Re: Best hunting story contest.
A Long Day Afield
Hazy memories of the dream I was having are still vauge. The repeatitive buzzing of the alarm clock slowly pressed its way into my dream. I opened my eyes to
see 4:30, in large red letters. Rubbing my eyes to make sure that was what I was seeing, I realized that I had plans to go duck hunting. Knowing that I had till six thirty to be at the boat dock, I hit the snooze button a couple times. Graugy and unable to see clearly still, I managed to find the will to roll out of the sack. Getting ready for the day, the thoughts of what was to come had me feeling energized. My cousin, Darrell, was going to meet me for a great day afield. He was bringing his brother in-law, Kevin, out for his first ever day of duck hunting from a boat. I got the boat hooked up to the truck at around six o'clock, I was running a little late, not a big worry though, my cousin was late most of the time we would go out duck hunting.
The air along the marsh was thick with fog on the drive there. I knew that the fog made it hard to see, but usually made for a good day duck hunting, raising my level of excitement just that much more. I got to the boat ramp at around six forty five and was relieved to see that my cousin wasn't there, he would have given me about as hard of a time as I give him when he is late. I was frustrated because he wasnt there and I had gotten all worked up about the day of duck hunting. I loaded the boat in the water and tied it off on the shore. The temperatures were quite low that moring, I would say in the lower fourties, so I went back to the truck to wait. As I sat there waiting for him to show, others had started to arrive. I watched as fellow saturday swamp sitters loaded their boats and headed out for thier favorite blinds. The halo of day light had started to appear over the mountains. The last boat that I saw that morning had launched at around seven thirty. Calling, and sending text messages to Darrell, chewing him out for not being on time, didnt seem to help the tension I was feeling. I kept threatening him that I was going to just go hunting with out him, but just couldn't bring my self to take off and go, after all he was driving from fourty five miles away. He was telling me via text message, that he had gotten pulled over and the officer was taking his sweet time. At around eight fifteen I saw his car coming down the highway. Pulling into the parking lot, he was getting an evil look from me. But little did he know that his day was going to be one that he would not soon forget.
The sun had risen completely over the mountains by the time we had gotten all of his gear in the boat. His wife, Tracie, had decided to spend the day in the boat with us as well as thier family dog, a pit bull. Darrell claimed that his dog would be a good water fowler and would be beneficial for us to take, I agreed. The first five minutes in the boat the dog felt the need to relieve him-self, and I'm not talking about number 1. I made Darrell clean it up. He had nothing to use but a couple of sticks from the marsh. Off to a bad start already, we headed into the catails. I had a fourteen foot fiber glass boat with an old seven and a half horse power motor. The floor was made of wood, and it had a closed bow, a tight fit for the four of us and the pit bull. The fog had all burned off by now, and the first flight shooting had stopped, might as well have taken every bit of will I had for the day, tied it to the anchor and threw it in. The skies were blue and clear. I recall a slight breeze from the north. We got to the spot I had scouted the last time I was out. This was a small hole way back in a maze of catails, having navigated this marsh over a hundred times in my life, it was no challenge at all to find the spot again in the foggy broad day light.
At my honey hole we started to set out our decoys. I liked to get out away from the shore in my wadders and set out the decoys, Darrell insisted on staying close to the shore and throwing them. My bag was almost empty when I heard 'SPLASH'. I turned around to see Darrell, laying in the water. He had tripped over a catail root. When a catail dies the root stays and is just a big ball of root filled dirt, submurged just below the surrface, out of sight, and a huge tripping hazard for those who waterfowl. The ducks were all over the place and he had attempted to take his shot gun out with him as he set out the decoys the first try. Realizing it wasn't safe or smart idea, so he left it in the boat, he was very glad he did or it would have gone in with him. Being late, due to being pulled over (if thats what really happened), the dog doing his buisiness in the boat, then falling in the water. That should have been enough to ruin his day for sure. Around ten o'clock, the birds had stopped flying. Bordem had quickly set in. It was starting to warm up and the coversation was dull. Kevin then asked if we knew what the shot looked like in a shell. I elected to take a shell and cut the top (not the primer end) off. I showed him the shot and we found a fun game in tossing the shot down eachother's wadders, making it very uncomfortable to stand. Darrell wanted to shoot the empty shell out of his gun, just to see what it was like. He took it, crammed it in his chamber and fired. He almost fell in the water again, trying to counter the recoil, to which there was none, because the shot was gone. I had done this once with my gun the season before, when I did it, the wad was taken out, with the shot he took the wad was still in. After the shot I told him that he should check the barrell for the spacer because I only saw the wad hit the water. He took a gander down the barrel of his gun to find the spacer was stuck in there. Upset at me he asked "how the hell am I gonna get that out?"
