By Marshall Coover
December 4, 2017 - Last weekend’s Duck Camp was a 1,500-square-foot clapboard house clinging to the soil on the tundra that we call North Dakota. The house was built in the early 20th century, and while it has been updated to accommodate a few modern comforts, when you’re staying there, you can’t help but feel…nostalgic. The reason I came back to the house last weekend was the same reason I do every year – an annual pilgrimage undertaken by a couple of family members for a weekend of chasing rooster pheasants, sitting for ducks, and this year, sneaking up on geese.
More importantly, every year, I hear a new story about my grandfather that I never knew, or one of his brothers. Every year, I connect with one of my cousins on a level I’ve never experienced. Every year, I get to show off pictures of my young family and brag about what the newest baby is up to. And that’s what I love about this trip – its almost it like has a life of its own – it changes and grows every year just like people do, and yet it always maintains those specific characteristics that make it special.
This year was the first time I hunted up there, or duck hunted anywhere, where breaking ice was a concern. Our first morning out, the temperature was hovering around 15 degrees. Being the stubborn Texan that I am, when one of my Yankee uncles offered me a portable heater – I begged off – I mean, what is this, croquet? It wasn’t long until I changed my tune though…we were using lay out blinds on the shore of a frozen pond, and it wasn’t ten minutes until I had lost feeling in my feet. Fortunately, my Uncle John is a forgiving man, and only made me beg for a little while before handing over what he had offered earlier – a Mr. Heater Little Buddy made by Tractor Supply Company. I think they were designed for the cabs of tractors that don’t have a heating system, but it turns out they work great for thawing out body parts during cold, early morning hunts.
As it turned out, the ducks weren’t the only ones whose well-being was at risk that morning. It was Echo, my Uncle Chris’ black lab, first time to hunt a frozen pond, and it wasn’t long before she got herself in a fix while trying to retrieve a downed mallard. Carrying the bird, swimming, and breaking through ice was more than she could handle, and I wound up having to tromp out to her and bring the mallard back myself. I was frankly glad to have the excuse to move around – it was the best way to regain feeling in my toes.
When we got back to the Camp, we cleaned the birds and prepped them for a BBQ. We ended up going all-out with the kabobs and the grill sure did look pretty. We ate ourselves into a coma, as if we needed another reason to sleep hard that night.
As per usual, there were a lot of cigars smoked, football watched, hunting stories (lies) told, wild birds cooked and eaten, grudges made, grudges settled, and character built. The Dakota trip will be one I look forward to every year.