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In the Moment: Oregon Duck Hunt

Gary Lewis author badge,

idgeons," Sackerson whispered. A flock of ducks streaked out of the sunrise and I picked one out, swung with it and put the bead on the tip of its beak and squeezed, followed-through. Missed. Fifteen ducks in, fifteen out. Beside me, Ben Brown missed, Nolan King missed, my dad missed. And our guide Alex Sackerson smiled. More for next time, more for our friends down the river.

And then came the teal. And I remembered. There was one day when I was good enough. They were teal and it was Mexico where the limit was 25. I quit shooting that day when I had 17 to my credit, content to watch them fly.

Last week we hunted the Crooked River out of a blind I'd hunted before, upstream from other blinds I've enjoyed. No two days are the same.

Reno, a Chesapeake Bay retriever makes a retrieve out of the frigid water of the Crooked River. Photo by Gary Lewis
Reno, a Chesapeake Bay retriever makes a retrieve out of the frigid water of the Crooked River. Photos by author

For my dad, it was the third duck hunt of his life. It was Ben Brown's first. I tried to see it through his eyes.

"I'm a total urban guy," Brown said. He grew up on the East Coast and has lived in Texas and in California. He carried a Remington 870 and he wore good camo and had the right boots. He'd been to the range to shoot targets; he'd listened to the duck calls on YouTube.

Alex Sackerson, of Predawn Adventures, calls to a flock turning overhead
Alex Sackerson, of Predawn Adventures, calls to a flock turning overhead

"It was fun," Brown said later. "I'm trying to figure out how I can do it again."

None of us shot well, although there were brief flashes of brilliance. I shot a mallard that came in low and flared over the decoys. Brown tipped over a bufflehead. King made a great shot on a Barrow's goldeneye and dad made a great solo effort on a ringneck.

With ten birds laid out in front of us, we had a mixed bag of seven different species.

We all come to duck hunting from different places, but I think the birds draw us in first. Each has a signature wing beat, a distinctive call. We learn the most when we hunt with a guide a few times then go on our own.

Ben Brown (left), Nolan King and Don Lewis scan the skies during an infrequent break in the action.
Ben Brown (left), Nolan King and Don Lewis scan the skies during an infrequent break in the action.

My first duck taken on a solo hunt is the one I remember the most. I didn't have a dog to retrieve it so I waded out in the lake and picked it up, a mallard drake, still warm, its feathers brilliant in the morning sun.

I've hunted waterfowl in Mexico, Canada and South Africa and seen the sun come up over fields of maize and salty bays with the birds coming out of the sun. To see new places and new faces, to share the joy of the chase with peoples I'd never meet otherwise, is a part of why we do this. One fellow waded in to his chest and pushed our boat through the swamp and made motor sounds. He picked up our birds when we shot them and we shared few words in common, but we forged a bond in those hunts.

Ben Brown and Reno with a pair of ducks headed home for dinner.
Ben Brown and Reno with a pair of ducks headed home for dinner.

For some people, the hunt is about the dog and I get that. In Sackerson's blind we had his dog Reno with us, a Chesapeake with enough muscle to break through ice and swim the current day after day. We also brought along my pup, Liesl, to get a taste of waterfowling for the first time. We watched Reno make a retrieve on a Barrow's goldeneye, finding it on the far bank in tall grass, three hundred yards from the blind. And as soon as he was back in the blind he was ready for the next one.

For some hunters, it's about tradition. They hunt the same blinds on the same days, year after year. Maybe it's about opening morning, or a Christmas or New Year's ritual. Whatever it is, the tradition is more important than how many ducks are bagged. The guns play into this. Some friends of mine wouldn't think of hunting with any other shotgun than the one handed down from their grandfathers. It's their link to the past.

I suspect that for Ben Brown, after this first duck hunt, what draws him back will be the culinary aspect of the sport. I handed him a jar of Justy's Jelly, pineapple roasted garlic, and he took two ducks home, a bufflehead and a mallard, to work his magic on.

For me the magic is in the moment. We watch the weather forecasts, we make our plans, we meet for doughnuts well before first light, then set the decoys in the dark and crawl into the blind as the sun lights the tops of the mountains. Way off in the east a flock appears. Mallards? No, they're widgeon! The birds turn to the call and cup their wings, dropping down from 13 stories up, now 20 yards out, their wings cupped over the decoys.

Gary Lewis is the host of Frontier Unlimited TV and author of John Nosler – Going Ballistic, A Bear Hunter's Guide to the Universe, Hunting Oregon and other titles. Contact Gary at

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