Monday, January 19, 2015

Ducks and G.O.O.S.M.E.’s


I may be getting too old to go duck hunting. I walked a half-mile across a big field last week, then waded down the half-frozen creek to a little hole where ducks had been loafing. Where there wasn’t any ice, the rocks were so slick I could hardly keep my balance. Where there was ice, it was so slick I could hardly keep my balance either. 

As I set out eight decoys, an over-hanging limb knocked my cap off and it started floating down the creek. I went after it and my knee boots were too short for the water. When one boot is too short for the water, the result is cold water accumulating in the very bottom of it. So I am sitting up against a big tree with overhanging limbs hiding me, trying to get my boot off to dump out the water.

Twenty years ago it was easy to take off a boot and put it back on. Today it is a chore. It has to do with added fat where nothing but abs use to be, and stiffness in the back that accumulates from years of carrying shotguns and decoys. The bulky coat made it harder to do so I took it off. Then I leaned over with one hand on the ground and I’ll be darned if there wasn’t a thorn under it!

I got a cramp in my leg from trying to pull it up where I could reach the end of it, and a pain in my right hand where that thorn had punctured it. 

I got up and tried to hobble around a little to make the cramp go away and four mallards came swooping in over my decoys. I reached for the shotgun that I had left leaning up against the tree and knocked it over. Then I remembered I had forgot to load it. My shells had spilled out of the coat pocket and had sand all over them. 

Finally I am ready again, and my Labrador, Bolt, who is the 4th or 5th best Labrador in the whole country, decided he would run down and get a drink from the creek. He made that decision as a pair of nice mallards came sailing in on set wings, then saw him and flared away.

Bolt confused my sharp order of “Get the heck back here and sit” with “Run out in the creek and get a stick.” He is young, and though he is well disciplined, (meaning that if he doesn’t do what I tell him I will give him a good whack on the rump which lacks enough effort to be mistaken for animal cruelty), he also knows that I am too old to get up and chase him down in hip boots with a cramp in one leg and a thorn in my hand.

Finally we reach and agreement and he comes back and I fasten him to a little tree with the leash I brought. Now I am ready, water out of the boot, cramp subsiding, dog obeying and gun loaded. I see ducks and I hail them with my duck call. I am as good with that duck call as you can get. I sound more like a duck with my duck call than a duck does. But it has to be free of sand and dirt, and it wasn’t. Must have happened when I took my coat off and got that thorn in my hand.

Two ducks come in. One is a hen mallard, which I won’t shoot, and the other is a drake. The hen settles in over the decoys, presenting an easy shot. The drake sails over me, a very, very difficult shot. I shoot up through the branches and miss him twice. The shot loosens some limbs and they crash down upon me and I get a little piece of bark in my eye. Bolt sees the hen out before us and decides he can catch her so he breaks the leash. He flairs some other ducks that are coming in. I consider something that does indeed border on animal cruelty.

Somehow I got two drake mallards that afternoon. If you consider the cost of several three-inch magnum shells and the three hours it took, at the five dollars an hour which I normally make as a writer, the four delicious breasts of mallard, cooked on the grill with onions and peppers, cost me about ten dollars each. My daughter is a doctor, and she will surely help me dig this thorn out of my hand, so that is some relief.

I carried the decoys, shotgun and two mallards up the hill, which had been easy to descend. Ascending is a far different word than descending, as you get older. Bolt, wet and muddy, jumped in my pickup, thinking my order of ‘sit there and wait’ actually meant ‘hop up there and mess up my truck seat.” 

Back home, my good friends Dennis and Kent call to say they have floated a river and killed two limits of mallards with little more effort than unloading the boat and drifting with the current. 

This warm weather means I can get out and catch some fish without much actual physical exertion, when duck season is over. At least I am not too old to fish. I know now the answer to that question I had as a boy…. “Why do old men quit hunting and start to fish so much?”

The 28th of March, which is the last Saturday of that month, is already on your calendar. So mark that day as the day we will hold our annual Grizzled Old Outdoorsman’s Swap Meet Event, which is often referred to by the initials, G.O.O.S.M.E., although not real often. 

It is a fun day when we gather at the gymnasium at the Brighton Assembly of God Church and have a big swap meet for outdoorsmen, filling more than 50 tables with outdoor antiques, old and new fishing lures, gear, guns, camping gear, outdoor art, carvings, taxidermy work and baked goods and canned goods. Outside the church we will have some boats and motors, canoes, maybe even a good coonhound for sale. 

The church is located 16 miles north of Springfield and 6 miles south of Bolivar on Highway 13. No one has to pay to get a table and no one has to pay to get in, it is free to the public. 

You can call all the other outdoor swap meets and ask them, “Is there a charge to get a table at your swap meet, or an entrance charge”, and they will say, “Of course there is, we are trying to make money”. And then you can tell them, “Well the G.O.O.S.M.E. people don’t charge a doggone thing.” 

It’s true… the organizers of all outdoor swap meets in the whole world charge an entrance fee and charge so much for tables inside. But we don’t! So if you have outdoor stuff to sell, and want a table, you had better call us or write a letter and let us know. We always have big crowds, and some good food for breakfast and dinner both, and we raise some money from those who donate voluntarily to the Brighton Assembly of God Church’s effort to help some needy children. 

So please come to our swap meet and have a good time because I would love to talk to you and I will give you some of our magazines free of charge. It is one of the few ways I have to meet readers of this column. All in all, it will be a great day and you will be glad you came… most likely… I hope.

Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, or email me at The office phone is 417-777-5227.

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