“Mike Irvine is Shooting USA’s avid water fowler who has been getting himself out to the duck blinds by taking Pro Shooters out for their first hunting experience. Last year he had Jerry Miculek and his family out in a foot of Kansas snow! This season there’s no blizzard, but plenty of cold winter wind and rain as Smith & Wesson Pro Julie Golob tries her first duck hunting adventure across middle Missouri. You’ll see it doesn’t take long to build some good hunting memories.”
Good memories indeed. I just got home from an amazing trip to Germany for the World Action Pistol Championships (more on that to follow) and in the huge pile of mail on the table I saw a padded envelope from Shooting USA. I ripped it open to find a copy of the episode airing this week. My excitement immediately caught my munchkin’s attention and she asked me what the movie was. When I told her it was yours truly hunting ducks, she was pretty impressed. “You’re in a movie, Mama? That’s so cool.”
Munchkin quickly decided to rescind her request to watch Never Ending Story and to view my adventures in waterfowl hunting instead. And so, our evening cuddle time started with coverage of the NRA’s Camp Perry National Pistol Matches followed by my first duck hunt.
Even before we pushed play on the remote, I was already thinking back to the trip. Seeing it all unfold on the TV made those memories all the more fresh, bringing both smiles and tears. The smiles were from the amazing experience and fun times with Shawn Dulohery, Mike Irvine, our guides David Phillips and Gary Grider, and the awesome crew from Shooting USA. The tears fell for the moments we took time to honor and remember a fallen hero, Jared Van Aalst.
Jared was an incredible soldier, friend, husband and father. He was killed in action in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. He touched the lives of those who were so fortunate to call him friend and family. Though many will never know his warm smile and kindness, his work and dedication to freedom and to our great nation is something that every American will feel each day they are able to live free and without fear of terrorism and the cowardly acts of unholy hatred.
Thank you, Jared. Thank you to all our service members who sacrifice every day to keep us safe and make it so that we can enjoy the things that are important to us.
As a noobie duck hunter I wasn’t sure what to expect when I landed in St. Louis. Mike was there to pick me up and we ended up in a duck hunt camp that was a far cry from a Hampton Inn. I bundled up in a sleeping bag on an old mattress and wondered just what I had gotten myself into. The before dawn wake up came all too soon. I had been forewarned to dress warm as I prepared to meet our guide for the day, David Phillips, and his oh-my-gosh-I-can’t-stop-petting-this dog, Maggie.
Mark Schaffer from Shooting USA was also on his first duck hunt and it was his last day of hunting. He would be taking the first shots on any duck. That allowed me to watch and learn how things would go. We climbed into the trucks and made our way to the duck blind. It was still dark when we arrived and I immediately became confused. I got the follow me wave from Mike as we waded out into the middle of a pond with a small island near its center. I remember thinking, “Ah, ok… am I supposed to lay down on this pile of grass all day???”
But as I got closer, I saw the opening and took steps down into a rather spacious metal box that more than fit all of us and it had a stove and a coffee pot! I was beginning to like this duck hunting thing. David brewed a pot of steaming hot joe while we assumed our positions at our designated openings. Then we waited…
Then we waited some more. There just didn’t seem to be too many ducks around. Some graceful white swans flew by and a few geese honked far overhead, but alas no ducks. That’s when Dave took to the kitchen portion of our blind, peeling potatoes and starting in on breakfast. Meat, eggs, and taters all made their way into a cast iron skillet. The smells were amazing and it was beyond delicious. Bellies full and another pot of coffee brewing we resumed watch for wings and webbed feet.
That’s when Shawn and Dave spotted her, a lone mallard eyeing our decoy spread. The calling commenced and the guys wailed and chattered as she circled and circled. I stayed low and out of sight. There was no way I was going to screw up this shot for Mark who, at this point, was still duckless. She must have liked what she was hearing and seeing because she committed. She began her decent to the decoys when Mark broke the shot and got his first duck! His smile said it all!
We stayed a bit longer but never saw another bird. Mike learned that the ducks were north so we bid Dave and Maggie farewell with many thanks. Back on the road again, we made our way to a new spot for the next couple of days.
Day two found us with a new guide and adorable puppy dog, Gary Grider and his yellow lab Ike. This time our blind was in a flooded field and it didn’t take long for us to spot ducks at all. We had been warned that these were “educated ducks” which meant to stay low and completely out of sight until the last possible moment to shoot. This was more of a “no frills” blind and therefore no hot chow sizzling in the background, but the ducks more than made up for it. It wasn’t long before Gary and Mike were calling and this time it was my turn to shoot first.
The sky was steely gray and the cold wind was blowing hard. It wasn’t really raining, but rather a constant misty drizzle made my nose and cheeks numb. All that was forgotten though as a lone duck came into view and the guys worked the calls. I was ready immediately. I will never forget those long moments when my hands gripped my trusty Benelli Super Vinci, my heart pounding and my breath steamy in front of my face. It seemed to take forever as she swooped lower, little by little at an excruciatingly slow pace. Then suddenly Mike let me know she was in range and I burst out of the blind’s concealing grass to take my first shots on a duck.
The bird’s plummet ended with a splash and Ike burst into action. I think he was as excited as I was! Mike too for that matter and that was the start of a great three days of hunting where I shot my first drakes and even a pintail!
My last day in Missouri the crew had to pack up to head home, but Mike and I stayed to hunt with Shawn and his father at a family spot in the timbers. There were no cameras this time, just a wonderful morning with a great group of guys. I spent a lot of time in the blind next to Mr. Dulohery while Shawn and Mike broke the ice on the pond to further entice the ducks to pick this spot to rest. He told me story after story and it reminded me of the days I used to sit in a metal lawn chair sharing a can of boiled peanuts with my grandpa.
Hunting in a stand above the ground over a pond in the middle of the woods seemed bizarre to me after our rather wet hunts in blinds half buried in the mud. But then I was rewarded with the most beautiful moments of the trip when mallard drakes with their green heads gleaming and hens with their wings streaked with purple all caught the sunlight as they spiraled down onto the water. The colors were brilliant with the only sound the flap of wings and splash of webbed feet hitting the water. It was breathtaking.
If I had to pick just one thing that made my first duck hunting trip so special it would have to be how amazing it was to be able to share it with wonderful people. Hunting, even with a partner, has always been quiet and almost solitary for me. Whether it’s sitting waiting on that turkey or whitetail to appear or stalking a mule deer or pronghorn, silence is a huge part of hunting. Waterfowl hunting though is not only addictive, but it is so social. You can make jokes and laugh, chat about family and hunting adventures, sip coffee and move around a bit, share the good times and even the sad moments…
Oh! And love on the dogs too!