I am thoroughly convinced that if you are a duck hunter, you have probably broken the law. Maybe just a little bit. Maybe not on purpose, but you did.
Justin Wilson, the grand old Louisiana Cajun comedian and chef, felt that way, too. He used to “tole” the story of a duck hunter who went to the local sheriff down in Terrebonne Parish as a “delegate of many delegates” and asked if he couldn’t get them one more month to choot ’dem duck.
“What you gonna name it, eh?” the sheriff replied. “You already choot ’dem duck 12 month a year. You get another month, you gonna have to get a new name for it.”
Over the years duck hunting, I have tried my very best to follow the letter and most of the time, the spirit of the law. I am not worried about discussing it because I know that even a conceived written confession from a veteran outdoor writer and teller-of-tall-tales would not hold up in court.
Duck hunting rules and regulations are flustering, almost to the point of amusing. It takes a mathematician just to interpret legal shooting hours. The time rules change every single day.
The limits seem to change as often as the opinions of politicians. In my lifetime the legal limit has gone as high as 15 ducks to as low as two. In 1962, that two-duck legal limit included only one mallard and a 23-day season. Can you imagine setting out your decoys, firing one shot, then retrieving your one mallard, picking up your decoys and going home? I still follow the one-duck limit some days, because many times I only see one duck.
You have to be an ornithologist, too. The limit last year was: “6 ducks which may include no more than 4 mallards (no more than 2 of which may be female), 3 wood ducks, 2 canvasback, 2 redheads, 1 mottled duck, 1 black duck, and 1 pintail. Only 1 scaup may be taken for the first 15 days of the season, with 2 per day allowed for the remainder.”
Most days, the rules far outnumber the ducks.
I had an old duck hunting buddy who didn’t have time to keep up with the details of the annual changes in rules and regulations. He came up with his own interpretation. He figured if the limit was six ducks a day, that must mean 42 ducks a week per hunter, however you got them. Oh, my. On advice of legal counsel, I must channel my inner Bill Clinton here and go on record as saying “I have no recollection” of whether he practiced that or not.
Irvine didn’t let anything stop him when it came to the pursuit of ducks. After hunting with him, I think I know what it was like to trudge a swamp with Ben Lilly or cross a mountain with Daniel Boone.
One day we were speeding down Deadpecker Slough Road past the Hilo Missionary Baptist Church an hour before shooting hours and Irvine suggested we should consider moving our memberships there during duck season. He was serious.
It was freezing that cloudy morning and we just got plain old lost in the flooded treetops of the Ouachita River backwaters. It was so cold before daylight, the dripping water on my waders froze to the bottom of the little aluminum boat. We finally pried them lose, but could find no ducks. Or our way home we were freezing. We came upon an old abandoned floating duck blind. We crawled up in it and actually built a small fire in an empty gallon can we found floating nearby.
I know that wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but the fact that we were in this predicament lets you know we didn’t have much smart with us that day.
The sun finally peeped out, we found our direction and made it out through the flooded timber.
Soaked to the bone
One time our preacher went with Irvine and actually fell in the icy water. He had to strip down and build a fire on a giant old fallen cypress log to keep from freezing to death. Oh, there were more.
One day we were motoring down a small canal in Overflow Swamp when the boat ran up on a beaver dam in the dark. I was running the motor and Irvine hopped out up front on the dam and tried to free us. He couldn’t. He told me I’d have to hop out and help, too. So I did. Only thing, I wasn’t on top of the dam. I was in six feet of water and got soaked. It was cold. The boat came loose and we both got back in. I turned it around and headed the boat back toward the truck.
“Where are you going?” he yelled.
“I’m going home. I’m soaked. I’m freezing. If we go hunting, I’m going to freeze and die. If you try to stop me, I’m going to shoot you and you are going to die. The only way we both make it home alive is if we go back to the truck,” I replied. He left me there and went back hunting. I built a fire and warmed up. As you’ve gathered by now, you never went hunting with Irvine without waterproof matches.
Irvine used to have a lot of tricks up his sleeve, like carrying an old dead squirrel with him duck hunting. One day I made the mistake of asking why.
“Well, if we happen to shoot early and the game warden is out there, hears us and tries to give us a ticket, I’ll just tell him I wasn’t shooting at ducks. I shot this squirrel.” Oh my, again.
Irvine did finally change his ways. He had come to know Jesus as a youngster. But he came to know Joe, as an adult. Joe was a federal game warden who put fear into the hearts of duck hunters all around, even those who tried to obey the law. He was known to spend the night in prime duck hunting spots so he would be there before duck hunters the next morning and he could catch them if they did anything wrong. Once, he swam a cold canal just to get to a group of hunters who had shot too many, too early, to give them each a ticket. Irvine never got a ticket, but he got the message.
In case there is a game warden who might question anything written here, I just want to note that I clearly made all this up. No duck hunter would ever do that. Really. Or Maybe.
There, that should be enough to establish reasonable doubt. Oh, my.