I can only think of two things that can get me out of bed before the sun rises.
Work, obviously, is one.
The other? Duck hunting.
And often times the latter follows just a few hours of sleep.
Such was the case Saturday morning when I rolled out of bed at 4:30 a.m., a mere two hours after I turned out the lights and crawled under the covers.
But as with every other excursion in my short time as a hunter — I took up the hobby three years ago — the lack of sleep has been warranted.
I allowed myself enough time Saturday morning for a quick trip to pick up some supplies. Snacks, hand warmers and another layer of clothing were all necessities for the sub-freezing temperatures and high winds that I would be facing. The previous night’s weather — a cold, windy evening complete with rain, sleet and snow — appeared as if it was going to carry over into the morning, so I wanted to be prepared.
I tend to live by the phrase, “It’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”
As it turns out, though, the precipitation had held off and the wind wasn’t as severe. The hand warmers and extra layer weren’t necessary.
I was looking forward to this hunting trip for a number of reasons. With my busy sports schedule I don’t get much time for other activities. I was also interested in getting the opportunity to hunt at a new location with a new group of people.
Additionally, I consider hunting waterfowl akin to getting tattoos — it can be addicting, and the first time creates a desire for more. Or in my case, the yearning to hunt again.
After stocking up I set out to Albany, where I met my hunting partners — Simon Brumfield and his father Carlton, as well as Drew Huffman — and we set out to land owned by Carlton’s brother in Pendleton.
There, we got out of the vehicle, put on our layers, grabbed our gear and made the quarter-mile or so trek to our destination on the southern bank of Fall Creek.
It was a group effort putting the blinds together and setting up our spread. Simon and I were wearing waders so it was our duty to put the decoys in the water while the other two prepped our blinds.
With the sun still below the horizon and 20 minutes until it was time to shoot — shooting is allowed a half-hour before sunrise, which was slated for 8:11 a.m. — we took our positions in blinds about 15 yards apart. Drew and Carlton were to the east; Simon and I were situated to the west.
As 7:41 a.m. came and passed, we got to play the waiting game. But honestly, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Sitting there, chatting with friends (and sometimes family. Prior to Saturday, I always hunted with my brother) is fun. Simon and I were telling stories of past hunting expeditions. In the middle of a story, we heard a splash in the water downstream from us that was immediately followed by the sounds of a wood duck.
Here we go.
This is what I had been waiting on for more than a year.
The bird continued to make noises as we hoped it would fly closer to us, because at that moment it was out of sight. With our attention focused downstream, a hen (female) wood duck landed at the opposite end of the creek.
Simon stood up, shouted at the bird in an attempt to get it off the water. As the duck took off, Simon fired, but he was off the mark. I also took a shot at what I thought was the bird, and I too missed.
At that point I knew it might be a difficult day. I was used to hunting in a field where all I had for a background as I looked down the sight of my shotgun was the sky. Here, I had to deal with trees that helped the birds blend. It was a new experience.
But I made the adjustment quickly, as about a half hour later I shot my first bird as a Hoosier hunter, a hen wood duck.
Between the four of us, we shot three birds — two hens and a drake (male), all wood ducks. Drew got the other two. We had a few other flocks fly by, but we weren’t able to get anything else.
And as we packed up, Simon and his father both apologized for the dull hunting trip.
My response, which I borrowed from my brother, was “A bad day of hunting is better than a good day of work.”
But it wasn’t dull. I came away with a bird. Even though it was only one, it’s still better than none.
At the very least, it got me back in the swing of hunting again, satisfying that itch and making me want to go out as much as I possibly can. The craving to hunt again is so strong that I’m trying to figure out the logistics of taking a trip up to Michigan to hunt with my brother.
Because, like getting a tattoo, once you’ve gotten your first bird you want to get more.