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The lone duck on the water

It was a beautiful October Saturday. The perfect day to go duck hunting. I had counted on being with Bob and Mike, but both of them had more pressing family matters that denied them the opportunity to get out with a gun and into the marshes.

I suffered through the usual cautions from my mother about going out alone, as I'd never done that before. Yet here I was, maneuvering the Ford toward Gourd Lake in Ottertail County. We had had some luck there the previous weekend, and the weather had been an indication of the migrating canvasbacks might remain in the area.

I put some decoys in the front end of Bob's boat, which we had stashed in the reeds on the shore, and put in the shells, lunch and a cased shotgun. I was ready to go. Alone.

I'd scarcely started and I saw a large raft of ducks ahead. I figured they were canvasbacks, and they'd be taking flight before I got much closer. And there was a lone bird that was a lot closer to shore than the rest of them. Wow, what an opportunity! I found an opening in the bulrush and got the boat into this cover as quickly and as noiselessly as possible. But I was aware that I was making a commotion, in spite of my efforts to be as stealthy as possible. I stepped into the almost knee-deep water with about four inches of sticky ooze on the bottom. It almost sucked off the boots at every step, and I was crouched as low as possible. The stalk was going to be nearly a quarter of a mile, through these head high reeds and phragmites.

I plodded along, occasionally sneaking a peek at the quarry ahead. He was still there. But suddenly the main flock took wing, as one.

But the lone bird stayed. What luck! When I had proceeded to a place where I thought the bird might be, I parted the reeds slightly. I pushed the barrels of the Smith through and held a little high. The noise of the shot startled me, but not as much as the booming voice of somebody on the far shore. It was Charley Sturm, an old timer on the lake, whom I knew hunted hereabouts.

"What the hell are you doing, shooting at my decoys?" his voice came across the lake at me. There was nothing to do but retreat to the shore and get over there, to face the man, with shame and disappointment.

I told him I was sorry, that I thought that I was going to be able to make a pot shot and get the can, not realizing that it might be a decoy. Mr. Sturm was surprisingly, understanding, and he asked me if I was out hunting alone. I told him that I usually had a hunting partner but they had other obligations that Saturday. It was then that he invited me to hunt that morning with him.

He had a lot of canvasback decoys and we worked together to put them out in a cove near his place. We shot some ducks that day, but I don't remember that many, or any at all. I was too embarrassed that I'd shot at a wooden duck on the water. What would Bob and Mike say when they'd heard of it, as Sturm was sure to tell about it all over town. I've not shot at any ducks on the water since that day.

The mated pair

Harry and I had pushed off from the Job Corps landing, midway between the south end of Blackbird Lake and Rice Lake. We were in the middle of the Ottertail River with heavy bulrush and cattails on both sides of a narrow waterway. We had just finished placing our decoys when we heard the geese. They were about a hundred yards high, cruising at good speed, were orobably headed for Height Of Land Lake.

A party of hunters was set up in the cane where the Ottertail exits from Blackbird -- a good spot. The ducks appeared to be pretty high, and would be out of range when they passed us. Yet, the group at Blackbird did take some shots at them. Presently, a lone goose left the flock and was in a glide toward us. He landed, crash-landed, on a bar that we could clearly observe. The flock was passing now, eight birds in all, when to our surprise, one left the group and reversed its direction of flight.

The goose headed straight for the wounded gander, which was in full view of us from our blind. We extricated the boat from the reeds and were within forty yards of the downed gander. The goose was trying to lift the head and neck of her mate and didn't leave until we were nearly at the site. She flew low at first, reluctant to leave, but did head back toward Blackbird or Ice Cracking or Chippewa Lake. We eviscerated the big gander on the shore and took it home.

The next day we were back in about the same spot. A lone goose was making its way down the Ottertail, flying very low and, obviously, headed for the bar where her mate had fallen. The hunting party had taken its stand where they were yesterday, and they saw the approaching goose.

Naturally, they killed her. She had responded to the single call they had made and was headed straight for that place where we'd picked up her mate.

Man's best friend

Enough has been written about dogs, man's best friend, running deer in the deep snow. Enough about dogs being a prime enemy of wildlife. Perhaps it is time to repeat the words of a U.S. Senator, who had them recorded in the Congressional Record:

"The best friend a man may have in this world has been known to turn against him, and become his enemy. A son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. A man may lose the money that he has. It flies away from him, perhaps at a time when he needs it most. A man's reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall upon their knees to do us honor when success is with us, may be among the first to throw the stones of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog.

A man's dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. A dog will sleep on the cold ground when the wintry winds blow, and the snow is driven fierce, if only he may be near his master's side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer; he will lick the wounds and the sores that come from encounters and roughness of this world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wing and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love, as is the sun in its daily journey thru the heavens.

If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, a faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of his company to guard against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all is played, and death takes the master in its cold embrace, his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will be a noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true, even in death."