Tuesday Evening on the River

The year was 1977…or 1978.  To be honest, I don’t know what year it was.  I’m told it was the late-70’s.  My great uncle, Andy Tweet Jr. (a.k.a. Uncle Brother), probably after a drink too many, purchased a small duck boat at a Ducks Unlimited event.  Where the boat went in the years immediately after that, I have no idea.  I get the impression it was never really used.

Fast forward 30 years or so.  My boy Hoot and I have taken interest in hunting at his family’s land along a certain mighty river in Wisconsin that shall remain nameless (On the off chance a hunter sees what I post here and wants to steal our spot, I won’t name the river now…yes, I’m that paranoid).  However, we have very few options for accessing the water, so we’re stuck on land.  One infamous opening day we arrived three hours early to make sure we got our spot along Hoot’s shoreline, only to have some jerk who claimed to be a “sportsman” show up two hours later and park himself in the middle of the river right in front of us.  Was it legal?  Sure.  I would think a so-called sportsman with a nice boat and motor would recognize that we were there first and take one of the many other places available along the miles of river, especially considering we had no other place to go.  After 30 minutes of arguing our case with him, he parked himself in front of us anyway.  We got our revenge when Hoot winged a hen mallard that flew right in to his decoy spread and we sent my dog Sam out to retrieve it anyway.  She spent the next half hour swimming all over his decoys trying to catch that wounded hen before she finally brought her back.  I like to think old Sam understood the situation and did it just to mess with that guy.  Rest in peace, good girl.

The point of the story?  We needed a boat.  Uncle Dave mentioned that he had a beat up old duck boat of Uncle Brother’s that he never used just sitting at his cottage.  He said I could take it, so I did.  It sat in my backyard for an entire summer.  Then my dad and T-Bone made some repairs and dropped it off at Hoot’s land for us.  We’ve hunted out of that boat for the past 10 years now.

We’ve had more good times than I can remember.  Most of them laugh-out-loud mistakes by Hoot and me.  We can’t seem to put it all together.  We set up in one spot, the geese end up in another.  We try to ambush them in the morning and they escape to the south.  We overcorrect the next time and screw something else up.  That’s not to say that we haven’t had some luck getting geese and ducks.  It just seems that we have far more stories about the one that got away than we do successes.  I actually prefer it that way.  The stories about our screw-ups are much funnier than the stories about when we actually got one.

Last year we went out for opening day in the old boat once again and decided it was time to clean it up.  It had been neglected long enough.  It badly needed some comfortable seats and a paint job.  In August I finally got it back here.  I got some great paint (and advice) from the good people at Parker Coatings and I went to work.  About that same time Hoot brought home his crawdad and did the same thing.  We went from having nothing a few years ago to having two nicely refurbished duck boats.

Tonight we hit the river for the first time in the new/old boat.  Fresh paint job, new cushioned swivel seat, and most importantly, a 2HP electric motor.  This boat is perfect for what we do.  Plenty of room for Belle, my gear, and a load of decoys.

The problem tonight: It’s tricky to get to Hoot’s land – approximately 45 minutes from my house – on a work night and get in a good hunt.  For the record, goose hunting is already open statewide in Wisconsin.  Duck hunting opens on Saturday.  Goose hunting has been legal since September 16…September 1 if you had a permit for Early Goose Season.  Goose hunting today ended at 6:37 PM.  By the time we got there, got the boat down to the water (with a big assist from Hoot’s dad), and got all of our gear ready, it was 6:10.  By the time we got in place, we had 20 minutes of shooting light.  We didn’t even put out decoys.  Tonight was really about getting the boat there for Saturday, but as long as we were there, we might as well try to bag a few geese, right?  It was a beautiful night for hunting on the river.  Overcast and occasional rain.  A great way to start out the season.  We just pulled back in to the cattails and hoped the geese would land by us.

They didn’t.

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Two geese landed a few hundred yards to the south of us.  That was it.  Poor Belle was all ready in her fancy hunting vest and nothing happened.  About Belle’s vest…I have to give a shout out to the people at Rig ‘Em Right Waterfowl for making some really cool gear.  I re-rigged all of my decoys this past summer with their Xtreme Texas Rigs and a jerk rig and I can’t wait to use them this weekend.  I also bought Belle’s vest there, and here’s why: Every time she jumps in the water to retrieve it’s a pain to get her back in the boat.  I could buy one of those little ladders or something, but that’s just another thing to mess with on the boat.  This vest – the Bloodline Elite Dog Vest, to be exact – has a nice handle on the back.  When Belle has a bird in her mouth and is struggling to get back in to the boat, it’s much easier to grab that handle to help pull her back in.  Belle and I both appreciate the good idea.  Keep up the good work, Rig ‘Em Right.

Hoot and I are good law abiding hunters.  Seriously.  When the clock hit 6:37, we unloaded our guns and headed back in, even though you could hear a lot of goose activity in the distance.  It’d be easy to say, “Well, we could wait another minute or two…”  No.  When it’s time, we pack up and leave.  Not a minute later.

Tonight ended up being a tough one to swallow.  When we got across the river and pulled the boats up on the shore, the sky immediately became peppered with honking Canadians.  They were coming from all directions.  Belle was freaking out.  Here’s a small sample of what took place over the next 5-10 minutes:

At one point you can hear me telling Belle “no” because she was ready to jump in the river and go after them.  Just another near-miss for Hoot and me.  Another ridiculous story.  Even on a cloudy night when the geese usually come back from the fields well before the end of the hunt, the geese decided to wait until we were out of the river to show up.

It was a good sign for Saturday, though.  There are geese and ducks all over that river. Opening day of duck season with Hoot has become one of my favorite annual events.  We get up waaaaaay too early in the morning, and I would have it no other way.  We claim our favorite spot on the river well before anyone else gets there.  When the sun rises Saturday morning over Eastern Wisconsin and the birds start flying, we will be ready.  I can think of no place I’d rather start October, one of my favorite months. Sitting on the river with Hoot and Belle waiting for some poor unsuspecting waterfowl to wing by so we can yell “IT’S A TRAP’ Ackbar-style before filling the sky with steel shot…and probably missing. It’s gonna be awesome. I hardly knew him, but I tell myself Brother would be happy we’re still using that old boat. 

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