Heronk! Part Sixteen

h5. Chapter Twenty Eight

This is more like it! Todd is unloading me out of his pickup and packing me out onto a sandbar. He and Steve have been carrying gear out to the blind for the last hour.

What a great setup of decoys! They have some of those old full body Herter’s goose floaters like Grant and Heinz had, and a couple dozen of those giant shell type decoys which are all mounted on long metal stakes that they push down into the sand which allow the decoy to sit up above the water. That really looks good. And, of course, that spread of floaters that Les repainted for them. I’ll look great in with them. There���s about four dozen duck floaters bagged up over by the blind.

Uh, did I say blind? That���s not exactly what they have. I believe I���d call it a bunker. They could be in there and survive a blast from the past. I don���t think they could be nuked out of that place.

They evidently brought a bulldozer in when the river was down and built themselves one big ol��� sandpile on this sandbar. Then they dug down and buried a base in that, probably an old boat, and then built there hidey hole on top of the base. When they had that done, they piled sand in and buried the whole darn thing. The only thing that shows is the top, and let me tell you, they have that camoflauged. These boys do know how to camo up.

All the trees on the bank behind the bunker have been cleared off and that allows the boys to see out beyond the river. It opens up the view so that the geese can see the spread if they are flying outside the river channel, too.

There is a nice pool of flat water in behind the upstream sandbar which is perfect decoy water. The far north bank is clear of trees and it borders a pasture so the birds have a lot of room to swing without having to fly over any brush or trees. This is sweet.

I can’t see any other blinds, but Todd and Steve were talking about their neighbors. They said the neighbors were all serious hunters and that none of them were very near. Seems like the perfect setup to me.

They worked three hours this morning getting everything out to the sandbar and putting everything into the bunker.

Then they started working on us decoys.

���Todd���, Steve asked, ���Hand me that roll of cord and I���ll start making up some trains.���

Trains? This just has to be interesting!

Todd threw a roll of cord to Steve, and said, ���Let���s only put four or five decoys on each one this year. We had too many on each train last year and they didn���t look right to me.���

���That���s the way I had it figured, too.��� Steve said. ���Less tangles that way too.���

Hmm? Steve is tying four duck decoys together on one string about a foot apart. Ah! Now I get it. He just tied a long steel rod to the upper end of the cord and walked out into the river and pushed the rod down into the sand. Those four decoys look like they are swimming right up the channel. That���s slick! They can set four decoys at one time that way.

���We���ll leave a few singles to mix in, like always.��� Steve said. ���I think that looks a lot better.���

���Yup.��� Todd agreed. ���And let���s leave the goose decoys as singles. We don���t move them as often and it really doesn���t take that long to set them.���

���Sounds good to me.��� Steve said. ���I���ll get these put together and we���ll be done.���

They must be done because Todd and Steve are sitting out on one of the sandbars, sipping a beer, giving their hard work a good lookover. It sure looks good to me.

“Steve, I think we’ve got it whipped.��� Todd said. ���All we need now is some weather to push some ducks down to us. This Indian Summer isn’t going to get the job done.”

“Yeah, but it sure is good blind buildin’, getting ready weather, Todd,” Steve replied. “Today wouldn’t have been near as much fun if it was snowin’ and blowin’ and twenty degrees. The Almanac says the Dakotas are gonna get hammered with a blizzard this week and you know the Almanac is always right. Well, at least most of the time. If that happens, it should drive some birds down to us by opening day this Saturday. I can feel it in my bones. I hope it blizzards right down to Highway Two and then stops.”

“Yeah, Steve,” Todd said. “And you planted by the Almanac this year, too. How many bushels of tomatoes did you get? Let’s see, if I remember right, off of eight plants you got half a bushel. Right? And those four ears of corn you got were good, too, weren’t they?���

“OK, Todd, you know I got hailed out and you saw those plants before the storm. I’ve never had a garden look so good before, and then to just get it flattened made me want to spit. Makes a guy appreciate farmers a little more.” Steve replied.

“It sure does, but you and that Almanac are wrong a lot more than you are right. I remember you planning those fishing trips around its’ advice this summer. Did you ever get any fish for the freezer, other than the ones I brought you?” Todd asked, laughing.

“A few!” Steve said, and laughed. “And yes, before you say it, I was reading it backwards. I had morning times and night times turned around. You know it and you made sure everybody else knew it. And I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Now, let’s finish up and get going. These discussions always seem to end up with me getting the short end of the stick.

“Plus. If you don’t quit picking on me, I’ll tell my mother not to make any more of that Pumpernickel bread for us this fall. And then what’ll you do? Huh? I suppose you’ll use store bought for toast. That’d be the day. Besides, she told me she put up twenty four pints of Chokecherry jelly for us and you just might not get any of that either, if you aren’t careful!”

