Pothole Pheasant

By Kirk Billings

We had discussed it and we’d agreed.

We were upland hunting and not waterfowling. Besides, we had never seen ducks in the area, so why would I spring for an out of state license to play to an outside chance?

We were looking for pheasant and the birds already knew it. They had seen us and every other poorly connected rube coming and had taken refuge on the best, safest habitat around: private property with no hunting access.

So we went for a drive. Scouting, we called it, but we wanted blood. Pheasant, sharpies, huns, road signs…it probably didn’t matter at that point.

I was as game for it as anyone when we ran across the first pothole with ducks in it. Four, to be precise. Mallards, catastrophically close to the bank and tucked up under enough brush to hide anyone with confit and l’orange on their mind and steel shot in their guns. As the one guy without a license, I was the dropoff driver. It was a treat to watch it unfold through the binoculars, a perfect two man stalk, excellent shooting and a triple retrieve.

The rest of the day was a frustrating, windy lesson as to why it’s easier to get meat at the store than it is to get it the old fashioned, fair chase way, especially in unfamiliar terrain. We walked and the dogs circled. Their spirals expanded as the frustration at not finding birds, any birds at all, increased.

And then it happened. Another pothole. Me as the (ahem) lame duck driver and two assassins creeping up to the edge of a noisy, wide spot in the prairie, filled with dishwater. After the first round of ducks busted the would be assassins started back to the truck. Then, inexplicably, they turned back to the pothole they had just rousted a hundred birds from without firing a shot. When I broke cover and popped over the dam I found them hunched under a lone tree at the edge of the water, no camo and no real cover, just two nimrods and a dog, everyone looking a little giddy. They pointed. The ducks were circling. There was strong hope they were coming back. I retreated to the truck so there would be one less shiny face to spook the ducks as they returned.

I retrospect, I noticed something each time I watched them sneaking up on a little pond on the plain. They looked like kids playing GI Joe – not because they were bad at sneaking – but because they were so happy and absorbed in what they were doing. Like any successful carnivore, they were fully immersed in the best opportunity available.

I am convinced that this is the secret to a happy life. Do what you can with what you’ve got, make the best of what opportunities come your way and buy a frickin’ duck license.

Seriously, what was I thinking?

*Kirk is exceedingly talented, so we were not surprised when we learned that in addition to being a skilled outdoorsman, outstanding brewer, and all around good guy, he can write. 

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