Thursday, March 15, 2007

Duck Hunt - Part 2

I hadn't bothered with the alarm clock since dad is usually up at 5 a.m. anyway and I figured, rightly so, that he'd knock on the door when it was time to get up. Knock he did right at the stroke of 5:15-ish. Oddly enough, I didn't have any trouble waking up and just throwing on clothes, but I did feel somewhat out of place when I saw both dad and Brother G wearing the same camo shirts while I made do with a light green one I wore down the day before.

We sauntered out into the lodge as only we men can do and found absolutely nothing waiting for us in terms of breakfast. So Brother G and I snagged some water bottles from behind the bar, then found some stiff granola bars to munch on before the big hunt.

Mmmm, tasted like victory mixed with peanut butter.

Once we scarfed those down, our guide walked in and asked if we were all set. Guide-Me-Yonder then walked us out to his truck where we loaded up our guns, ammo, flack jackets, mortars, walkie-talkies, and some Snapple (don't ask). Once everything was ready, Guide-Me-Yonder put pedal to metal and we tore off down the winding road and headed towards the river.

It bears mentioning that it was pitch black outside underneath a cloud-covered sky and with temperatures hovering around 60 degrees. Basically the absolute worst weather possible for duck hunting.

We arrived at the river bank a short while later, then unloaded our gear from the truck and moved it over to the long raft Guide-Me-Yonder had in a trailer we'd been towing. Since it was black outside, and silly me for leaving my night vision goggles back at Casa de Skim, I'd completely missed it. Guide-Me-Yonder threw the raft on the ground, which we promptly filled with equipment, let Ol' Yeller out of her cage so she could run around, then picked up some rope at the front of the raft and wrapped it around his upper half.

At first I thought that was sort of a peculiar way to hang yourself, driving down to a river with three other guys with guns and a dog then wrapping a rope around your neck and walking away until it stranggles you, but he pulled the raft over onto the river (which I hadn't seen since it was, wait for it, pitch black) and started heading towards our spot. We followed as best we could.

Now, here's where we were - a small river in central Texas at roughly 5:45 a.m. on an overcast morning. Zero visibility except from the lone flashlight Guide-Me-Yonder was pointing out in front of him, and he was about 30 feet in front of us. We were covered head-to-toe in gear that would make a survivalist proud, and the thick black high-water boots we had on were trudging through the riverbed while the water hit us mid-thigh. Oh, and because this wasn't fun enough we carried our shotguns on our shoulders. I carried mine across both shoulders because it seemed to provide better balance, but that didn't stop or even slow the stream of profanities issuing forth from Yours Truly's otherwise clean mouth whenever I slipped.

We hiked like this for around 10 minutes which meant all of us were sweating like hogs in August by the time we reached our designated "hot spot." Looking at it from the river, I took the right flank, Brother G took the left flank, and dad took the middle. Meanwhile, Guide-Me-Yonder and Ol' Yeller set up a little ways to my left, and there we waited for the flocks to come hither. We sat there a moment in silence before Guide-Me-Yonder stood up and walked to the river where he proceeded to toss several duck lures into the black water. When he returned to his spot, we all hunkered down. We waited for roughly 45 minutes before the first hint of trouble stirred up.

We heard the echo of a few shots fired down river (to my left) and figured the birds would eventually migrate down to us. Then we heard the distant roar of something else, something that belongs on a river but not at that moment. It was an airboat firing up its engine, and the noise must have carried down stream far past our hot spot. Airboats by themselves are not something one uses when stealth is a key factor like in, say, duck hunting, where you need your enemy to pretty much be up on you without realizing it before you can get a clean shot.

Guess what went right out the window the second that fool fired up his engine? If you said "any chance of surprising anything between here and Kansas" then five points are awarded to Gryffindor. It was unreal that this fool would go out RIGHT THAT SECOND and look for his spot, which he did while right in front of us.

The roar of his engine grew and grew and grew until we saw him spin around the corner and slowly go past us. One would think he'd be in a hurry to get to his spot considering he was late, but not this clown. Oh no, he decided to take his sweet time and slowly inched his boat upstream while waving his floodlight to and fro looking for his own hot spot while we just stared at him. He must have seen us pointing our guns at him with a "YOU WILL LEAVE RIGHT THIS SECOND!!!" look on our camo-covered faces because he hurried past where we were once he recognized he was in the wrong spot. He tore down the river and eventually his engine switched off...

Only to switch back on a few moments later as he kept going.

"That fella's gonna get his ass blown off if he pulls that crap again going back in," said Guide-Me-Yonder.

"No kidding," replied my dad. "What sort of asshat comes out late in a %#$@'n airboat? It's not like the birds are deaf. Hell, they probably heard him two states over."
In short, we were already hot under the collar from the clothes, the weather, and sludging through the riverbed but now we were pissed too. At least we were armed and could start blasting at any moment so relieving stress was the least of our worries.

