When Duck Season Ends

By author of The Duck Blog

A narrative look into the world of a duck hunter...the day after.

It was the type of sleep that rarely comes in a busy, adult world. Deep, dark, beautiful sleep. Awakening, I felt as though my body had been pulverized. Getting up out of bed proved to be an ordeal.

Once vertical, I knocked the cobwebs out of my drowsy brain and focused on the day ahead. Then, reality set in.

Yesterday had been the final day of the season; now, all that was left to do was dream of next year. As an outdoorsman, I’ve never been able to sit back and reflect on previous experiences or accomplishments. The next big score is always on my radar.

I threw a little water on my face. My hands looked terrible, a product of staying wet far too long, combined with damage done by cattail reeds used for leverage when pulling my way out of relentless suck-holes. I knew better and always packed gloves to prevent the damage, but I could never seem to find them, and the ducks could come at any time.

The bathroom mirror showed a little facepaint left behind my ear, and the result of my annual attempt at a 60-day beard. With lines of grey, the facial hair was pitiful as usual, far surpassed by 20-something buddies with their Duck Commander appearances.

The day would mark my reintroduction into society. During the season, all things are put on hold. There’s no keeping up with the news, no date nights with the wife, and few conversations with those outside of the circle. There’s just sleep, ducks, and 3AM e-mails, attempting to keep business afloat.

Hunter with mallard duck

Society proved to be shocking. With the Christmas season in full swing, everyone seemed impatient. A trip to the bank nearly resulted in a road-rage dual between me and some lady who insisted on riding my tail. She’s probably on the way to the mall, I reason; I’d be mad, too.

Throughout the day, I could hear the ducks. A veteran of burn-out seasons in the past, I know this will last a week or so. I’ll wake in the morning hearing them. Quiet times alone, like standing over the stove in the kitchen, will bring their voices back to my ears. It’s the desperate cries of thousands of mallards packed in on top of each other. A relentless hum that can only be described as a temporary pause in movement, a drive to move that’s superior to anything ever felt by man.

Although duck season has ended, the ducks will still migrate, and I will make a few trips to the lake to watch. When the real cold hits—the cold that we as Northern waterfowlers wish would hit sooner—the birds will come in numbers indescribable to those who have never witnessed it in person. Divers will fill the few remaining pockets of open water, keeping their temporary loafing spot ice-free through numbers and strategy. The old-time gunners, those who once hunted with lead and killed ducks by the dozen, will come and watch from their trucks. Too old now to hunt, they still need to be near the ducks. They need to feel them.

It’s the mallards that I’ll keep tabs on. Black ducks will filter in the mix, but the bulk of the puddlers will now all be big, beautiful greenheads and their chosen brides. I decided to give them a few days off before making a trip back to the marsh. Then, I’ll carry a Nikon instead of a Benelli.

Long ago, my wife decided to give me a 24-hour grace period following duck season. During that time, I’m allowed to act in whatever way I wish. When I snap at her requests to carry out orderly chores, she’ll bite her lip for one day. Following that, I need to put a smile on my face and get on with things. After living in the marsh for two months straight, one day never seems to be enough time.

My dog looked pretty bad...and smelled worse.

Somewhere around the age of three, he developed a problem around his “discharge area” that got noticeably worse as waterfowl seasons went on. From past experience, I knew it would clear itself up with a little help from me and a set of rubber gloves. For the time being, he slept, looking peaceful.

I spent a couple hours working on gear; everything needed to be cleaned and dried. Such duties prove to help me stay connected a little longer and feel good, but the entire time I’m just plotting a way to better trick the ducks the next time. Thankfully, there’s always a next time.

The end of the day came early, me nodding off by 8:30. I would wake with the same ducks in my ears. But, for now, it’s over.