Most everything that we do or that happens to us is the last link in a chain. Those links are often invisible until we get to the end of it, and then suddenly we can look back and see very clearly where the chain started and, depending on how it played out, whether it was heavy and rusted or a bright chrome steel.
The first link in this chain was the California Waterfowl Association’s annual dinner and 70th anniversary celebration in Sacramento in August. The truth of it is, our main motivation for attending this particular dinner was that our good friend and neighbor, Tracy Fremd, was receiving the Artemis Award, which honors a woman each year whose efforts support hunting and conservation.
The second link was when a hunt came up for auction at Eagle Lakes Ranch in Othello, Washington. I hadn’t heard of it but Tracy, who was sitting at our table, had hunted it and loved the place. “Bid on it!” she urged me, and so I did. After the high bidder generously donated it back to CWA, my second place bid became the new winner. A quick text to my son Griff, my once constant hunting companion but now grown up and far away once-a-year partner, forged the third link in the chain:
For me, the duck hunter, and Griff, the goose hunter, the promise of a duck and goose combo hunt was ideal. A previous rare hunt with Griff had been the only good hunt I had on the rice that year, so it felt like Lady Luck was polishing the chain.
The next link was tricky. It turned out that between the demands of his vaping business, Fate Mods, and his last semester in college, the only time Griff could go was the weekend after Thanksgiving. So I called Kaci at Eagle Lakes and could hear link number four clinking onto the chain when she said that weekend was open.
Three months later, gear packed, we flew up North to meet the birds coming South. I lamented the full moon that graced the calendar, but that proved of no consequence, since we saw neither sun nor moon for the next three days. What we did see upon our arrival was a lodge like something at Yosemite. Animal heads and mounted ducks and geese adorned the great room, with a massive central fireplace and – cocktail aficionado that I am – a full bar and lots of big cushy leather chairs to sink into while sipping one. The rooms, too, were grand, and ours was labeled Eagle One. We felt, well, presidential, and another link fell into place.
A 4 am wake up call and a hearty breakfast got our first day started. After scraping the ice from our windows, we followed the guide Dan to our duck spot, a pothole cleared by ice-eaters in a frozen, flooded field of corn. Approaching the spot in the dark, we heard what must’ve been a hundred ducks crowded together, cold and bitchy and quacking up a storm. It didn’t take long for them to return once we’d settled in, their brilliant green heads muted by the overcast as they swooped in, and fell to the three of us – me, Griff, and a retired firefighter named Gary. Griff doubled on a pair, and I even managed to connect on my share.
By 8am it was over and 21 big beautiful ducks had splashed down in the icy water or slammed onto the frozen fringe. Gary and I managed to bring ourselves and our guns back up the steep, frosty hill to the truck, so it was up to Griff to haul our bounty. For hunters who’ve spent many a 100-degree opener in the desert by the Salton Sea, the snowy scene that morning was a new and beautiful thing.
We dropped our ducks off at the processing shed and returned to the lodge, plopping down in some overstuffed chairs. Neither of us is used to a limit, let alone one by early morning, so we wondered what to do with the rest of the day. Watch football? No, we aren’t big sports fans. Get a drink? Way too early for that. Fortunately it wasn’t long before Kaci asked if we wanted to add a goose hunt to our Saturday, and not more than a fraction of a second before we answered yes!
With a different guide this time (though all of them seemed to be some other guide’s son or brother or cousin), we were soon in layout blinds on a field of winter feed. And just like that morning, it wasn’t long before the birds showed up. The guide Tim peeled off singles and pairs until we had our six lessors and two honkers.
Two great hunts. And two more links in the chain had fallen into place. Back at the lodge, I pondered our good fortune over a reheated steak sandwich lunch. It matters a lot to me that the few and far-between hunts that Griff and I have are good ones. That mission was accomplished by morning, and now, barely mid-afternoon, I was savoring the gravy – a second great hunt in a single day! The chain was shining up nicely.
That evening the bar was in full swing, noisy with talk of epic shots, embarrassing misses, and just the pure joy of being here rather than back at work. But with another day to rest up and get ready for, things wound up early.
Next morning we were at it again, wolfing down eggs, sausages, and hash browns before heading to an “X” some thirty minutes away. This time it was a larger group – Mike, his brother, and Mike’s son R.J. joined Griff and I for a last round of geese. Decoys in place, we hopped into our pit blinds and closed the lids.
The action was a little slower that morning. Geese were everywhere, but it seemed that so were the fields they could fly to. Our guide Brian talked plenty into a closer look, and quite a few into landing. Griff amazed everyone by knocking down a low crossing goose, in the quick second it appeared between two groups of decoys. And despite a malfunctioning gun, Mike’s son R.J. did his share of fine shooting. When a large flock finally came in, and nine birds fell, the smoke was still hanging in the air when Mike declared you know, it’s a good thing our kids can shoot. Isn’t that the truth! And for me, it’s always the best last link in a chain of events.