Friday, 4 November 2011

Jump Shooting

"We spent a fine day driving south from Lemmon all the way to Nebraska with a specific kind of grandeur to the landscape, truly the Great Plains, a subtlety to rolling hills and rocky escarpments that doesn't suit people like Marybelle who want snowcapped postcard mountains."  Jim Harrison, The English Major.
There are few landscapes as unexpectedly beautiful as a sunrise or sunset on a prairie river or a pothole lake. Mostly, people rush by these places on their way to someplace more interesting. Water lies low in the landscape so these places are often hidden from view of the highway, concealed by tangles of willows that glow red in the last light of the day. I am not a morning person by nature; I have witnessed such views at sunset far more often than I have at sunrise.
Jump shooting is the peripatetic hunters preferred method to obtain wild ducks for the oven. You hike the riverbank trying to spot ducks before they spot you.  Once ducks are spotted, you must move into shooting range, using the landscape to conceal yourself. Once you have revealed yourself, the ducks fly and you take your shot or not, depending on how well you have calculated your approach. On a flowing river, the calculation as to where the ducks will be by the time you have moved into shooting range is always a gamble.  Running a hundred yards, bent low to the ground is hard work.  Sometimes you stand up, sure that they will be right in front of you only to find no duck in sight.   

Meager results from a satisfying afternoon of jump shooting.
I manged to kill what I at first though was a mallard hen.  But the bird was smaller than a mallard and the beak was yellow -- leading me to think it must have been a Gadwall hen.  After retrieving my duck from the meandering current, I jumped three mallards -- but they saw me more than 100 yards off so I had no shot.  A half a mile downriver I spotted a duck floating downstream.  I ran downstream, bent to as low as possible to prevent my long shadow from falling on the water, to the point where I thought I'd have a good shot. After stalking through the willows to the riverbank, there was no duck in sight.  I hurried downstream again to the point where a long oxbow returned the flow to near where I was standing.  The duck was hidden under the bank I stood on, not four feet from me. It swam out.  I don't shoot ducks on the water. I hollered to get it to fly and instead of taking off, it dove underwater.  I was dumbfounded. I thought, if I was a duck I'd swim downstream with the current to get away.  So I quickly headed downstream wondering how long a duck can stay underwater.  I waited.  No duck. I watched three muskrats swimming in the current along the bank.  I took a few pictures. Finally, I walked back upstream and at the apex of the oxbow bend I watched the mallard drake flush wild a further fifty yards upstream -- giving me no shot.  Smart duck.

One duck is not a meal, I will head back.

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