by W. S. Allen
“Steve, to your right,” I whispered to my younger brother.
Steve immediately brings his gun up and to the right. His eyes and the speeding Teal’s found and locked on to each other at the same time. The Blue Winged Teal hits the afterburner and Steve squeezed the trigger.
An ear shattering blast fills the air as the teal dodges to the left and then back to his original course. Another blast followed quickly and then a third. Maybe due to energy expended or slow reflexes either way the teal was hit and hit hard. Involuntarily his wings folds as silence once again returned to the marsh. The duck had no need to brace for the impact as he splashes down in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Teal killer’s face was all smiles as Daisy the lab played her role in this life and death drama. Before Aaron, our guide, gave Daisy the command her tale betrayed her excitement to enter the frigid waters at the thought of retrieving a mouth full of speed and color. Once the command came nothing short of death would keep her from performing what she felt was her role in life. To Daisy the words “dead bird” meant so much more than it did to us, the humans that supplied the ducks.
Daisy’s retrieval was flawless and usual. The twenty yard swim and sprint back to blind put the dog in her element, she was taught not to do her version of a happy dance until after the duck was in the blind which she adhered to resolutely.
Once this first speedster was in the blind all eyes started tracking the sky like radar searching for another incoming kamikaze fighter. Four pair of eyes working independently tracking and indentifying each and every aerial acrobat that strayed to within a half mile of the reed covered duck blind.
The no fly zone covered a couple of hundred square yards in all directions centered about half way in a three mile reed bed on the northwest side of Aransas Bay near Rockport TX. The winter destination for several million “snow birds” that migrated to warmer water from all over North America.
Our migration to the same waters was considerably shorter and a lot less hazardous than for all the blue and green winged teal, gadwalls, wigeons, and pin tails that practice shooting landings under fire in the gulf.
At any given moment someone will say to the left or right and all eyes lock on to a target that strayed too close to the no fly zone. Mussels tighten as hands tightly grip shotguns, time is transposed into slow motion and you can hear faintly in the background someone saying, steady, steady, take em. With the magic of a phase an explosion starts, the sky is set ablaze, and for an instant the guns spit so much steel into the air that it’s measured in pounds.
The canapé of death last for three shells each then silence followed closely by splashes in the water. Daisy hearing or feeling the excitement is already poised to swim the gauntlet of decoys in order to full fill her compact with her fellow hunters. Once the teal or wigeons are collected, stored, and the happy dance completed it’s time to lift your eyes skyward and scan once again for the speedsters of the gulf.
The winged half of the drama gets a little smarter every time the steel snaps at his tail feathers. He above all others knows what’s at stake when the game of life and death is played out in the skies above the gulf. God gave the ducks speed and agility rarely matched in the animal world and He made the teal their dare devil.
The Teal pushes the envelope every time he takes to the wind. In the blink of an eye the teal makes you think he jumped that high and the g-forces of his turns are the same as the age of your oldest child. And lastly just to make it a bit more interesting for the human radar to find and lock on, the teal is about half the size of a mallard.
The two combatants in this deadly game aren’t enemies, no far from it. They’re adversaries in a life and death struggle. They’re both sides of the coin of life. The duck can’t stop being a duck and men can’t stop being hunters. So they match their wits and abilities in the skies over the Gulf of Mexico and on many ponds, lakes, and rivers around the world. The outcome is never a sure thing for either side. However I put the odds in my favor by asking Captain Aaron Mack to show me his world and put me in his blinds.
I’ve learned one thing about duck hunting, the duck blind is magical place it turns boys into men and men back into boys.