With a week left in our Alaska season and light fading six minutes daily, I had time, inspiration, and things to say, so I started writing the "Sky Blaster Journals"-a chronicle of my duck hunting adventures. After leaving King Salmon in a blizzard and missing our connecting flight due to a delayed veterinarian visit, last night we arrived on the mainland (Washington). Tomorrow we’ll be heading south into Oregon and preparing for an upcoming hunt in Alberta.
I hope you enjoy the first day in the series....(I almost changed the name to the Muzzle Blasted Minutes, but my ear healed.) Names may be changed to protect the not-so-innocent.
|Looking out from the blind.|
Sunday, Sept 30, 012, early morning, Lower Naknek River, Bristol Bay, Alaska
“My feet are frozen to the bow” I whispered. (Because that’s what you do in the pitch black wee morning hours-you whisper) He laughed. “No really, I can’t move.” Holding two shotguns, a backpack, and an ammo bag, I stood frozen in a predicament. Once Justin forcefully released my feet, my felt soles slid along the iced bow and leaning on survival instincts, I righted myself before hitting the deck of the boat. Cold crept into my bones and I figured if I didn't kill myself getting there, I might freeze to death this frosty morning.
Through the darkness we trolled down stream on the kicker motor; the big jet was simply too cold to fire. Despite the slow going, I assumed we were flying down stream somewhere in the Arctic. Well, we aren’t too far geographically and with ice caked on the banks, the seats, and our noses, it sure looked similar.
As we slowly approached near the outlet of a tributary, two large tundra swans rose from the water. The noise of their wings lifting off the water sent my mind reeling over all the flights we’ve taken in floatplanes this season, some breathtakingly beautiful, others holding your breath until it’s over, and all loud. Several ducks also jumped. With perked ears, Kayda stared through the blackness. Without speaking, I'm sure we all thought it good medicine.
After tossing a block, which I learned that morning equals twelve decoys, the three of us broke through the ice heading for the spot to hide us from incoming birds. Tufts of tall grass blocked the front, iced mud lined the ground, and knobby mangled trees with remnants of high water and high tides hanging from their low trunks backed us. It was a natural blind, one that prevented ducks from spotting our position and us from seeing anything approaching from above-behind.
With barely half open eyes, I shivered while pouring steamy black coffee from a classic green thermos. My first cup of the day warmed me without yet taking a sip. It lasted mere seconds. Soon the chill reached the inside of my muck boots. I thought that was impossible! I looked over at his waders; a thin sheet of ice covered them from walking in the river. A hot water bottle shoved under Kayda’s spot only slightly relieved her shivering.
To keep my mind off the cold, I watched the moon in the sky as light spread slowly across the opposite horizon. The previous evening, I finished reading The Trapper by Tom Brown, Jr., so I focused on trying to overcome the bitter cold like him. If I could never feel frigid again, my favorite pastimes would be that much better. For a time it worked...I think by reminding myself how lucky I was to be sitting there, even if amongst ice.
From behind, a diver duck snuck down on us and dropped in on our decoys. Milling around, it was obvious he thought the decoys awfully dull ducks. But if he would just stick around, he’d be the best decoy we had out there.
As light slowly began pushing back the darkness, we noticed the two swans had circled back around and landed 200 very long yards downstream of us. Shooting time came; a half hour before sunrise and two ducks ambushed us from behind. As they flared, Justin fired. The ducks flew off. Kayda whimpered. I sat there freezing…for another hour. I mentioned some correlation between steelhead fishing and duck hunting. He assured me birds had been flying first thing and then again mid morning. So we waited. I felt like we were chasing a report. (That never worked out for me.)
The sun rose shining bright on everything yet still we sat there frigid. No amount of coffee would warm me at this point and I considered pouring it down my waders. I changed my tactics, merely praying for swans to land nearby so I could photograph them. They did and I cautiously snuck a few clicks wishing they would swim close enough to study their features through my lens.
At eleven thirty in the morning, with only one (or two or three) shots fired, we pulled the plug. I peeled my frozen hands from my shotgun, laid it down, and walked into the sunshine. Lifting two decoys from the water, I neatly wrapped the cord around their base, threw them towards shore, then shoved my trembling hands in my pockets. It was too cold for this and I thought the ducks felt the same. But hell, at least I wasn’t stuck frozen in one place....and then a duck flew over my head.
|Kayda loved the icy banks.|
|Icy Grass up close and personal.|
|Justin looking out over the spread|