“SO, UM … DO I NEED TO BE WORRIED ABOUT, um … stepping on a snake?” I squeamishly asked as I struggled through the chest deep water trying desperately to keep up with the rest of the crew.
Mossy Oak’s Tack Robinson blew a cheek-full of hot air into the pre-dawn grayness, watched his breath condense, and shot me a grinless stare. “Watch out for the deep holes,” Tack said. “If the water goes over the top of your waders it’ll stain your pretty skirt.”
The December air was much cooler than I anticipated this far south—definitely below freezing—as the Mississippi mud tried to suck me below the surface of the coffee-colored water with each cumbersome step. Six of us trudged slowly through the flooded timber to destinations unknown, each hoping we wouldn’t be the unlucky soul to stumble into an unseen hole about which Tack so casually bantered.
With shotguns and expectations held high, a pair of wood ducks whistled overhead in the preshooting light dawn as we trudged on.
“Are we there yet?” I poked, desperately trying to coax a smile from Tack’s duck-crazy gaze. “I’m not geared right for this; my legs are too short.”
“Look on the bright side, Hartle. When you do step on a snake, it will be too lethargic to bite you … it won’t bite you immediately, anyway.”
Let It Rain
The main flurry started just after sunrise. Hoards of ducks circled above the outstretched branches of the tupelo gum trees like backyard bats, seemingly blind to everything below their flight patterns— including our decoy spread. The flooded timber screamed with countless tiny whistles of ducks punctuating the sky, and it captured my attention so intensely that I doubt I would’ve heard “Take ’em” had the call been given.
Tack leaned close and finally shot me a smile. “Still worried about snakes?”
With no regard to our best calling efforts, flock after flock continued to circle overhead for what seemed like hours.
And then it happened: A flock of enormous mallards dropped from the tree tops and weaved through the canopy branches toward our decoys … and every bird in the sky seemed to follow. In all honesty, I don’t exactly remember if someone gave the “Take ’em” call or if someone in the line got a bit antsy, but suddenly six shotguns were blazing, being reloaded and then set blazing again—and ducks and empty shotshell casings splashed into the water. I wouldn’t have needed to shoot so many times if I hit every duck I shot at, but the smell of burned gun powder and the heat rolling from the barrel of my SX3 put me into an instant waterfowler’s stupor.
By the time the sounds of gunfire had finished bouncing through the trees, all the remaining ducks had vacated our ambush site and the timber was again eerily quiet.
Tack and I tapped our gun barrels together and “toasted” the morning, and leaned back against the tree to watch the yellow Lab collect our feathered treasure.
A few straggling flocks of mallards dropped in occasionally to meet their demise as the morning wore on, but nothing that measured anywhere close to that first flurry.
“Is that normal for these parts?” I questioned Tack. “I mean, does it always rain ducks?”
Keeping his nose to the sky, Tack slowly shook his head. “There’s always a lot of ducks here this time of year,” he said, “but you definitely witnessed something special.”