Guide-Me-Yonder waded out into the river and reset the faux ducks he'd dropped as lures when we first arrived, since they were now everywhere but where they should have been. Once he finished, he motioned us to reset ourselves and get ready. So we shifted our weight on our seats, rechecked our firearms, chugged some beer, smoked some weed, flipped through the available men's magazines, made smores, and basically waited like bumps on logs for the next hour.

Then we heard it.

It was soft, and at first our ears didn't pick it up. But the wind carried a slight sound upon its back and Guide-Me-Yonder whispered to us to get ready. We stared at the sky in vain trying to pick out which birds were ducks, yet all we saw were crows and more crows and maybe a plane. But that could have been a duck too.

Guide-Me-Yonder shouted at us and we three kings of army surplus looked up again and spotted two birds flying overhead. Four shotguns turned towards the sky and opened fire with a thundering cacophony.
We emptied our guns at these nefarious foes, only to see nothing in the sky once the smoke cleared. We looked at the water below to see if their scattered remains were at least visible, but there was nothing.

Not even a feather.

It felt like that scene in Predator where Mac grabs the mini-gun and unleashes Hell on the jungle followed shortly by Dutch, Dillon, Poncho, and the remaining team who open up nine cans of whoop-ass only to hit air.
"Not a thing, not a &*$%'in trace. No blood, no bodies. We hit nothing," said Poncho.
We, too, sat in awe. Clearly, this breed of bird was far more devious than we'd been lead to believe. One minute they're flitting harmlessly about and the next... they pull a Houdini and vanish before our very eyes.

Oh, it was on.

Guide-Me-Yonder warned us to prepare for more ducks. I wondered how any of them could have heard that racket and thought it sounded like a reasonable place to relax and have a cold one. Of course, their slippery friends may have gone back and told them that right in front of us was the best place to chill because we'd hit everything but them. Clearly, the Army was mistaken in rejecting my application for sniper, though that may also have to do with listing "Pisces" under accomplishments.

We threw some more brush up in front of our position, then radioed for backup. After we were laughed off the frequency by the police, Guide-Me-Yonder decided some recon was in order. He whistled to Ol' Yeller and they headed downstream a bit to see whether Charlie was around the bend. They exchanged hand/paw signals and went in tandem down the river, only to return a few minutes later.

"They are coming..." he said.
We readied ourselves for the onslaught, and hid in our respective foxholes. The brush was pulled high and nary a foe would evade us this time. Then we heard Guide-Me-Yonder whistle. When we turned to look at him he was pointing at the stream off to his left and then we saw them.

Two birds, minding their own business, thinking they were so high and mighty as to defy us.

We cocked, locked, and were ready to rock when Guide-Me-Yonder whistled again at us. He raised his weapon and aimed at the birds, as did we all, then nodded his head at Yours Truly to take the first shot. I aimed right between them and squeezed the trigger.

The scattershot hit them both square in the chest and they launched into the air.
The one on the right made it about six inches off the water's surface before Guide-Me-Yonder's shot brought it back down. Brother G and my dad fired as well but neither hit the second target.
Guide-Me-Yonder's next shot took down the fell beast and it splashed into the water followed a split second by Ol' Yeller leaping after it. Once the dog snatched up the first bird, he returned and dropped it right at our feet then headed back out for the second one.

I understand now why people who have been in combat say firefights never last as long as they do in the movies, and describe "engagements" as quick and startling. It was over before we knew it, but we were victorious...

"Heads up!" shouted Guide-Me-Yonder.
We spun around and looked straight up to see another few birds coming in, and the shotguns went up and blasted the birds out of the sky. Two more were felled by this last round, and while I suspect Guide-Me-Yonder was the one who tagged these as well it remains unclear who fired from the Grassy Knoll. There may have been additional shooters but with so much carnage it was difficult to tell friend from foe. Fortunately, we five made it out alive with our victory birds safely tucked away.

Then we heard the roar of the airboat again, and it sounded like it was coming straight at us.

Yes, again.

"Oh for the love of God..." said dad.
Sure enough, that bloody airboat came roaring around the bend and headed straight at us. It flew past us without so much as a glance and headed down river. Once it was out of sight, each of us loosened our grip on the guns. Instinctively, we'd all wanted to shoot the fool but fortunately restrained ourselves.

We agreed that it had been a fine hunt, then took a round of pictures holding up our guns and dead birds in celebration of our victory. After gathering up the decoys and throwing them back into the sled, we headed towards the spot where we came in. Since it was pitch black at the time we arrived I figured Guide-Me-Yonder's thoughts were to just head in the driection we came from and when we see our truck we'd be fine. So it was that we hiked back through the river lugging our guns, ammo, flack jackets, mortars, walkie-talkies, and what was left of the Snapple (really, don't ask).