He took his barrel off and tried to get the peice of plastic out with some cattail, with no success. He put his barrel back on and sat there looking mad. He then slammed a live shell in the chamber, stood up at the edge of the boat and shot. When the shot gun fired it made a really weird noise, like a bullet ricocheing off of a rock. I noticed that there was a splash in the water just below his muzzle. As he sat down I looked at his barrel, and noticed a huge hole in the bottom of the muzzle. With a shocked laugh, I told him that he had a blown the end of his gun off. He looked down at it and as he looked up I thought he was going to cry. Now on this grand day, he had been late, gotten pulled over, had his dog crap in the boat, fell in the water, and blown his gun apart, all in one day, but that wasn't even the worst of it.
I had to be to work at noon that day, so at eleven I called it quits. The spot we had was doing well so Darrell, Kevin, and Tracie wanted to stay out and see if they couldnt fill thier bags. Tracie wasn't hunting so there were only two bags to fill. He wanted to take me back to the dock and drop me off, keeping my boat out. I wasnt too thrilled at the idea of him going out in that maze by him self. He hadn't been out there all but maybe a handful of times. I told him that if he could drive me back with out any help he could stay. We headed back to the dock. As I left him I told him to be careful. The day was warm and beautiful.
When I got back to my truck I noticed that my phone was dead, so I plugged it into the charger in my truck. I went to work enjoying the spring like weather. At around four thirty I noticed that I hadn't turned my phone back on after the battery had died. As the phone started, up came a voicemail alert. I looked down to see that I had six messeges, alot for just a couple hours. All of the messages were from Darrell. At first I thought he was just calling to tell me how good they were doing, but to my surprise his day had gotten even worse than it already was. He told me that the motor was broke and wanted to know if I had ores. I thought he was kidding until I hear the other messages, he was telling me that they were going to hunt for a while and head back just before dark.
I called him back after hearing all of his messeges. He said that the prop had just fallen off the motor and didnt know how to get back. I told him that he needed to start back right then. It was around four thirty. He said that he would. I told him where the ores were, so he would have some means of propulsion. He said that they hadn't seen many more ducks, and had missed a couple. He didnt sound too worried that he had a mile paddle back to the dock, going up stream. I again warned him to head back, and he said he would. That was the last I talked to him that night. He sent me a couple of text messages around five. He said that the ducks were flying and they were gonna see if they could get some on the way back. I told him to just pack it up and head back. Then when seven o'clock came around, and he still wasn't back to my house with my boat, I sent him a text. The reply "we're lost", that was the last message I had gotten from him.
I thought, oh boy, what an idiot. I knew he would stay and hunt instead of heading back before dark. I then began to chastise him, through text messeges, for not coming back and that he would never take my boat out again, there was no responce. I couldn't figure out why he hadn't responded, I guess I just thought he was angry with me for getting so mad. I was at home with the kids. My wife was gone to a halloween event, and I was watching my eightteen month old and my three year old. Nine o'clock came, and I put the kids to bed. About nine thirty I called my brother in-law, to tell him what was going on. He had hunted the marsh with me a lot. He said he would run down to the ramp and see if he could see what was up or if he could communicate with them. It was close to ten o'clock when he called me from the marsh. He said that he could see a huge bon fire out in the middle of the cattails. I knew that Darrell had gas from the motor and he had a cigarette lighter, aswell. At that point I knew they were stranded. I called my wife to tell her to hurry home, but she wasn't going to be able to get there till after midnight. I decided to call the Cache County Sheriff. I wasn't paniced or anything, just call the dispatcher and told them what was going on. I told the disspatcher that my cousin, his wife and his brother in-law were out there. She asked if there were any injuries, I told her no but that Tracie was probably really cold. She was very cold at ten that morning when it was over fifty degrees. She took my info and the conversation was over. This is where it gets good.
