What Hunting Season Means to Me - Lloyd Kimmen

Now that it’s late November, and hunting season is beginning to wind down, much of the anticipation and excitement has passed. Duck season will be closing in a matter of days , the archery season reopens for the month of December , other than hunting a few wily rooster pheasants , that have survived hunting season , and maybe chasing some bunnies around , which I’m really looking forward to , as both my Lab ,Maggie , and Jack Russell terrier ,Tanzy , both females or “the girls” as I like to call them, are really bored and would love nothing better than a few inches of fresh snow , and a sunny day , so that we can go out rabbit hunting.

Which I so enjoy watching the dogs work , as they work very differently, my lab, ”Maggie“, with the great nose, like most Labradors possess, can skirt the really heavy brush on the downwind side , and rely on her nose to tell her if there is a bunny huddled under the pile , where my little girl “Tanzy”, the Jack Russell terrier, bulls right into the pile as either she doesn’t smell as good as a lab ,or just really prefers to get down and dirty and root them out , which makes it quite a unique combination of hunting dogs. As Tanzy can be hunting on one side , ever keeping an eye on my Lab ,Maggie , and when she sees her tail start to go , she seems to sense when the lab is on  something , she comes storming over , as only a Jack Russell can do ,throws herself headlong into the task of rooting out what ever it is that they smell , be it a rabbit or pheasant , it had better vacate the premises ASAP, because if the little dog gets a hold of what ever it is , the game is over with out me ever firing a shot. She is also good at dispatching any cripples, be it rabbit, pheasant, quail, or what ever. When she extracts them, from a brush pile or tunnel, I have yet to have her retrieve anything alive. I assure you it is quite quick and humane. And she is a flawless retriever, it’s just the first 1-2 seconds that she gets what ever it is in her mouth, a few violent shakes, then she comes trotting back like a seasoned retriever. I also use her for duck hunting, as long as the weather is warm, as she hasn’t the coat of a Labrador, and gets cold if she is wet and has to sit still. She puts most of those big air dogs you see on TV to shame , although see only weights in at 15 lbs ,and is a scant 10” tall to the top of her back, she can routinely leap more than ½ way across our swimming pool which is 20 feet wide , and that is with only about 10-12 feet of starting area, and no raised platform ,I don’t know how far she could go it I had a ramp 3 feet off the water , and a nice long approach like they have on TV, I would guess perhaps 16-18 feet , based on the trajectory.

I guess when I see the slate grey snow clouds rolling in from the North, as they always seem to do, I miss being out on the open water hunting diver ducks, as that was the first kind of hunting I was introduced to. We hunted ducks an old market hunting way, called “Sneak Shooting”, how it works was, you would go out on the big open water, a mile or more off shore, and in the dark set out perhaps 100 -120 decoys, then you would motor upwind 200-300 yards, and anchor your tender boat, and the other boat called a sneak boat, was tendered off the tender boat. We would sit in the tender boat, and as ducks landed in our decoys, we would hop into the sneak boat, which had a plywood screen in front of it, with slots cut out, so the gunner in front could direct the paddle in the rear with hand signals, how they were lined up on the ducks sitting in the decoys. The trick was, is to come directly at the ducks from up wind, and the entire boat was painted a drab slate grey to match the sky and water. the boat is about 19 feet long pointed on both ends, and made absolutely no wake when paddled in calm water, and was only inches off the water, its camouflage out in the open water depended more on it’s color and stealthy low silhouette. The plywood screen in front would act like a small sail, when windy , the paddler had to do little more than steer ,as the wind would push the boat on it’s own. So as you entered the decoys, the real ducks sort of look around at all the decoys wondering why no one is flying off, then the screen is dropped and both men fire at the ducks as the scramble across the water in flight. It is not easy hunting, very physically demanding, rigging all the decoys, in a rolling, pitching sea, waves breaking over the bow, winds howling 20-30 miles per hour, in sometimes a snow storm. It sounds nuts right? But those are the days when you can see thousands of ducks during a day , and I have had times where 200-300 ducks will land in the decoys at one time .And when the sneak boat is in range of that many, and the screen is dropped , and 300 canvasbacks, are running across the water wings flapping feet peddling , as only diver ducks do, well, its bedlam, calamity, and a thrill not to be believed all at the same time.

 And you fire away; knocking down 3-5 birds, and then comes the work if you cripple one.

