Heronk! Part Fifteen

h5. Chapter Twenty Six

There is a whole lot to be said for this spring work. And it���s all good. The water is getting a little warmer every day, instead of a little colder, and the air temperature is doing the same. There’s more daylight. And it seems like the ducks and geese are much easier to decoy. I guess not getting shot at makes a big difference.

Shooting waterfowl with a camera is, well, it���s OK. But, you don’t get the pleasure of watching the dog work and, I’ll bet the farm, that film doesn’t taste very good…… No matter how you fix it.

From what I’ve learned about waterfowl hunters, there really is a ���killing factor���. It���s not the thrill of killing. No, it’s not that. It seems to have something to do with the overall hunting experience not being quite complete without bringing the bird to hand.

It was like that time Mike sat talking to that goose he had killed. It���s a mixture of enjoying your accomplishment and being saddened by the death of a beautiful creature.

Some of my owners have had extremely good days in the blind without firing a shot. Laughing, joking, cooking, eating, working the kinks out of the dog with the dummy, and just being outdoors. However, as great as those days are, they still aren’t as great as the days when a limit of birds is killed, with good clean shots, and the dog makes all his retrieves to hand. Those are the days when you make the best memories.

But, I digress. We’ve pulled in some big flocks of geese and some huge flocks of mallards. I’ve seen more pintails than I ever did in the fall, too. They certainly are a handsome bird. That long sprig tail really gives those drakes a fine distinction to show off.

Speaking of handsome birds, we had a pair of drake canvasbacks come in the other evening. They’re a lot bigger than the mallards and pintails. I think those were the first “Cans” I’ve see since back in the early years with Heinz and Grant on the Illinois River.

All in all, I could get used to spring work. Now, if I could just work fall and spring both, I’d have it made.

This Les fellow has a real eye for detail. He sets the spread up in a pattern that really works. It is kind of a modified “J” hook pattern, and then he sets several decoys off in small bunches and leaves a nice landing zone in the middle of it all. The long part of the “J” gives those incoming birds a line to follow and they just plop right down in the zone.

He puts camo material up in existing brush and he really blends in. Since he’s usually by himself it makes it a lot easier to do. He doesn’t need all that much space as it’s usually a short stay in each spot so he doesn’t mess with all the “stuff” that’s necessary for a permanent location. You know, “stuff”; heating stoves, cook stoves, chairs, coffee pot, cast iron skillets, and all those other very necessary items that make a hunt complete.

On our trip two days ago, Les brought along a shovel and dug a shallow pit in a sandbar. He covered up with some canvas and he had geese walking right over the top of him. Only problem was, when he came up to shoot his pictures all he got were shots of goose butts going away. He’s going to have to work on his technique a little more, but he was really up close and personal.

Yesterday we set up on the south channel again. The Sandhill Cranes are all about gone. We did pull in a nice flock of Canadas and quite a few Mallards, but there is a noticeable difference from just a week ago. There were a couple of hundred Mallards downstream from us yesterday and they were really acting funny. They would get up and fly, make a big swing and then settle back in. They did it time after time. Finally I saw what was spooking them. It was a large Bald Eagle. I mean, very large. He would come flying upstream and just before he got to them, up they would go. He came by here a couple of times and eyeballed the decoys and when he got in real close I could hear Les’ camera clicking. He took a lot of pictures of that big ol’ boy.

Then, all of a sudden, the eagle swooped down to the water’s surface, slapped his feet on the water, and came up with a good sized fish in his talons. It was exciting to watch.

When Les picked us up last night he loaded us into his pickup and said, “OK fellas, you did a great job, but, that’s it for this spring. Most of the waterfowl have gone on north and that eagle will be leaving soon. I’m sure glad he came by, though.”

Les did give us all a fine paint job, as advertised. He worked me over pretty good and it felt wonderful. He took the sandpaper to me and he filled those holes that had been gouged out of me from that ride on the ice. Then he painted me all black, three coats. He let me dry, then started in with the gray, and then the white. I am just as handsome as ever. Maybe even the handsomest I have ever been. I think Heinz would be proud of me.

h5. Chapter Twenty Seven

Only one problem. Les gave Todd and Steve their decoys back, but he kept me. Finders-keepers I guess. Now I’m alone. Again!

I’ve been sitting on a shelf in Les’ living room for about six months now. I am inside out of the elements and I can see out the window, but Les is gone an awful lot and it’s boring sitting here alone.

Everyone who stops by to visit Les sure admires me. I guess I really am pretty special. If they only knew. Les tells them the story about finding me in the roots of the Cottonwood tree and then they speculate about how I got there and where I came from. I wish they could hear me. I could really tell them a tale, don’t you think?

