By Marshall Coover
November 22, 2017 - It was five in the morning, pitch black, and we couldn’t find the trail we were looking for. Fortunately, the ranch we were hunting on had been in my “Uncle” Chuck’s family for generations and he knew how to get us down to the spot we were looking for, trail or no trail.
It was the day before Thanksgiving, which means it was time for our traditional hunt on Chuck’s ranch in Live Oak County, TX. The ranch straddles an oxbow of the Nueces River, and in wet years, the oxbow floods and fills with Pintails, Gadwalls, and Black Ducks, usually in abundance. The day before Thanksgiving hunt is something Chuck has been doing with my Dad since they were boys, when their dads took them. I grew up doing the hunt with Chuck’s son Chad, who was there this year taking his six year old son Charlie for his first hunt. My four year old had to spend another year on the bench – but that’s another story…
Also joining us was Chuck’s son in law, and his three boys, Zach, Jacob, and Michael. All told, there were nine of us, representing three generations.
Chuck finally got us down to the spot we were looking for – a nice little cove with some deadfall that included a good size trunk that had been suspended above the water and made a perfect natural bench. We had to split the boys up to cut down on the horse play, so I wound up sitting with Chuck’s grandson Jacob, age ten.
Not long after we got settled in, the trees on the far side of the water began to glow as the sun peeked up above the horizon. I did my best to let Jacob have the shots, at least at first. After putting out a LOT of steel, he eventually got a green-wing teal to crash down behind us, and I showed him how to safely handle his gun while he went to help look for the bird.
Now it was my turn. After shooting my first two ducks, I knew I was “on” that day. It’s hard to define that feeling, but like so many other things, when you know its there, its just there. I proceeded to take four more ducks with four shots – long, short, pass shots, overhead, you name it – I couldn’t miss! After an hour, the big wave was over, and we were all ready to take a break.
Fortunately for us, my Dad had something special in mind this year. He had come out the day before and set up a shore camp back up the hill. When we came in from the hunt, there was a little camp fire, fresh tortillas, and hot frijoles – the South Texas Breakfast of Champions. We sat together, counted our ducks, and the younger kids listened as my Dad and Chuck told the same old hunting and fishing stories that I’ve heard for years.
After we finished the beans, my Dad busted out the good stuff – Brer Rabbit molasses. The cowboys my Dad used to work with used it as a sort of dual purpose dessert/cleaning solution. You pour a little Brer Rabbit on your plate, take a new tortilla, and use it to mop/sop up whatever tidbits are left on the plate, and it makes for an incredibly tasty little palate cleanser. As we gathered up the plates, a silence settled in over our little camp as everyone realized simultaneously that it was almost time to clean up and go home.
There was a moment when I looked across the fire ring and made eye contact with Chad, and I could just tell that he realized, like me, how lucky we were to be there, in that moment. You see, that experience, that duck camp, is bittersweet. We are lucky to have such a strong relationship with our fathers, and now with our sons, and Chad and I both appreciate that. We also appreciate that the time when all three generations will be able to share the same space is finite.
There are times when I wish I could just bottle up that feeling and reproduce it any time I like, but that’s not how life works. You just have to keep on getting out there, planning the trips, taking the time and putting in the effort to ensure that you create the same opportunity for our sons to have the same meaningful connection with hunting and family that we did. That’s what Duck Camp was this Thanksgiving. That’s what Duck Camp will continue to be for me and my son.