Mentors are hard to forget in life. There’s always a lot to learn and we have to navigate it all somehow. Hunting is one of those times that having a mentor makes it easier to learn. My first hunting mentor was my old boss, Tony. That is where my passion for waterfowl began. I was only 19 years old and was making some major changes in my life and had just started a new job. Tony was a few years older than me and he was an avid hunter. Most of all, an avid waterfowler. His rack on his truck was mainly used for carrying a duck boat and there were always decoys in the bed of the truck and duck calls in his truck. I worked for him for less than a year, but he shaped my life.
He was an electrician and he hired me to help him out on jobs. He would call me the night before and tell me what time to be at his house and then we would load up his truck and go to work. Once waterfowl season started, he was having me meet him at his house even earlier than before. It became common for him to have me show up at his house at 3 or 4 a.m. The first time that happened I didn’t know we were going hunting. I didn’t have a gun or any hunter’s safety. The first time, we went down to the Carson River between Reno, NV and Carson City, NV. I still remember that first hunt like it was yesterday.
We pulled off the road and the morning was cold. We were having an exceptionally cold winter in Washoe County. I was tired from the early morning start and Tony had handed me some camo to change into for this hunt. Stepping out of the truck, I could feel the hairs in my nostrils freeze and my face close all its pores to try and preserve some heat. Washoe County is famous for its winds. It’s one of the few places in America that its winds have their own name. This was Fall so the wind was there. We unloaded his small duck boat and he grabbed his mud motor. I had no idea what I was doing but I was excited to learn.
Growing up in Reno I always saw football and softball fields get covered in geese every year and just saw them as a nuisance. I never realized that geese would one day shape my life. Waterfowl hunting was never something I had thought about either. I always wanted to learn how to deer and elk hunt but never had I thought about waterfowl hunting the way I do now. We carried his boat to a shallow spot on the river. Here in the west, our rivers are more like creeks to east coast hunters. It also didn’t help that it was Nevada’s high desert and that we had a very dry summer. The river had many shallow spots, so a flat bottom duck boat and a small mud motor were perfect for the situation. Of course, Tony already knew this.
This first hunt would be unsuccessful. We ended up parking the boat and Tony missed a couple of ducks. Along the way, we ran into two other hunters and linked up with them. We saw some geese fly over and Tony hit one of them but not enough to bring them down. A few minutes later we heard a chorus of gunfire from a goose hunting club that was just south of us. This was my introduction to a whole new world, and I was quickly being sucked in. For a few more weeks Tony would have me randomly come in extra early and I knew we were going hunting.
One day he told me he was planning on a hunt and asked if I wanted to join him. That was a no brainer! I wanted to be there every time he pulled his shotgun out. I was getting into a sport that I never thought I would be a part of. The day came and he had some waders for me. He had to teach me about them and how to get them on. I didn’t quite understand what was going on, but I was excited to find out. We drove a few miles out of town and this time we were going to hunt ducks on the Truckee River. We got to our parking spot a long time before the sun would come up. We had a hike ahead of us and we were hiking in the dark.
Again, the air was cold but this time my excitement was enough to keep me warm. My heart was racing, and I knew this was going to be a great day. I followed Tony since he had a headlamp and I tried to stay close. At one point we spooked what sounded like an army of geese and it was so dark all we could do was hear the honk and listen to the splashing water as this army took to the sky. Needless to say, I was full of anticipation. We eventually came to a spot where we needed to cross the river. I am terrified of water and I knew this was not the time to show that fear. Carefully I waded across in the dark. Feeling each rock and testing each step before planting my foot and moving forward.
Just before sunrise, we got to the spot that Tony had chosen. I don’t know if he had been there before or not, but I can still picture it. The river was shallow, and you could clearly see the river rocks from the surface. There was plenty of flow and as I set the decoys, I would watch them dance in the water. If I placed one in the wrong spot, Tony would point it out and have me move it. Where we hid there was a small sandy bank and a tree whose branches hung low and provided plenty of shade and cover. The highway was off in the distance and you could hear as semis would drive by on their way, completely oblivious as to the memories that were being made that day on the river.
Sunrise was about there and so was shooting hours. Tony had his plan and I was not about to ruin it. He told me where to sit and once he settled in, he started calling his ducks. I had never heard a duck call before and it was mesmerizing to watch the decoys moving and hearing the sounds of that duck call being blown. I had no idea what to expect or what I was about to witness, all I could do was wait. Tony would call a bit and then wait and listen, now I realize he was waiting for some sign of life. He must have scouted this place and for all I know, this might have been his honey hole. Eventually, he blew on that duck call and what seemed like some magic, I heard some ducks quacking back. They sounded far away but I think there was something to that. We were completely hidden and the only sky that could be seen was from underneath the canopy of branches.
My heart started pounding, I knew something would happen this time. Every time Tony would blow on his duck call my excitement would go up. There was something to this waterfowl hunting and it was getting me hooked. Soon I could hear the buzzing of duck wings flying over the top of us. Tony knew what was happening and he got his shotgun ready, I was doing all I could to hide my excitement. Soon these buffleheads popped around some bushes and seemed to be supersonic over the top of the decoys. Within a millisecond Tony had his gun shouldered and shells were flying towards me. With two shots I saw two buffleheads hit the water. It all happened so fast while I also can still picture it all happening in slow motion. This was my first successful hunt that I had been a part of and now two dead ducks were floating in the water. Quickly Tony told me to go get the one duck further downstream and he hurried to get the other. I ran into the river and splashed water everywhere so I could catch up to the first bufflehead.
Soon the reality of what just happened would hit me. As I was carrying the duck back to shore, I could still feel its warm body on my cold hands, and I gained respect for what had happened. This was no longer just a pretty duck that was flying but a life given for me. This is the moment that hunting went from being just a sport to being part of life, and that I had been part of completing the life cycle of this duck. I had instantly gained respect that is yet to fade away. I knew at that moment that I wouldn’t hunt and waste the meat of an animal.
We would hunt that spot for a while longer. While there, Tony shot a few more buffleheads. Me, I was in a state of awe at what that day had been like. The whole experience was something I wanted to do over and over again. On our hike back Tony did some jump shooting and I tried to retrieve some ducks in some water that was a little deep and I got some water in my waders. That was how I learned to not go too deep. After all, I was still afraid of water and feeling the river try to suck me under as I tiptoed down the riverbed was scary enough. That mallard was gone forever.
Once Tony dropped me off, he gave me those buffleheads and told me how to pluck them and how to cook them. This was the real start of this addiction or passion for waterfowl hunting. We all have mentors in life and people that get us hunting and trying new things in life. Tony was my boss, but he also gave me a hobby that has been passed on to my wife and eventually my kids. So, if you want to take someone new hunting, do it. You never know the impact that can have in their lives. Now my peace is found in the mountains and in the wild. It’s my happy place and it’s made even happier with my wife by my side sharing in that. We have had lots of great adventures and I encourage you to find someone in your life this season to get into hunting and help them get started. I never knew what I was getting into and now It’s a major part of my life. Maybe you can make that difference for someone else.
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