Todd and Steve stop by every so often just to chew the fat. They were here the other night talking about fall being in the air and that they had built a really nice blind on the south channel of the Platte. I certainly hope I get to see it.

Two other men were here tonight. They were talking to Les about an organization called Ducks Unlimited. They spent most of the time sitting around the kitchen table so I didn’t get in on all of the conversation.

A few minutes ago they came into the living room where I reside. “I’ve got one great picture of those Whooping Cranes that I took last spring.��� Les said. ���I’ll donate one of those for the banquet. And, why don’t I donate this decoy I found last spring, too. It is really something special and somebody who hunts should have it. It looks great on my shelf, but it would look even better in someone’s spread.”

Now that is my kind of language! The men carried me out to their pickup and put me in the front seat between them. They were both very excited. “Les really fixed us up.” One of them said. ���That picture will draw a lot of people to the banquet that might not be there otherwise. And I can’t believe he donated this decoy. The “Ducks” should make a lot of extra money on those two items.”

Today they took me to a big fancy room, in a big fancy inn. The room is lined around the edge with tables and on the tables are several painted pictures. Most of them are of ducks and geese, and they are outstanding. They sure bring back a lot of memories of places I���ve been. There are also boxes of decoys, a couple of shotguns, several calls, boxes of shells, and you just name it. If it has anything to do with waterfowling, it���s here. Anything and everything to do with goose and duck hunting is in this room. Right up front is the picture of the Whooping Cranes.

They made a sign and hung it around my neck. It says, “Special Raffle, Beautiful Antique Handmade Wooden Decoy, $10 a chance”. I don’t much like that “antique” part, but the “beautiful” part is very appropriate.

A couple of hundred people must have walked by me in the last hour. Some of them picked me up and tipped me every which way till I���m about half dizzy. Some of them certainly have an interest in my bottom. They say they���re looking for signatures.

Well! Nobody ever wrote on my butt, so just quit looking!

Yep, that’s what I told ‘em, but they don’t listen. Several men have made comments about how much they hoped they would win me so that they could put me in their spread. Each of them was wearing a camo hat. That makes me feel pretty good.

Then one couple scared me half to death. “You know, John,” a lady said to the man holding me. “I hope we win him. We could use him in the front window of our gift shop. He’d really look good with some garland or Daisies around his neck and we could set him on a mirror so it looked just like he was swimming. In the summer we could put some cute little sunglasses on his beak and a cute little hat on his head. I think he’d be just adorable.”

Yecchh!! I hollered! I screamed! I pissed and moaned! Please. Don’t sell these people any tickets. They might get lucky. But they sold them tickets anyway. They sold lots and lots of tickets. I’ve been lucky all my life and hopefully tonight won’t be any exception.

All the people in the room finally sat down and ate a big dinner and then they started having an auction of all those items that were on the table. They sold all the pictures of ducks and geese and all the shotguns, and the calls and all the rest. The fancy shotguns brought out a lot of bidders and I didn’t think they were ever going to stop raising the price.

Then they auctioned off the picture of the Whooping Cranes and told everyone that Les would autograph it. The bidders came out of the woodwork. Up, up, up, went their arms, and up, up, up went the price, till, finally, “Sold!” cried the auctioneer. One of the men who had looked me over so carefully had bought the picture. The entire crowd applauded and he sure looked pleased. He looked even more pleased when Les autographed it for him. Those two guys were sure right; they made a lot of “bucks for the Ducks” from that picture, and from me.

“Hey!” someone in the crowd shouted, “How about that decoy raffle.”

I was kind of wondering the same thing myself. The man who had been running the show got a funny look on his face and said, “I was kind of hoping nobody would notice, and I would just have to take him home with me!” Everybody laughed so I guess it was a joke.

“OK! OK! Let’s do the drawing.��� The head man said. ���How about we get a Greenwing up here to draw the lucky ticket? How about Jim Olson’s daughter? Come on up here Amy.” A little gal about seven years old scampered up on the stage. She was all decked out in camo and had a duck call on a lanyard around her neck. “Amy you sure did a good job in the calling contest. Some of those guys better look out next year, because if you keep practicing, you’ll darn sure win it. Now draw us out a lucky ticket and it better not be your Dad���s.”

He held a bucket down where she could reach in and she drew out a ticket. She handed it to the man, he read it, and a big smile broke out on his face. “Folks, if I couldn’t win this, I’m sure glad one of our best goose hunters did. He’ll sure put it to good use. Todd Waldo, come up here and collect your decoy.”

Todd Waldo! That���s Les and Steve���s buddy. The guy who picked us up at the truck stop. And he���s a hunter. A goose hunter!

All right! Outta’ sight! What a deal! I’m goin’ huntin’!

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