A Hunt to Remember
I grew up in my father's sporting goods store, surrounded by hunters and hunting equipment. I heard all the stories that the old hunters told about flocks of ducks that blocked out the sun, or the goose that was so big it took two men to carry it, etc. But no matter how tall their tales were, it was very clear to me that these guys were having a great time in the outdoors.
Back then, there weren't any public hunting areas nearby. All the lakes around Clinton were privately owned by big duck clubs or farmers who were either duck hunters themselves or leased them out to others. And since my father was busy running a business, it wasn't often a kid like me got a chance to hunt ducks. So when John Calloway took be along, it was sure to be a day to remember.
John Calloway was a retired railroad freight worker, with no children of his own. He lived two blocks from my father's store and often stopped in for a visit. He was far from being wealthy, but he did own a small duck lake in the Big Creek bottoms, which he hunted almost every day of the season, except Sundays.
When John was very young, his father was killed in a duck blind when a gun accidentally fell over and discharged. After that, John spent the rest of his Sunday's in church, not the blind.
I guess I was about eleven years old when John Calloway asked my father if he could take me hunting at his duck lake. The next day he picked me up at the store about 10:30 am and we drove about six miles down the highway, a few more down a gravel road into the bottoms, and then walked a quarter mile to the banks of Big Creek.
Hanging across the creek was a foot bridge suspended by cables. The narrow boards made it look more like a coon crossing than a something a human would use. As I inched across the bridge, gripping a cable in one hand and my shotgun in the other, I couldn't help glancing past my feet at Big Creek which seemed so very, very far below.
On the other side of the creek, I pried my hand loose from the cable and we walked a couple of hundred yards through the woods until we came to John's duck huntin' cabin. It was fairly small and built up on stilts to accommodate the occasional high water. Behind the cabin was a pen where, in older days, live mallard hens were kept for use as decoys.
As we climbed the stairway to the cabin, flocks of ducks passed overhead. Inside there were bundles of decoys hanging from the ceiling, a couple of bunk beds and an old kerosene stove. John got out the groceries he'd brought and cooked us both a steak and some fried potatoes. It was a wonderful meal, as I remember.
After lunch we climbed down the stairs and stepped into a boat that was already loaded with decoys. I sat among the artificial flock as John polled the boat down a narrow canal that passed through the timber.
I was fascinated with everything. Even John's decoys were something amazing to see. They all had real duck wings attached with rubber bands and their heads were covered with the skins of real mallard drakes.
At the end of the canal the water opened up into a five acre shallow marsh. We climbed out of the boat and set four dozen decoys around a concrete pit blind. It was a beautiful bluebird day and the ducks were everywhere. It still rates as the best duck hunt I ever had.
John Calloway has passed on to that Great Marsh in the Sky, but I'll never forget the day he took me hunting. I believe it was that one, single day that permanently burned the desire to hunt ducks within me. I just hope that I can do the same for at least one youth during my life, and be the subject of their story about the duck hunt they remember most.