Monday, December 31, 2007

A Promise Kept

Since my son -- now 15 -- was about 9, he has been asking to go hunting, and I told him to check back when he had taken the Missouri Hunter Safety Course. You have to be 11 to be certified, so this put off the day of reckoning for a couple years.

I last hunted when I lived in Kansas between 1977 and 1979. It was enjoyable, but I gravitated over the years to fishing, and specifically fly fishing. Hunting never lost its allure for me, but I just never got out to hunt. By the time my wife and I started raising a son, the time constraints just weren't conducive to getting out.

Well, when my son was 11, he took the hunter safety course, and we started shooting at target and trap ranges together. I started purchasing the annual hunting and fishing combination license, and even added the migratory waterfowl option a time or two. I still couldn't find the time, and I suspect that I was just a little daunted by passing on a tradition that I had never fully embraced. Over the past few years he dropped hints that some of his school buddies would let him come along when they went hunting with their dads, but I felt that I needed to be a part of this rite of passage.

As luck and timing would have it, a friend of many years who works for the Missouri Department of Conservation, and is a skilled sportsman offered to take my son and me out for some duck hunting. Saturday the 29th of December was the day we chose. Ordinarily it takes a crowbar to pry my son out of bed on a Saturday morning, but when he was awakened at 4:15, he got dressed and was ready to go. We met my friend at the headquarters of Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area near Columbia for the 5:00AM drawing for hunting locations. We we didn't draw a low enough number, so we went out to the Missouri River near the conservation area and tried to lure in some ducks. The river itself had a strong current, but wing dams had created a pretty quiet backwater, and we set up the decoys, and sat on overturned plastic buckets and waited for the sun to come up.

We saw plenty of ducks and geese, but most of them were flying high. Occasionally a solitary mallard or a pair of mallards came in close enough to take a quick look, but they moved on. We saw large numbers of seagulls, and couple herons working the river, and we heard crows. The closest we came to shooting was when a small flock of geese came overheard from behind, but shooting a goose in the butt is not a high percentage shot. Now if we had been facing away from the river....

Essentially, this was "catch and release" hunting. We saw plenty, but few came within range, and we chose to not take any marginal shots.

We did have a special treat about halfway through the morning. My son suddenly said "those are otters!" and we looked where he was pointing, and sure enough, there were a couple otters cavorting in the slow water. They came in and checked out the decoys, and we counted 4 of these beautiful creatures. One of them looked our way, and started snorting like a small pig. Soon they were all looking at us, and hissing and snorting, and after a few moments they swam off downstream.

Duck season ends New Years Day, and I told my boy if he wanted to get up a 4:00am again, we could try to draw a location within the conservation area. We'll see... The overnight low is forecast to be about 10 degrees with a high of 21.

This was an enjoyable morning. My son and I learned a bit about waterfowl hunting from an expert, and we had a great time. My promise of several years ago was kept, and if my son wants to continue, then this is something we can do together.

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