I got the kids out of bed and put them in the truck. It was a cold late October night with clear skies and no moon. The temperatures were well into the lower fourties. My mother in-law, Chris, had gone down there with her son, my brother in-law, so I knew that I had someone to take care of the kids while I dealt with this. The drive took me about twenty minutes. I wasnt prepared for what I was about to see. I got to the parking lot and there were three fire trucks, because I had told them that they had lit a bon fire, two ambulences, and four police cruisers. I found my brother, and the police officer in-charge. I began to tell them right where they were. I asked if they had a way to get a boat there. He said that they had a couple on the way. I then told him that I had navigated these waters hundreds of times in the dark, and that I knew the way there and back quite well. He said he would have me in the first boat out.
It took about twenty minutes for the boat to get there. I dont know the guys name who owned it, but he seemed to think that becasue he had fished for cat fish out there ten years ago that he would be fine on his own. He had a tewlve footer with a small outboard. It would have been fine to preform this task. As he was loading his boat in the water, another boat had showed up. It was a large duck boat, well equiped for the rescue. Yeah, at this point it had become a rescue. With both boats in the water I asked the commanding officer which one he wanted me in. He then told me that there was no room because the paramedics and drivers had to go out. Okay. So its two boats, two drivers, four paramedics, and NO navigation. A police officer had gone up to the edge of the marsh and was with in shouting distance of them. They figured that would be more than enough information to triangulate their location. As the first boat headed out, I figured they were just gonna hook to my boat and pull them back in, well I was wrong.
I called my mother to have her call her sister, Darrells mother. Fifteen minutes later Joy, Darrells mother, called me. She was very upset at what was going on. She and her husband wanted to dive up, I told them to stay home and I would call them and tell them what was happening.
The first boat, the cat fisherman, had gotten way lost, no surprise. They had to put a patrol car on the bridge up high so he could find his way back. About the time that he found his way back with the two paramedics, the second boat had found my my boat with Darrell and the gang. Over the radio I heard that they were going to bring Tracie back first because she was showing signs of hypulthirmia. I agreed with this assessment becasue if she was in need of medical attention no need in waisting time dragging my boat back. Then on the radio I hear, "were stuck!"
The second boat carrying Tracie, had taken on water. Apparently two paramedics and Tracie were all up on the bow of the boat near some lights, when the nose took a dive. The boat had taken on way more weight than it should of. I heard that they needed a bail bucket. They were stuck in the mud. Most of the marsh out there is less than two feet deep, and when the boat took on water, the motor's prop had become bogged down and they couldnt move. Now we have two boats stuck out there, and thats not the worst part of it. When the boat took a nose dive, it drenched the already cold Tracie. Now she was really having a hard time. About this time I was lossing it. I had begun to get very frusterated at how uncordinated the Search and Rescue was acting.
As all this was going on, the dumbest thing I could imagine showed up, a large twenty foot ski boat. Now If a duck boat designed for shallow water got suck, what the hell was going to happen to the big ski boat. I just shook my head and walked to the truck, while they loaded the boat. After I went and vented to my mother in-law, I figured that I might be able to go out on this boat and help some. There is no reason why I shouldnt be helping. I went to the commanding officer again and asked him if he would like me to go out. His responce was "its lookining a little dangerous out there, maybe you should stay here".