When crippled , a diver  instantly dives under water to escape , and you usually only get one good opportunity to dispatch it , and if you happen to miss with your first shot , you have to scan the surface back and forth , and hope you spot it when it surfaces sometimes 100 feet or more from where it dove from , and when it surfaces , it will lay it’s head  flat to the water to avoid being seen , and ride the funnel of a wave away from you, it takes a quick accurate first shot . We have chased them for 30 minutes, firing many shots to try to collect them, in a rocking boat, with freezing spray is hitting you in the face! But the shooting can be fantastic when conditions are right.

I guess that is the one thing I miss ,  my dad  and I would always take 2 friends or family members out , what was especially fun, was someone who had never done it before , in the pre-dawn darkness , in 3-4 foot waves, I can still see the whites of their eyes , and the panicked look in their faces, then the actual sneak down on the first group of ducks that came in , as me or my Dad would always handle the boat, as it could be disastrous , if the boat turned sideways , to the on coming waves. And watching someone who has never shot out of a rocking boat,  try to hit ducks as they ran across the top of the water to get air born, we always had a good laugh, then we would tell them, you have to bend and flex from the waist , much like a snow skier does , your upper chest and head stay still , and you bend and flex at the waist ,that way you gun stays relatively still , so you can swing smoothly on the birds as they fly across the bow of the boat. I guess that’s the part I really miss, you see, we were a team, who ever was out with us, it was like being on a football team, everyone helped with the chores of setting and picking up the decoys, being out there on the open water, seeing the incredible amounts of waterfowl, the smell of fresh coffee as we poured it from our thermos when there was a lull in the action. Talking about shotguns, shells, decoys, what we plan to do with our rig next year, the smell of gun powder, the taste of the ice cold spray from the waves breaking over the bow. As  we motored  home in the dark , headed for distant dancing lights , that was a nice warm house , with the smell of dinner cooking , as we undressed , and after dinner , my dad and I would clean birds for an hour or 2 in our utility room, rinsing the birds out over and over , packaging them carefully , and putting them in the freezer , which Mom would treat us to a nice roasted duck dinner with stuffing , much like a thanksgiving dinner, throughout the next few months. And after dinner , the first thing we did was tune into the news to see what the weather for the next week would be , and  he would make plans to leave work at 11 am , and swing by the school to pick me up , I would love to hear that over the loud speaker at school, on a November day , “Lloyd Kimmen, report to the office “ , I would run out of class , knowing I wasn’t in any trouble ,but thinking I was the luckiest kid on earth , and  that I was going, ”Duck Hunting”. And it makes me a little sad , when I see some of our nieces and nephews , and their youngster’s ,that will probably never get to experience hunting, as it seems we lose a more outdoorsman with each and every generation , seems sitting on the couch playing video games is what most young people do these days . Heck when I was 8-10 years old, I could tell you at a glance, what species of duck it was that was flying by at 200 yards away. Both my son and daughter hunt , not so  much my daughter these days , as she and Andre are in the process of starting a family , and are expecting a baby boy in 4 ½  months, which excites me to no end. I look forward to taking the little guy out , even as an infant in one of those back pack baby carriers , into the woods , so he can see and smell , and look at all the wonders that are virtually either right out your back yard or a very short drive away. And when he can walk , we will go fishing , scouting for deer , golfing, tennis, baseball, football ,hockey, I really hope he finds something he really loves to do , something that you can do with a friend , or all alone , and enjoy both equally. I want him to see how beautiful , a crisp, clear ,sunny ,frosty October morning is like from his tree stand, not be sitting in front of a TV playing Nintendo and talking on his cell phone.

As I’m driving down the freeway , on my way to work, I see the zombies going through the motions, to a job they hate , coming home drained , eating dinner , hitting the couch , waking up to do it all over again, not knowing or caring what month it is , and cussing the rain and snow , or complaining it’s too hot…..Never knowing the incredible heart pounding rush , as the 8 point buck , that you have saw the previous years , is walking on a trail , that will take him within 15 yards of your tree stand , as you wait motionlessly , bow at the ready, and finally you draw your bow , and he stops right in your shooting lane , and the arrow hits the exact spot that you aimed it , and as he rushes off fatally hit , a warm glow comes over you, and you sit and just take it all in , your heart still beating rapidly as you find him where he has fallen. And you sit with him silently for minutes , as a whole rush of emotions go through your body , elation, sadness, excitement, regret fullness, but in the end , it feels right,

Which, I guess is “what hunting really means to me"