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Lee Massey '17 apologizes to the ducks

S.C. Wildlife magazine features Wofford student work

If it weren’t for the taste, I’d be sorry

It’s just a couple of minutes past five o’clock in the morning, and we’re headed out the back door of our small, beloved cabin that’s placed strategically in the middle of Hyde County, N.C. My brother, my dad, my dog and I grab all of our last-minute necessities and step out the door, quickly crossing the line from warmth into a cold, mysterious blackness. The crackling of the fireplace can no longer be heard in the background, and we’re left with only the lights from our headlamps. We’re now on a mission to beat the sunrise.

My dad grabs the sleigh of decoys, and we’re headed toward the pond, wasting no time at all. My black lab is named Nap, and just like always, he’s along for the hunt. Nap’s leading the way, wondering what could possibly be taking us so long; he’s been waiting all year for the season to finally open. He was bred to hunt and has been doing so all eight years of his life. I’m bringing up the rear with my gun strapped across my back and my gear bag hanging over my left shoulder. My dad instructs all three of us to keep quiet, making sure we don’t cause any unnecessary commotion. I can hear the leaves crackle beneath the boots of my heavy waders, Nap sniffing around, and the birds making their small wakes in the pond. Besides these subtle movements, all is still in the
early morning.

I’m 13, and I’ve grown up going hunting with my dad, but this is the first time I will be shooting my own gun. The butterflies in my stomach are a cross between nervousness and excitement — I’m ready to prove to the world that I’m a hunter. I think that my dad and brother are happy to have me tagging along, but I know they only hope that I don’t do anything stupid. I would hate to mess up the hunt for them, especially considering it’s opening day. Deciding to give me the complete experience, my dad informs me that we will not be sitting in the blind. Instead, we will be sitting in tiny seats, with no backs, that hold us an inch above the freezing cold water (as if this doesn’t add more pressure).

My dad turns around and hands me my wading stick, one similar to those used for hiking. It’s almost as tall as me and as thick around as my upper arm. I finally reach the water and take my first steps into the thick, unforgiving mud. I slowly make my way through the corn that reaches higher than my outstretched arms, continuing to bring up the rear. The cornfield has recently been flooded in order to make a waterfowl impoundment that we can hunt in. I notice a few pieces of corn that have fallen into the water and will soon be breakfast for the ducks. The water is rising (or maybe I’m sinking), and it becomes harder to make my way. I lose my balance a couple of times and have to stop for a moment, trying my hardest not to cause a ruckus. I can hear Nap splashing around, unable to control his excitement, and scaring a couple of ducks off. It’s beginning to get lighter outside, making it easier to see, and I can vaguely spot my destination. It seems as if I’ve been walking for hours.

I eventually catch up with everyone else and follow their actions of setting up camp. We will be sitting for the next couple of hours in nothing more than a small gap in the corn. My camouflage winter gloves cover my shooting gloves and keep my hands warm, for the time being. With all of my layers, it’s not easy for me to get around. I place my chair in the water and slowly lower myself into it, being sure not to miss and land in the water. I watch as my dad and brother set up the different groups of decoys. There must be some science to it, so I won’t bother trying to help.

I can hear people shooting before the legal time, sure that they’re going to get in trouble. I try to calm myself down, telling myself, “You’ve shot this gun plenty of times, the only difference is that the target is living.” It’s true, my dad has taken me to the shooting club more than enough times, but this seems different. I feel like I have something to prove or someone to impress. On top of that, I fear the feeling of apprehension in killing a living and breathing animal.

We finally reach the legal shooting time, and I’m immediately discouraged when no ducks appear, as if I thought 20 million ducks were going to fall out of the sky. We give it a few more minutes, and I spot one coming in low from the right. I shoulder my gun and wait a couple more seconds. It appears in front of me for a brief moment, and I know this is my time to shine. I line the barrel up just perfectly with the belly of the teal and pull the trigger, hoping for the best. As a shock to everyone, my shot is perfectly on target, and the teal lands stomach first in the water, causing a big splash. I cringe for a second at the thought that I just killed a living creature, but my mood quickly changes when I hear my dad and brother congratulate me.

I look at my dad and can interpret a wide range of emotions on his face. He’s shocked that I was able to hit the duck, kind of frustrated that I scared off all of the other ducks, and thrilled that his daughter has hunting potential. We decide to call the first kill of the season Tommy the Teal.

To this day, Tommy the Teal is stuffed and hanging on a wall in my room. Although he was the first duck I ever shot and killed, he was by no means the last (not all of my shots have been quite so accurate though). I often weigh the rewards of shooting ducks, pride in success and food to eat, with the idea of killing an innocent little creature who’s only looking for breakfast. I consider this each time I pull the trigger. I don’t know that it’ll ever stop me from doing what I love, but I can definitely show the poor things some sympathy.

It may come across as insincere, considering that I still shoot them anyway, but if I could write an apology to let the ducks know I’m sorry, I would. I’d explain to them that I feel remorse for shooting all of their family and friends and leaving them to fly all alone. I’d tell them that as much as I hate to admit it, they could easily be next. I would say to watch their backs and try to learn from their peers’ mistakes. And most importantly of all, I’d let them know that they taste quite delicious.

by Lee Massey ’17