A light yet blistering breeze brushed across my cheeks as I hurriedly scraped the ice from my windshield. Unfortunately, 3 a.m. came earlier than I had anticipated; I overslept 30 minutes or so and now my 4 a.m. appointment was only 20 minutes away. With the click of my seat belt, I sped into the night—the only light on the highway streaming from distant taillights and headlights in the rearview mirror. I continued down the highway at a white-knuckled 55mph; somehow the thought of deer running out in front of you makes 55 seem like 75.
As I continued, so did the approaching headlights in my rearview mirror. While I watched, his headlights bled beyond my mirror to fill the cab of my truck. In an instant, he had blown past me. I noticed a whitetail deer decal and dog box in the bed of his truck as his taillights left me in the dust. I estimated his speed at more than 90 mph. The crisis of a crazed driver averted, I called my duck hunting buddy and pastor, Chris. “I’m five minutes out.”
I pulled into our public duck hunting spot. We filled out our check-in cards while I told him about my experience with the speeding truck. “I can’t believe how fast that guy was driving, brother. He’s an accident waiting to happen.”
Chris simply raised an eyebrow. “I wonder where he needed to be in such a hurry. Let’s get down to the marsh.”
We jumped back into our trucks and headed down a winding dirt road that led to a small parking area overlooking a 300-acre marsh. We had just crowned a small rise on the road when I noticed the lights on in a truck already parked in the lot. As we pulled in I noticed a dog box in the bed of the parked truck and that same deer decal in the rear window. This was the man that had blown past me on the highway.
We parked across the open lot from the other hunter. I grabbed my gear and laid it out in the back of Chris’ truck then sat on the edge of the tailgate to pull my waders on while he let Heidi out of her box. Once she was on the ground, Chris took his place on the tailgate next to me and began to tug on his waders. As he did I whispered to him, “Chris, that’s the guy that blew by me this morning.”
No sooner did I get the words out, the guy was standing in front of us. “Ya’ll doin’ alright this morn’?”
Chris saw my look of annoyance and answered, “We’re good, brother. Hoping for a good hunt. You?”
The man smiled, “Man we were here last weekend. We tore the **** out of those ducks!”
I stopped and looked at both of them as the man continued his expletive-laced story. His use of expletives would have made my Marine Corps drill instructors blush.
As soon as he had come, he disappeared again, walking toward the marsh. We headed off, too. As we walked we began talking about our encounter with the speeding duck hunter. “When he was cussin’ up a storm, why didn't you tell him to stop or let him know you were a pastor?” I asked.
Chris smiled back at me. “I might have said something when I was younger but nowadays I get more entertainment value when they ask me what I do.” We both laughed as we continued to our favorite spot. Still, both of us were less than amused with his character, which was out of step with mainstream American hunters. He was the kind of guy who truly gives hunters a bad name.
"We are more than just a couple duck hunters … we’re wingmen."We arrived at our favorite spot, set up our decoys and then began hunting. As we waited for shooting light, we shared stories and occasionally drifted back to laughing at the lackluster hunter who would have surely been embarrassed about his behavior were he on our side of the experience. At just about dawn, midway through one of Chris’ many duck hunting stories, he stood and shot. I watched as a duck folded and fell into the marsh. Heidi was off her post and on the retrieval; she was an aging golden retriever, a good girl and great bird dog if there ever was one. The hunt was on.
The limit was six ducks. Two hours into our hunt, Chris had four to my one. It’s worth noting that Chris had fired four shots to my full box—it is what it is. The sun had warmed the earth some 20 degrees; it was unseasonably warm and the already slow duck action was at a stand-still. However, we stayed there in the marsh, most of the time plugged into conversation more than hunting. Like every other Saturday, we joked, laughed and talked about trials, triumphs, challenges and, occasionally, things that are just plain hard to talk about anywhere else but a duck marsh.
Today was different than most stays in the flooded timber. Near the end of the hunt, Chris’ demeanor changed and his voice broke. “Kev, thanks for being such a great friend and listener. You know, in my job I listen and listen and listen to people's problems and do my best to help them. No one really stops to consider that I struggle with the same things. When I have concerns, am troubled or just need someone to talk to there's nobody else there. You're the one I can just sit and talk to. The one who knows I'm no different than anybody else. Thanks for that.”
My response was much less stellar. No sooner had he said it, I had a pintail drake drop in from the middle of nowhere. I shot instinctively but certainly was not in a stable position. As the thunder rolled from my shotgun barrel, I tumbled backwards off my stool and into the drink—shotgun and all. Even worse, it was a clean miss. Chris’ laugh rivaled my shotgun blast as it filled the marsh.
We finally limited with just 10 minutes of shooting time to spare. It was the perfect end to a perfect and purposeful morning of duck hunting. It still ranks among the top of my outdoor experiences, although it had nothing to do with killing ducks. It had everything to do with friendship, bonding on a higher plane and recognizing that hunting has many, many layers. Sure, he’s a pastor and I am not. Sure, he’s quite an accomplished duck hunter and I’m just another guy with a shotgun in flooded timber. But, we are both wrecks in our own right. I guess what they say is true: “Birds of a feather, flock together.” We are more than just a couple duck hunters … we’re wingmen.