That One Duck


Every hunter has that one animal that makes their heart stir. For some, it’s the vision of a bighorn sheep skylined on a craggy ridge. For others, it’s the tawny coat and chaotic tines of a non-typical whitetail. For every huntable animal, there is someone who thinks of it and sighs.

The object of my affection is The Drake Mallard. For those who live where they are plentiful and a 7-mallard strap is a common thing, this probably seems absurd. But mallards are not so plentiful in the desert marshes of borderland California, and so, for me anyway, they represent what duck hunting is on its very best days. Not that I don’t appreciate the chocolate-headed pintails we have plenty of, or the white-mohawked widgeon, or the screaming flights of cinnamon and green-wing teal that enliven our mornings. They are all fine and beautiful waterfowl and I’m honored by each one that gets on my strap. But the mallard is still the thing that makes my hunting day, that fills my soul, that gives me a most magnificent piece of the natural world to take back home with me. As if a little shard of sunrise had been broken off by God and given to me to have as my very own.

As an artist, I’m awed by the mallard’s speculum, which isn’t just a patch of blue but a pool you gaze into, trying to but never really seeing the full depth of it. Like a thief in the shadows of a sultan’s palace, I’ll risk life and limb for that jewel of an emerald-green head. I have millions of colors at my disposal on my graphic design computer programs, but I could never replicate the ever-changing intricacy or the natural electric glow of those tiny feathers. And those orange feet and yellow beak, which surely hold their own against the most exotic Amazonian birds.

Maybe the reason that one mallard on my strap satisfies me like seven of anything else is because it was the first big duck I ever got. After the teal from my first couple of hunts, sometimes stringing several in my fingers at one time, hoisting that green-headed, triple-curled monster out of the muddy water was a shocking and life-affecting moment for me. The mallard I brought down yesterday wasn’t nearly the size of that first one. But the shiver that zipped through me as I reached into the tules to retrieve him showed me once again and very clearly: the drake mallard is my one duck.

What’s yours?

~ by SpeakingZenaphorically on December 24, 2007.

3 Responses to “That One Duck”

  1. Zen…love the story and the pictures…felt like I was there in the blind.

  2. Neil:

    This is Don and Don Jr. from hunting camp. Haven’t been able to hunt for a couple weeks now and really enjoyed your article. You are a very talented writer. We are leaving for Wister this morning (12/26) and are there till Sunday. Hope to see you soon.


  3. Nice pic and story. I know the feeling as I started off my hunting in the same desert. Getting a Greenhead is “magic”. Today, I found that magic and got a nice greenhead while hunting in the Grasslands of Central CA. He dropped from the sky with feet down – coming to my full body decoys, and a few calls. What a thrill…even after 44 years of duck hunting.

    I enjoy your site Neil…..thanks


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