I never knew if it was my father’s experiences in the merchant marine or his time on a US Navy ship during WWII, but Dad sure was drawn to big water. An active sportsman all his life, it was only natural that he loved to hunt waterfowl. When it came to duck hunting, though, Dad was only average at best, convincing few mallards that the call he blew was the real thing and owning untrained retrievers that wouldn’t sit still in the blind. As a kid, I also remember a duck boat that leaked and those heavy wooden decoys, some of which sported frayed tether lines or were missing their anchors. Looking back, I realize now how tough it must have been to run a business during the 1950s recession, raise a growing family and still have time to be a successful duck hunter.
Laying out a mallard or two on our kitchen linoleum, he would say, “I got lucky.” But when I stroked those glossy green heads, shiny as No. 6 pool balls, I knew my dad was the world’s greatest duck hunter—and I couldn’t wait to grow up and go with him.
Dad and his younger brother had found a piece of heaven, and in the fall of 1959, when I was 14, they shared it with me. Fletcher’s Floodwaters was a 10,000-acre impoundment on the Thunder Bay River, in the northeast corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. The shallow, stump-strewn reservoir was the color of Hires root beer. The men had found it that summer on a fishing trip when they’d seen more ducks than they could count. There I shot my first one: a blue-winged teal.
Of course, it had to start somewhere with someone. If you’re lucky, as I was, it began with your father who said, “You’re a duck hunter now.” He was right about that, and I’ve been one ever since.
I remember the last duck hunt with Dad too. It happened nearly 40 years ago on Lake Huron at Harbor Beach, Michigan. The world’s largest freshwater harbor is a sanctuary for migrating waterfowl whenever storms wrack the big lake. That rough-weather day Dad and I were guests of my friend and his father, who had turned their family pontoon boat into a deadly floating blind. We four gunners took turns on our way to limits of scaup, goldeneyes and buffleheads that flocked to the decoys like barn pigeons to spilled grain.
“Best duck hunt I ever had,” Dad said on the drive home.
He was right about that too.
Tom Huggler’s Grouse of North America and A Fall of Woodcock won national acclaim and are now collectible. His Quail Hunting in America (Stackpole) is still in print. A Fall of Woodcock was reprinted recently by Skyhorse Publishing.