Thursday, December 13, 2007

Snow Ducks - Unabridged

Headed to Canoga Crick last Monday eve. The Tidball B&B is conveniently located 9.1 miles from the Waterloo Holiday Inn, home to the annual Cornell Extension School. A winter storm was brewing and the ride from central Pennsylvania involved white knuckles, four wheel drive and a lot of luck. I arrived in time to slow Mo on her evening chores while waiting for Keith to return from one of the many committees on which he serves. Hogs were slopped, horses and steers watered and fed.

Committee Man was soon home, sending Mo to collect TMR left-overs from the neighbor’s farm as we manly men uncorked a demi-bouteille of Muscat, caught up on recent histories and made our hunting plans. The wind blew snow in horizontal panes and the fire crackled. It was perfect. Eventually Mo returned from her chores, joining us for a glass of dessert wine. I felt a pang of guilt but Committee Man assured me that Monday was Mo’s day to do the chores. Oh, the charmed life of Committee Man.

I woke up Tuesday to Keith’s knock on the door. The snow was still falling, out of which materialized Mike O’Connor. We slid down Cemetery Road in Keith’s incongruous, leather-seated farm vehicle, the White Wildebeest. It took some fancy driving, but we made it across one of Keith’s cut corn fields to our hunting site. With six inches of snow, we had to perform the Canoga Shuffle to install decoys as well as to expose soil and stover. At some point the Flying Circus and two Mojo’s joined our menagerie. This was the ritual of goose hunting, but our spread was intended for mallards and blacks. The wind blew and snow filled our divots.

Just as the hunt began Mike’s nephew and a friend joined us. We were ensconced in a small stand of uncut corn, thoughtfully left in place by the hunting-addicted land owner. For the first half hour of sunlight, there was nothing but snow to watch. Then, the honk of geese caught our attention and Keith invited the Canadas to our fieldwith a few love clucks. As he worked the geese, three mallards dropped out of the sky. We scrambled to meet them with steel. Keith dropped a drake. The hunt was on! We continued to call, both geese and ducks. At times, birds would materialize over our shoulders, close enough to know not to return if they were fortunate enough to get away. I must confess to a few rookie actions, including jumping up (instinctively) shortly after several undetected mallards buzzed by within 10 yards but long after they were out of range. The snow and steel flew and the birds obliged us.

Speaking for my own performance only, I missed more than I killed, but I was content with the outcome. I scratched down a mallard hen that crashed into the snow 80 yards away. I connected on another hen that had been grazed by someone else. It flew over 300 yards, clearly wounded, and was lost in the fluries. I trudged down corn rows, and, for awhile, feared that my search was hopeless. But, there she was, one field over (just where Mike thought she would be), having left a six foot snow divot where she first ricocheted off the ground before settling in a second, blood-soaked divot twelve feet from the first. Ah, the forensics of retrieving downed game.

By 9:00 I had to leave for a hot shower and the conference in Waterloo, which, unfortunately, had not been cancelled. I must confess to a somewhat uneven performance in my first talk. I connected better with the audience on the subject of snow ducks than on my own research. A second talk proved to be my professional redemption, but I was anxious to return to snow ducks as soon as the last question was answered. By 3:00 I was back at Canoga. Alas, the storm and birds of the morning hunt had moved on. So, we admired a beautiful sunset and (Watershed) Committee Man treated me to an informative tour of the Canoga Creek watershed.

Back at the Canoga B&B, Victoria, Charlotte and Mo awaited our return. We popped a bottle of bubbly as well as we prepared a very late dinner. Victoria ably blessed the farm, food and meal. I nervously awaited the Tidball verdict (both generations): fresh, peppered duck breasts on a bed of salad, sautéed cheeses, roasted potato chips and (gen 1 only) a Portuguese red of forgotten varietals. All was perfect. After dinner we crooned a few tunes, enjoyed the fire and, of course, planned the following morning’s hunt.

1 comment:

KGT said...

The verdict on the meal was the same as for this post.

Il raconta una histoire fantastique de chasse au canard et de gastronomie.

kgt aka Cagey aka (charmed) Committee Man