After loading things up when we made it back to the truck, Guide-Me-Yonder and Ol' Yeller's noses perked up simultaneously. At first, I figured Charlie was hiding in the bush somewhere waiting to ambush us but since none of us was taken out by a sniper on the way up stream I figured we were safe.

"Hold it a sec," Guide-Me-Yonder said under his breath. "Gotta check somethin' I saw up stream."
He walked back to the river and waded in a few feet, then knelt and looked off in the distance for a minute. Meanwhile, we finished unloading our guns and were ready to head back to the ranch for some breakfast when Guide-Me-Yonder walked up.
"Spotted a couple a birds up the river a stretch," he drawled. "Let's hop on in and go check 'em out."
We crammed back into the truck and Guide-Me-Yonder peeled off up the hill and around the bend.

Imagine our surprise when he turned around a corner and we found ourselves watching a Motorcross track fly by on the left.

"We get roughly 500 to a thousand folk down here come March," Guide-Me-Yonder said. "People who live 'round here hate it 'cause of the traffic, but it brings in good money to the ranch."
Of all the things I didn't expect to see that day, a Motorcross track would rank pretty high on the list. I had to admit to being curious to see it when the place was hopping because it looked well laid out. I really got a close look when Guide-Me-Yonder cut a hard right and my face smacked into the window courtesy of the G-force. It didn't help that Brother G thought shoving me against the door would be funny.

His time will come. Oh yes, it will come and that right soon.

We came to a screeching halt on the other side of the course, then fled the vehicle alongside dad and Guide-Me-Yonder. Ol' Yeller stayed in the kennel as Guide-Me-Yonder motioned to us to follow him. He pointed over a hill towards some trees.

"Right on the other side of that is a path leadin' down to the river. You two head that way, and me and your dad'll head back towards the river to try and flush 'em towards ya."
Eh, why not? It worked so well in Predator, so why not in real life? That would be sarcasm, just to clarify for those in the peanut gallery.

Brother G and I loaded up then headed towards the woods. When we reached the edge we walked further in wondering what we were looking for. So long as it wasn't the Blair Witch I figured we'd be all right. Then we found what Guide-Me-Yonder initially pointed us towards.

A ravine was about three feet down and completely covered in fresh mud.

"Any bets on whether it's actually quicksand?" I asked.

"If you want to go first and get pulled under then I'm taking your birds," replied Brother G.

Ahh, brotherly love. Nothing quite like it.

We found a small path (by "small" I mean roughly the width of my thigh) down towards the river and made it to the edge. We carefully slid into the knee-deep water and looked down river where we saw a flock of ducks sitting. With weapons at the ready, we waited for the signal from the far end. And waited. And waited some more.


The flock took off and headed north which was away from us. Brother G and I looked at one another and we both shrugged. We stood there in the water for another minute before I heard dad shouting my name.

"Guess it's time to leave," I said.
We helped one another up into the ravine and back towards the truck where dad and Guide-Me-Yonder were waiting.
"Let's get back and snag some breakfast, what do you say?" asked my dad.

"Sounds like a plan," I replied.

We hopped into the truck and again were slammed into the windows as Guide-Me-Yonder debated whether the truck could actually take the Motorcross track. Happily he only made it up one hill before opting to forgo the rest. Unhappily, that meant a straight shot downhill with Guide-Me-Yonder shouting "YEEEEHAAAAWWWWW!!!" at the top of his lungs and refused to hit the brakes.

My shorts were not amused.

Eventually, we made it back to the hacienda in one piece and unloaded our gear. Walking into the building we smelled food, but couldn't peg what exactly it was.

"Welcome back, senors," said the helpful waitress in a thick Mexican accent. "Today the chef has prepared some grilled ahi tuna along with an assortment of greens and cabbage for your lunch."
We looked at each other.
"Wasn't there a place called The Skillet back up the highway?" I asked.

"You know," replied my dad as he pointed at me, "I seem to recall just such a place. Shall we head that way?"

Brother G and I were already climbing into our trucks by the time dad finished his question. After killing game and showing the world what monumental badassery the Skim family was capable of, we demanded hot food guaranteed to clog every artery in our bodies. Grilled ahi tuna?

Sorry chef, but we're hunters. Hunters don't do grilled ahi tuna.

After lunch, dad and I headed back to Big D while Brother G split off towards Cow Town. It was an excellent way to spend Friday and Saturday morning and I figured I'd get the chance to rest once I walked back through the doors of Casa de Skim. Flying past the Wal-Mart driver still stuck in the southbound traffic was kind of funny, but by this point the traffic jam had turned into an armed stand-off complete with SWAT units so humor was in the eye of the beholder.

On the plus side, a pretty cool event would happen that evening which I was completely unprepared for. Dad mentioned he'd love to do this again so we'll see what happens next season. Here's hoping the flock we scared off doesn't use the interim to plan revenge for their fallen comrades.

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