Mississippi River - Pool 13, Big Slough south of Savanna, IL
|As you may have recently read (or
not), I turned 70 last month. I’ve hunted ducks hard the last two
years and have been training four dogs forever. After loosing a little
weight, the knees have been less of a problem. Hunting on the Mississippi
River can be a challenge for anyone and I’ve been doing it mostly alone now
going on three years. Last year, was the best year of duck hunting I’ve ever
Things have changed. I suppose one might think that’s normal. However, a string of events had me seriously questioning the future. A month ago, I went in for a regular checkup and my Doctor said I needed to take something to reduce my cholesterol. So I did.
The dogs and I trained hard up until the end of August. The two youngest earned a few new titles. A week before early teal season in Illinois, I noticed a lymph node in my neck seemed to have not handled a throat infection and was getting very painful. So being a proactive kind of person, I went to the doctor for some Amoxicillin to make sure the infection didn’t win out as the work from the upcoming days of hunting set in.
So this cute nurse wheels in her blood pressure and heart rate machine. Within seconds, she says “Are you feeling alright?” I said, “I’m fine. In fact, cutting 24 willows for some temporary blinds was an easy chore yesterday.” I’m sure she had no idea what I was talking about, but she immediately scurried out of the room, muttering something about getting me an EKG and the fact my heart rate was only 31. Her last comment was “Don’t stand up.” Two nurses come in and start placing “electrodes” everywhere. I was told not to speak or move. Not an easy thing for me, but I managed.
Shortly thereafter, a serious looking, young Indian lady doctor comes in and says, “How are you feeling?” My rather sarcastic reply was, “Well, I’m still alive.“ She begins, “Your heart rate is actually 62, but two beats are so close together, the machine was only counting one. We need to have you see a cardiologist to figure out why your heart beat is irregular.” My reply was, “I knew that and it’s been that way for years.”
So I get home and took the Amoxicillin. A few hours later, I was a bit queasy and my chest was tight. Yikes! So I looked up the side effects on the Internet. Sure enough both were possible. So I go ahead with the duck hunting plans. The day before leaving, I mowed the WHOLE yard. Normally I mow it a half at a time, but this was a test. It was very hot and humid out. I finished and there were no issues…..except I was sweating like a “stuck hog”.
The next morning everything was loaded for at least a four day hunt (dog food for six days). When I arrived and unloaded, the wind was blowing so hard there was no way to make a quick run to check out the temporary blind down river. Not good.
The next morning (September 4th) I left at 2:45 am, the run was about 25 minutes. There
were a lot of boats out looking for their spots and lights were close to where I was heading. The confusion of so many boats made me miss “my” island by a little bit. The wind carried me into some heavy weeds and the water was deeper than the spot I knew. So I worked carefully in closer.
Suddenly, a rock landed to my left and then another splashed to the right. This was either my spot and two jerks had it already or it was not, and two jerks refused to shine a light or announce themselves. Either way I can’t get out of there without walking the boat out a bit. I eased over the side. My trusty ski pole indicated it was waist deep and hard bottom. That was OK except my left leg caught under the seat and in I went. Now I’m wet, but the river was warm.
I crawled back into the boat and worked the oars. The wind pushed us down a shallow, narrow cut away from the main channel. The green channel markers got smaller and smaller. The motor wouldn’t work in the weeds. So I drifted, used the wind and finally swung into a small island. I told Taffey this was where we were going to hunt. She didn’t seem to care, and like we had a choice? It was still very dark out.
Ha! Now it gets worse. The island was low and covered with willows in ankle deep mud….everywhere. The water was just barely deep enough to float my boat and I have to pull it free……often. Five goose decoys, three mallards and eight teal later along with two MOJO’s were out. Now it was time to setup on shore. The wind is blowing hard. I’m getting hot and tired. I did think of the doctors a couple of times.
At shooting time we were ready. Taffey was mud from the belly down and I was the same from the knees down. As I sat there, the wind cooled me off. The warm river water in my clothes was now very cold. Soon, I was shivering so hard my shoulders were shaking. I assured myself this was a dog’s way of getting warmer.
Two teal swing by……..and I was way too stiff and slow at mounting the gun for a decent shot. Two hours later, I’m not shivering anymore, but I’m dreading the pickup of the decoys setting out there in the really sticky, calf high "goo". However, there is something to being an “in the moment” type person that allows you to do the next step without getting overwhelmed with the whole issue.
“Stuff” was just piled in the boat. Finally, we were loaded. The problem was the boat was so loaded down I had to literally pull the boat away from the island. The wind made the only choice clear…..drift down the cut and past the last southern islands into a vast stump field. Did I mention duck camp was north?
Well, we drifted for about a mile. Finally, the water was deep enough to start the motor and there were no more weeds. After checking every possibility, it wouldn’t start. I took out my cell phone to call Jerry…..the trailer camp manager. This was humiliating but there was no other choice……’cause I’m at least three miles downriver. When I got close enough to a stump, I’d tie the boat up and wait. No answer….so I left a message. Then I tried the motor again. Wow! It started. I called back and left a message…”Never mind.”
The motor worked all the way back to about a half-mile south of duck camp. The boat launch was right there. A friend of mine was taking his boat out and I stopped. This was not a good idea. My friend offered to help. but I said there was no need. His boat was already out of the water and loaded. We talked and then he left. edit: Just to clarify, this location was right by a public launch in a sheltered side channel. There is no current and it would at the most mean a bit of easy rowing to the trailer. The shoreline between the launch and my trailer has a continuous line of cottages and homes (fifty yards away at any time). In other words.....pretty darn safe. After fifteen minutes, the motor started. Taffey and I finally made it back to camp.
When I pulled up, there were six of the camp hunters standing around in their “camo” sharing stories. I stuck the ski pole down in the water. It was only two feet deep. As I swung one leg over…….I couldn’t believe it, but my left leg did the “catch thing” again. In I went. They all came running, but I jumped up just like the TV commercial with my hands in the air and I said, “I’m OK! Didn’t even get wet!”
We didn’t shoot one teal or goose, but it was the best darn hunt I’ve ever been on. I survived. The next day one of the “youngsters” asked me if I was really eighty years old. I replied, “No, I’m only seventy and stronger today than yesterday.”
Here's hoping this is not an ironic story/essay.
September 16th update:
After I took a Stress Echo EKG test, the cardiologist came in the room with a big
smile on her face and said, "You passed." I asked, "Does this mean I can go duck hunting?
Her answer was, "You can do whatever you want to!"