A darn good duck-hunting story

Published 9:56 am Saturday, October 22, 2011

by Cliff Barnes

The love of water fowling is in my blood.

At 12 years of age, I went duck hunting in the Great Dismal Swamp, and my memory recalls that at age 16, my brother let me borrow his car, and I drove to Knotts Island, N.C., and stopped at a country store.

I went inside and asked the “boys” if anyone could be my guide. One fellow volunteered, saying, “Come on, boy, we’ll go duck hunting.” He did it for the pure enjoyment of the sport — no pay expected — and in fact, when the hunt was over, he gave me a decoy that I call to this day “Traveler.”

I am dressed in a coat and tie or suit at some business meeting or other affair when my mind escapes to a more enjoyable place: a camouflage-clothes place.

Last season, goose hunting started off with a bang, but it appeared that a fair bunch moved further south or to other feeding grounds. Chances are, before the season is out, some of them will return to their favorite feeding grounds, and I wish to personally extend them a most heartfelt welcome back.

What fool wants to brave all types of weather and thinks he is having fun?

It has started to spit snow. Now, if I can make it across this shallow ditch, I’ll be exactly where I want to be. The light skim of snow on the ice will make the decoys look more natural.

I just made the dumbest mistake of the hunt, thinking the ice would support my weight. Loud cracks filled the air as the water filled my boots. By now, poor ol’ Rover is iced over from head to toe.

Rover looks up at me as if to say, “I don’t want to be man’s best friend, a faithful and trusting friend; it would have been nice to stay by the fireplace.”

He looks at his master, hoping for a treat and thinking he would have a chance to retrieve a duck, which is a guarantee of receiving a treat. Rover wants to retrieve a fat greenhead that will make the old man’s chest swell with pride.

The old master’s chest waders broke at the straps and into the water went all his shotgun shells, plus Rover’s packet of treats. From the look on Rover’s face, seeing his treats sink out of sight, one would think maybe he wants the title “man’s worst enemy” instead of “man’s best friend,” which is understandable.


Out fluttered a crippled mallard trying for freedom and beyond the master’s reach, heading down the creek on frozen water! Rover got so excited thinking all is not lost — a treat could still be possible.

Being the son of the first game warden in Gates County, N.C., I guess maybe I had little of the preacher’s son’s blood in me: Do a little more, stay a little past quitting time and forgetting how to read the watch. Get by with a little more. Stretch the rules.

Being the last day of gun season, it was customary to “pull the cork” in appreciation of a good hunting season. We raised the glass as high as possible and began to toast the best duck season yet.

Suddenly, the sound of rotten timbers giving way could be heard and the blind collapsed as it gave way to the joyful celebration. The blind simply had more fun than it could support, and down it came into the water.

Guns, shells and all kinds of duck-hunting paraphernalia, plus 300 pounds of flesh and clothing — all for the cause. What would one not give the collapse of a duck blind and loss of all this for one more time of fellowship, companionship and camaraderie.


My lifelong love off water fowling is the single most motivating factor in this writing. My memories of the past are there to provide comfort in the present.

The story I just wrote and those experiences are the kind I now just dream about. The memories of these hunts help lighten the burden of the days when one can no longer go into a field.

There is comradeship among hunters that is of the closest human relationships, I once heard, and believe this to be true, which is why I pass along my interest in how water fowling can enrich one’s life.

CLIFF BARNES is a Hunterdale resident and a retired Union Camp Corp. superintendent of wood residue. An avid duck hunter, he can be reached at 562-4502.