“Now Steve,” Todd shot back. “You know I was just kidding around. This is serious business. You know I’d trade you all my fish for your Mom’s Pumpernickel bread and Chokecherry jelly. Don’t make those kinds of wild threats. Why, next year I might even teach you how to catch Walleyes up at the inlet.”

“Let’s hang out here till sunset and see if there are any teal flying and then we’ll head to town,” Steve said, completely ignoring the walleye teaching offer.

h5. Chapter Twenty Nine

Yippee! I’m swimmin’! Oh, my! That does feel good. It has been a long time. Too long.

It’s so shallow that the sun keeps the sand bottom warm and it feels mighty nice on this ol��� body. At least it’s deep enough that my butt doesn’t bump the bottom.

Todd and Steve showed up about four o’clock this morning and started setting decoys. That’s just a little bit early, but, what the heck, it’s opening day. It’s still plumb dark and they’re in the bunker and ready to go. Everything is set. I’m afraid it’s going to be another bluebird opener, but, opening day is opening day. I guess I said that before, but, what the heck, it’s opening day!!!

I must be just a little bit excited!

I can’t see the east horizon, because I’m facing upstream to the west, but I think it’s getting real close to shooting light. These last few minutes are the hardest. I heard an owl hoot and a bird or two singing a minute ago, but I haven’t heard any waterfowl fly over yet.

Todd and Steve are both standing up looking out of the bunker. They���re drinking coffee and shooting the bull. Somebody should tell them it’s too dark to see anything yet. I think that is a common condition amongst waterfowlers. It is hard to sit down in a blind, especially at this time when the world is just starting to wake up. This is when the ducks start to fly over head, looking for a spot to get a drink and rest. The birds in the trees start singing as if they are welcoming the sun for another day and ol��� man owl finds his perch and gives his last call before turning in for the day.

That Lab they had with them is whining like a hungry puppy. He’s really good looking, but, he’s brown. Brown! This will be my first hunt with a Chocolate Lab. His name is Hercules, but they call him Herc. Hercules is a good name for him as he looks strong as an ox. I hope he stops whining when the birds come, but I’ll bet he whines even harder then. Opening days are tough on everybody.

Oops! I just heard some ducks going over but I don’t think they were Mallards. They weren’t talking and all I heard was the wind whistling over their wings. Todd and Steve heard them too and they ducked under the bundles. As dark as it is, they didn’t really need to get down. Good reaction time, though.

I just heard a pair of Mallards going over and they were really talking. “Quack, quack, quack, quackquackquackquack!” That’s one of the boys hitting his call. Damn fine calling. It’s still too dark to shoot but I can just see that pair swinging out over the channel and getting downwind. Yep, here they come, all locked up.

“Plop! Plop!”

They just fell in, right in the middle of the decoys. Listen to that ol’ hen talk. She’s really raising the devil about something. Either she doesn’t like the drake or the dekes or there are some more Mallards headed this way. She’s really cranking it up.

I can just make out Todd and Steve whispering to each other. I can’t make out what they are saying but the whisper level keeps getting a little louder and now Hercules is whining pretty good but it doesn’t seem to be bothering those two Mallards. Todd and Steve are excited. They should be, but they still have about five minutes to wait before legal shooting light.

I can hear more Mallards now. They’re coming up the river from behind me. That ol’ hen in the spread is really doing a good job of talking to them. The boys are keeping their calls out of their mouths. That’s good. I can see well enough to identify drakes now, so it must be legal shooting time. They’re just coming into view on my right, all locked up and coming hard into the decoys. These early season birds are such suckers, ah, feet down, and….



Hey, that’s some fine shootin’! Five for five. I wonder if they do that every time? HA!

They���re out of the bunker, and opening the door of the kennel and letting Herc out.

“Go!” Steve said.

And man, he is gone.

The boys are excited, I can hear Steve, “Wow, Todd, look at Herc go down the bank. That’s a boy Herc! Get that far one first.” Steve was hollering and whooping and I don’t think he even realized it.

“You watch him Steve, and I’ll go ahead and get those two that fell in the decoys.��� Todd said. ���He’s got his work cut out for him on those other three.”

Todd waded out into the decoys and picked up the two drakes that were floating there.

“Todd, Freeze!” Steve yelled. Steve squatted down by the bunker and Todd dropped to a knee in the middle of the decoys, still holding the two drakes.



���Nice shot, Steve! I think I’ll retrieve that one too, seein’ as how he about took my cap off when he fell.” Todd hollered and laughed. Steve had made a good safe shot. That old drake had spotted Todd and was turning on the afterburners going straight up at about 30 yards when Steve shot. He folded him dead and that drake really did hit the bill of Todd’s cap on the way down.

