Hunters’ quirks

Every duck hunter has his quirks, his ways, and the things he always does when he hunts. This is a guy who lives to duck hunt, can’t get enough and pounds it out till the last day of the season. He is very successful with his ways, and has been for the better part of his life, but yet he is open to listen to what other hunters do; he takes it in; thinks about it; and then decides to cast it aside or add to his arsenal.

These duck hunters have learned from their fathers, their brothers, their friends but most of all from themselves. These guys have a passion for chasing ducks that they can’t explain; they don’t even want to explain it, for there is no need too. All of a sudden, after they have been duck hunting for years and probably after capping out a limit only picking the birds they want, it hits them: “I am ‘one with the Marsh.’”

Although, they will rarely say that, they know it.

It’s hard to explain. They no longer make mistakes, but if they do, they correct it instantly. They don’t tear up equipment, they are never scared to duck hunt alone, yet they have the ultimate respect for the marsh. Deep down, they know, but will never admit to anyone, that if they ever do make the ultimate mistake while hunting alone in the marsh on that freezing cold day, they don’t want to but they will perish with a smile on their face.

I know three guys like this: Scott Cefalu, Pauli Gelpi and myself.

It’s an interesting story. I grew up hunting with Pauli down in Myrtle Grove halfway between New Orleans and Venice. Pauli’s dad, Paul Gelpi, was good friends with my dad, Wayne Zeringue, and formed a camp together along with some other friends of theirs. My older brother Wayne Jr. and Pauli’s older brother Gerard was included in the mayhem.

It’s hard for me to type this, but Pauli lost his father, mother and brother to cancer over the last 12 years of his life. I still have mine. I’ll never forget them, Mrs. Gelpi with her big heart, Gerard with his smile and Mr. Paul just appearing to be invincible to me as a young boy; my goodness, he was so BIG that when you shook his hand, it would just swallow you. He was “one with the Marsh.”

As Pauli and I grew up with our Dad’s taking us hunting then our brothers taking us, all of the sudden, over time we started taking them. It was strange; it just happened; Pauli and I became, “one with the marsh.”

We were very competitive growing up, rarely sharing secrets, always trying to get a better limit then one another, yet always having a great time together. We just refused to leave the lease without a limit.

As for Scott, he grew up hunting Myrtle Grove also same age as us, hunted with his Dad and his friends. His dad taught him well, although with age, I imagine, his dad gave up the birds and now enjoys his deer hunting.

We knew of Scott in our younger years, but it was crazy: We would see those guys launch their boat in the darkness, leave and not come back for three to four days. As I grew older, I remember packing my truck to go home, looking over my shoulder to where they parked their trucks and saying to myself, “Damn, Scott is still out there”. I never thought, “I hope he is OK.” I just knew he was. He was “one with the marsh.”

Long story short, Pauli has been hunting with Scott for a few years now; meanwhile, I left Myrtle Grove and ventured across the river to Caenarvon, Delacroix and Hopedale. I have been fortunate, in my success over there, but honestly I love the punishment of what I call “Misery Grove.” You would have to be familiar with the area to understand that term. It’s a love/hate relationship with Myrtle Grove.

I have really enjoyed hunting with Pauli and Scott the last two weekends. It’s refreshing. We are so different, yet so much alike. We each have our quirks. Pauli and Scott are clean freaks; Pauli can emerge from a day of hunting without a speck of dirt on him, carrying a limit of big ducks. Scott, on the other hand, gets his big ducks, yet washes his mud boat after every hunt. I, on the other hand, got my bag, but I am dirty and I refuse to wash my mud boat during the season. It ain’t gonna happen.

Scott, a proven three-time champion duck caller in Louisiana, shoots 2 34-inch shells only, and refuses to pull the trigger outside of 25 yards. Pauli is an exceptional caller and a heck of a shot, but will shoot 3-inch all year long – and at the end of the season rolls to 3 ½-inch shells to take his far shots.

Myself, I am a terrible caller with no confidence in it, but I am getting better, I shoot 3-inch shells opening weekend, and then switch to my 3 ½-inch salamis for the rest of the season. I love 50-yard shots; there is nothing better than when you stone them consistently at that range. I personally feel that decoying shots are cheating. I still do it, but it is what it is.

Scott, he drags a pirogue with him behind his mud boat, paddles in his pond, sets his hand-carved wooden decoys out and hunts old school. You will never catch Pauli and me duck hunting with a pirogue; we are all about our spread, but never a pirogue. I run a long tail, and Pauli just got a new surface drive.

Scott hunts alone almost exclusively; Pauli and I love to hunt alone, but tend to team up if we find ourselves hunting the same area.

Scott wears hip boots, while Pauli and I wear knee boots and tend to jab at Scott that we could wear tennis shoes out there. Scot lost his vision in his right eye as a young man due to a rogue paint ball, and he is right handed and still bangs them out. To me, that’s impressive. Can you imagine having this passion and having to teach yourself how to shoot again? He did it and, on top of it, he is a successful dentist.

Pauli, as a young boy, shot a seagull out the air with a pellet gun, brought it in the camp still alive to show his Dad and it bit him on the lip. He still has the scar from the stitches. That bird tore his lip up!

Myself, I nailed my thumb to a deck with a nail gun in Myrtle Grove. I was alone, Luckily the saw was within arm’s reach and I managed to cut the board so I was free to get myself to the hospital.

Scott has an old decoy that he packed with a lost friend’s ashes – his faithful hunting dog that he had as a young man. Pauli, loves to hunt his brother’s old pond, even if he doesn’t get a shot; it doesn’t matter.

Myself, it still burns every time I put it on, but I do it. I lost a hunting friend, Blake Berrigan, a young man who I loved to take hunting; he loved it to. I wear a camo shirt of his every time I go. He left it in my truck the last time I hunted with him. I will never forget calling him and telling him he left it. He said, “Hold onto it, Mr. Gary, I’ll get it the next time ya take me.” Damnit, that time never came again!

We all have duck stories and hunting passions and quirks. These are mine, along with some of my hunting buddies’. Currently, Scott is almost finished teaching his boy Cody, and it won’t be long before Cody is taking his dad hunting. Pauli has Paul III. I have Gary Jr,  Georgie and Gabe. Oh Lawd!

Time will tell. One more weekend left and Pauli, Scott and I are ready for one more push. We are all tired, but we can’t wait. Some tears may find their way to the corners of our eyes when we pick up our last set of dekes, but that is duck hunting in Louisiana! It’s all good!