“Let’s go duck hunting!” That singular phrase uttered by one of my best friends, Billy, at co-ed softball a couple weeks before opening day changed my life. I was hesitant; I’d never hunted anything in my life. I didn’t have a clue you could even hunt ducks in Arizona. I told him no at first, I can’t be away from work for days on end, I have no gear, and I don’t even own a shotgun. He laughed and said I could borrow almost everything for my first time, and we’d only be gone for the morning, not days. Billy told me I needed a camo shirt, hat and a couple boxes of 3-inch shells. He had a set of hip boots and a shotgun for me to borrow. It was official, it was my right of passage.
The night before the Arizona desert opener I went to Cabela’s and bought my first shotgun, a Weatherby SA-08. I also picked up my first ever hunting license, dove and duck stamps, a couple boxes of black cloud shells and I was ready. Except, I got home and realized I didn’t know how to put this shotgun together. Some of you are laughing reading this; I had no idea that it was a truly simple process. The only shotguns I’d been around were Remington 870 pumps and I never had to assemble or disassemble them. So I put it together following the instructions. I packed a bag with some snacks and drinks and laid down to sleep. I was excited, beyond excited, nervous, ecstatic, and anxious. Sleep eluded me this Thursday night.
Finally 1:30 am, I roll out of bed and get ready, having spent the last 4 hours thinking about how the day was going to go. Would I even hit a duck? I’ve never shot at a living animal let alone a flying one. That was many of hundreds of thoughts that raced
through my head and held my brain hostage from the friendly confines of REM sleep. I double checked that my bag was packed and I wasn’t forgetting anything, gave the shotgun another once over to make sure plug was in. Kissed the wife and headed out the door to meet Billy at his house. I get there by 2:30 and we load up his vehicle and I’m actually on my way to my first duck hunt!
We get to the spot around 3:30 am and start to unload. Billy hands me the hip boots I put them on but have no belt so I have to tie them to my belt loops. The hike to the water’s edge was about 20 minutes, not terrible, except I’m carrying my bag, a small blind bag, my shotgun with no sling because I like to make things difficult, oh and I’m walking in those waders. This isn’t nice easy walking trails, it’s the Arizona desert. There’s a steep water runoff area we have to descend, full of loose river rocks, chollas that have been dislodged and soft dirt edges. It’s not easy to hike up out of either loaded down with gear.
We get to a spot we have to crawl about 10 yards under a brush tunnel. At this point, I’m questioning whether or not this was necessary, or some hazing ritual these guys have. Fast forward 5 years later now, that tunnel, in fact, is not hazing and we still have to crawl under it every time we go to the spot. Back to 5 years ago, after the runoff ditch, the tunnel and 20-minute hike, we arrive at the water’s edge. Time to set up I thought. I was wrong…
My buddy Billy, his son, and 2 other guys start walking across the body of water to the catty-corner shore. To walk around the on or near the shoreline was impossible as cattails and desert shrubbery met in a tangled web of nastiness no one wants to encounter. My turn to start walking, I looked like a baby giraffe trying to find its legs walking in waders in water for the first time. Backpack, blind bag slung over my shoulders, shotgun
in one hand, phone with a flashlight on in the other to see where I’m stepping. It was a comical sight for them, all experienced duck hunters. I made it to the other side, over the rocky grass filled bottom of this desert water hole. I never fell and to this day that streak exists.
After the spread is set up and we get situated it’s about an hour to legal shooting time. Naps are in order, some last minute advice for me, and then with minutes left until we are legal shells are loaded, shooting lanes explained…it’s go time!!!!! The first birds come rolling in, high and fast. I stand up on the uneven, rocky wet swamp like shoreline shoulder my shotgun and aim almost 45 degrees up and BANG.. the combination of the
ground, my improper footing, standing too quickly and recoil of shooting a 3 inch for the first time ever sat me back in my chair. I stood back up aimed and dropped a teal. That was my first duck. A green-winged teal. The day continued with us seeing groups of 4-6 birds at a time. An action-packed day that I was warned would not happen often. Those words have held true. We ended my first duck hunt with 26 birds, mixed bag of pintails, mallards, and teal. 9 short of a 5 man limit for us in AZ.
Since that day duck hunting has consumed me. If given the choice between big game hunting and duck hunting I’ll choose the ducks every time. There is nothing that gets my heart racing more than seeing birds locked up, dropping into the spread. Let’s go duck hunting!
Who still remembers their first hunt and what made it so special?