Herc was on his third retrieve as Todd came out of the water. Herc is a fine Lab. Steve had whistled at him and given him one hand signal on the third bird and he had followed it perfectly. That is sure a lot of fun to watch. That third bird had fallen out behind a big dead tree at the end of the sandbar where Herc couldn’t see it,. He had marked the other two and Steve had just given him a direction and watched.

“You know what, ol’ buddy?” Todd asked. “We’re limited out with six nice drakes. It’s not quite sunup, and there just aren’t any geese in yet, so…….���

“Don’t you even think about it, Todd,” Steve had interrupted. “I’ll start breakfast and you start picking those birds. Let’s stick it out. Hell, you never know. We could pull some of those local geese from that big roost sand pit up the river, or from the sandpits out back. Hey, maybe some of those “Garbage Can Geese” from Pier Park will get up to exercise and fly down here to the river.

“I ain’t quittin’ at seven thirty on opening day. Pheasant season isn���t open, so I won’t have any other excuse to get out of the house. I’ll get put to work doing something! And if our wives find out we can be done this early, we’ll be in a world of hurt.

“Besides, when we quit last January, you had me down thirteen thousand dollars playing gin, and I feel lucky today. Maybe I can start getting even. Hand me that bacon out of the sack and get started pickin’.���

A few minutes later I could smell the bacon and hear it sizzlin’ in the cast iron skillet. I could see Todd behind the bunker picking those Mallards and Herc was back in his kennel taking a well deserved nap. At least he was till he smelled the bacon. He whined a couple of times until Steve told him to quit. I was surprised that Herc stopped. He must be wore out from that long retrieve. He’s got a long season of that ahead of him.

Todd’s about done picking birds, and man, the aroma of that breakfast is drifting all the way out to me. Let’s see, I can smell the bacon, eggs, browns and, ah, that must be the Pumpernickel toast. Whoeee! That���s a mouth watering, stomach rubbing against the backbone, odor. No wonder Todd was a little nervous when Steve started threatening him.

“Do you want cheese on your taters, Todd?” Steve asked.

“No, I’ll pass on the cheese. You know I’m watching my cholesterol.” Todd replied, chuckling. “By the way, did you make me four or six slices of toast?”

“Todd,” said Steve, “I warned you about having your cholesterol checked. That’s the only thing wrong with cholesterol. Having it checked, I mean. People get it checked when they are just fine, and then they’re miserable afterwards. No this, no that. Shoot, you might as well give up huntin’ ’cause you might get shot by your best buddy. Too many ���maybes��� and ���what ifs��� for me.”

“Steve, just pass the jelly, the salsa and the salt and pepper.��� Todd replied.

���If you’re gonna preach, I’m gonna listen on a full belly. That way I’ll for sure go to sleep listening to you.”

They finished eating and Todd said, ” Pour some water in the skillet to boil it out and I’ll give these dishes a quick ���Medicine Creek cleaning���. Hand me a handful of paper towels and I’ll wipe things up. And while I’m doing that, you get the cards out and then I’ll give you a chance to get even. I figure I can play all year on that tab you owe me from last year. If we can’t cook in a bunch, maybe we can gin them in.”

Then it got real quiet except for the shuffling of cards and a spell or two of name calling. I wonder what a “garbage collector” and a “dirty baiter” are? They used those terms quite often during their gin game.

Once in a while one of them would stand up and look around using the binoculars. “Nuthin’” was the response every time. “Ten to two” usually holds true on the river, but not today. It’s just too early in the season.

A few minutes before pickup time a little family of five geese came up the river. They never made a peep and they sat right down on the sandbar in the decoys. Todd and Steve had both been snoring for about a half an hour and Herc hadn’t let out a whine or a whimper all afternoon.

Then I heard Steve say, “Todd, wake up, it’s pickup time.” The geese about broke their necks twisting around to try and figure out where the voice came from. “Heronk!” The biggest one let out, and they were up. And gone.

“What the…! Aw, no Todd! There were five of them sitting right in the decoys. You were supposed to be on guard duty. Todd, Todd, Todd!��� Steve berated his partner.

���And Herc! What’s your problem? Man, this bluebird weather put us all to sleep.”

“Steve, you were on guard duty and you know it.��� Todd said, laughing. ���Well, that’s one bunch that got the best of us and I hope there are a lot more bunches that have that opportunity this year. I’ll just guarantee you that you aren’t gonna pull that nap stunt again. Next time you fall asleep, your shotgun is just liable to be unloaded. But, man, what a great opener.”

“You got it, Todd.��� Steve said. ���Let’s pick up and head home. Now remember, we shot this last drake about four o’clock, if the missus asks.��� and then he asked, ���We on for tomorrow?”

“You’ve gotta ask?” Todd responded. You driving, or am I? And how about we make it about a half hour later tomorrow. We were just a little early this morning.”

And another opening day was in the bag.

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