After all I had only gone out on those same waters hundreds of times, in the dark, snow, pouring down rain, sleet and even fog so thick you couldn't see the bow of the boat, all by my self most times. What good would I be right? The cat fisherman had gone back out to help Tracie. They got her back on to the shore at around one thirty. She was in pretty bad shape so they took her to the hospital. Now it was Darrell and Kevin's turn. In the rush to get the large boat, which had to be jump started, into the water, the boat owner forgot the plug. After thirty minutes to get this over sized vessel in the water, another funny showed up. It was a hoover craft. It held two men. Just two men, no gear, nothing else just two men. It was a light weight craft so it was off quickly to see what was happening. At around two thirty the catfisher man had gotten Darrell and Kevin on his boat. As the came back to the shore, I asked the commanding officer if we were going to go get my boat, he said that they would take me out and get it.
The boat with Darrell and Kevin dropped them off and loaded up. The hoover craft showed up and loaded, then the ski boat. I waited for the duck hunter boat, now that it was again afloat. When he showed up, they said that it was too dangerous to go back out there, that I would have to wait till morning and they would see if one of these boats would come back and help me. I told them to forget about it. Three shot guns, over five dozen duck decoys, all our gear, just would have to wait. The last boat in told me that they had tied the boat solid on shore. I was upset but willing to take it, after all everyone, even the dog, was ok. I remember when the officer was questioning me earlier, he asked me if they had any food. I told him that they had a few ducks, gasoline, lighters and a dog. He didn't seem amused by the dog comment.
Darrell and Kevin were in the ambulence while all the firemen, other paramedics and police officers, were heading home, after all it was three in the morning. When they got out of the ambulence, I was talking to them about what had happend. They thought they could paddle back in the dark, but that boat didn't paddle so well. They tryied to walk back, but it was too overwhelming to pull the boat by hand. They had gotten lost because the light they were headed for was to the west of them when they should have been going south. I asked why he didn't respond to my text messeges, "the phone battery was dead".
They were waiting for thier vehicles to warm up, so I had him use my phone to call his mother and tell her that everything was ok. I now had to wait till morning to go get my boat. My plan was to take two float tubes out, and paddle down stream. I would take my mud motor with me on the other tube, and drive my boat back. Well at day light, my wife took me down to the dock. I took her so that if I didn't make it back she would be there at least. After the preformance from Cache County Search and Rescue, I told her not to call them if I didn't return. I can't really blame them for the way things went. It could have been far easier, but they probably never had to do a marsh rescue in the dark, and I mean it was dark, no moon at all. They got the vicims back okay kinda. I guess thats what they are supposed to do, no matter how akward, or timely.
When my wife and I had gotten to the boat ramp at day light, my boat was at the dock. I knew that some duck hunters had found it and brought it back. When I got up to it I wasn't shocked to see that the three shot guns were gone. I was affraid that they were stolen, but the fine sportsman that found my boat, had called the Sheriff and told him that he found a boat, abandoned, with a blown apart shot gun in it. The hunter was afraid that someone might steal the guns if he just left it there. The Officer that was in charge the night before was still on duty, so he came out and took the guns. Thankfuly he didn't take the guns back to the station, because if he had, they would have been logged in as evidence and taken months to get out. I was able to get them back that evening. All of the other gear was there, I was glad that noone stole anything. We loaded up my boat and took it home.
Needless to say I haven't let Darrell take my boat back out again without me. The lesson I have learned from this is, if you are having a bad day, you are in complete control. I can either make it worse by sticking to what I want or just pack it up and head for home, and try to salvage what is left of the day. Although I won't ever trust Darrell again with my boat alone, we had some good good duck hunts later on that season out there, and will have more in the future. Kevin on his first day out in a boat, didn't have a bad first impression. It was the most birds he had ever seen in a day. He went through a full box of shells and only got one duck. He still hunts with us. Tracie, was fine. Mild hypulthermia, but okay. I doubt she will go back out with us but, at least she has a great story to tell her son about his dad and duck hunting.
As for me, I still get upset when I think of that night, but more than that I just laugh. Im sure the marsh will bring me many, many more exciting and enjoyible stories. The brownish-yellow grass still blows as the whistle of wings is heard. Until the day the sounds of the marsh are extinct, you shall find me there.
This is the story as I recall it on the night of 10/28/2006.