HUMOR: Special Delivery…Birds, Part One
Let me tell you about Bob. He doesn’t believe in following the crowd. He’s always looking for an angle. He might not know what he’s doing, but he’s doing it his way.
Following Bob means you’re often lost, as you forever push into new territory. “There’s got to be pheasants here,” he’ll say. “Look at all that scrub willow.” And then, “Where are we, anyway?” In this part of the world you could be in a lot of places, since the southwest corner of Minnesota touches three states, and ain’t too far from Nebraska. You are really not supposed to hunt in another state without a license. Correction: You’re absolutely not supposed to hunt without a license. More than once we’ve had to leave South Dakota. Fast.
The unusual approach is Bob’s hallmark, the theory being whatever you’re hunting (or angling) for has been educated beyond capture by the ordinary, clumsy, or less-imaginative sports person.
“There’s plenty of birds here,” he tells you. “But they’ve seen this program before. Let’s go in the back door.” You drive a couple miles north and right away jump a pair of hen pheasants from the ditch. Maybe he’s onto something. But you’re still a long way from hunting, and after a half-mile, muddy slog through plowed fields you finally approach public land. Then the inevitable. A heavy embankment drops into a drainage ditch, and at six feet deep and ten feet wide it stops us cold. But it doesn’t slow down Bob’s nine-month old Springer, Corky. With Bob screaming bloody murder the dog swims across the ditch and runs wild, jumping dozens of roosters. It sure looks like fun. Finally we just sit down and watch.
“See,” Bob says. “I told you there were birds in there.”
His plans are not without logic. One season we had a tremendous cold snap, right in the middle of November. The ponds froze ice skating solid, and looking into the sky brought a sight that bestirs any waterfowler’s heart: Thousands of mallards winging south in great, undulating flocks. Bob studied the weather. Sure enough it was fifty degrees warmer in Iowa. Bob and his buddy Earl jumped in the truck. “They gotta come down sometime,” he said, and off they roared.
Earl told me about it when he got back.
“We bought licenses at the border. Right away I sensed trouble. We weren’t seeing any ducks. But Bob said not to worry. We’ll set up in the first open water and be waiting for them when they arrive. Trouble is, we were racing the weather, too. We drove almost to the Missouri border before finding an ice-free pond and launching the duck boat. After laying out about two hundred decoys we waited. And waited. Then the word came. A warm front had melted all the sloughs in Minnesota! Ducks everywhere! We threw the decoys back in the truck and tore back home, arriving after midnight. The next morning we pulled up to Watson Sag but couldn’t launch. The sloughs froze over again and all the ducks flew south.”
“They’ll do that,” I said.
“The whole trip I never saw a bird. All we did was drive to Bumf*ck, Iowa and back.”
That certainly sounded like a long drive.
Failure never dissuades the great ones, and Bob ran up to me one day so excited he could hardly talk. He kept looking around, and spoke in a low voice. “Who knows more about birds are than anyone? I mean in the whole county?” Farmers? I said. Bob laughed. “What do they know? I mean who gets out, who really knows the territory, who drives every road every day?” He answered his own question.
“The guys in those little trucks?”
“Think of it. They drive every road, in every kind of weather, in every season. They know every farm, every slough, bay, creek, ditch, and dike. They log the kind of miles you and I can only dream of. So, what do you think we should do?”
“Better,” he said. “We’ll follow one.”