined another boat, in which my friend recognized the builder of the blind. He asked us about our luck, and we said zilch. He said, "Got a few myself." Which meant his limit, if the number of shots we had heard was any indication. Back at the marina, it was apparent that he was packing up for the trip home.
There was no nap this day. We had another catfish lunch. The radio promised a northern front, and back out on the lake we could see the clouds coming on the far horizon with the wind picking up and the lake developing a stiff chop. The temperature began to drop, and the lake was clearing of the ubiquitous bass fishermen.
We eased rather strenuously back into our discovered spot and hastily set out the decoys. The blind was small and the shooting would be close. My friend returned the boat to the channel for hiding and to discourage anyone else's entry. We were barely situated when the ring-bills began to come in. I was pleased when the ducks wouldn't decoy but instead would come over for a look at full speed—perhaps 20 yards in the air, right or left. This made for the most demanding sort of pass shooting. Rain was so pleased that she was hard to restrain on her perch during the frequent misses. She only resumed her true character when, upon retrieving a bird, she delivered, then quickly turned to Silly Putty in the water. I had to lift her back on the platform with the water running down under my sleeves. Then I arranged her limbs, turned my face while she shook off the water, and rearranged the camouflage.
We limited out well before dusk, feeling inordinately proud of our shooting and sleuth work. The next day we had equally good luck and became even more careful about taking reasonable shots. Still, we lost several cripples, and it was disturbing to watch the dog swim in narrowing circles around the scent of duck. Ringbills, bluebills and other diving ducks that are wounded will go under, grab a strand of weed and stay there until they drown. This singular fact keeps me from ever becoming an ardent duck hunter, no matter how delightful the sport can be.
I finally got a moderately difficult double. Despite more than a decade of hardcore shooting, I am still a C-plus shot. During our lazy moments we discussed the menu we intended to cook for 20 people when we got back to Palm Beach. My friend mentioned that in the seven years we have fished and hunted together we have talked about our weight and diets on an hourly basis to no visible effect. We ended up serving a feast that reflected our figures: courses of crab fingers, moules marini�re, snipe broiled and flamed in Calvados, then chilled, saut�ed duck breasts in a vermouth cream sauce, venison stew and a country ham. It is fun to cook something you can't find in even the best restaurants on earth.
On our way into the lodge that last afternoon we were lucky enough to be granted the kind of grace note given only to those who spend a great deal of time outdoors. First the sun went blood red from the smoke caused by farmers burning off cane. Then that red sun was caught in the froth at the wave tips as the promised rough weather started to chop up the lake. Rafts of coots skittered out of the way, and above, the first southward flock of teal wheeled in a swift-moving cloud.