If you know me at all, you know I love this particular weekend. I get pretty would up about getting my kids out, and have always cherished this one weekend where they get to be the sole focus, as opposed to a tag along with a bunch of adults to compete with for action and attention.
The significance of this particular year’s youth weekend lays in the fact that it will be my last as far as my own kids go. We bought my sixteen-year-old son’s first hunting license and stamps during early teal – leaving my fifteen year old daughter to close down our last early “youth hunt” together. We brought a friend of hers along as well, and added a fellow Outdoorsman’s younger boys to the mix and hit the blind for some Saturday action.
There’s always a bit more to this than shooting ducks. I am pretty sure the girls had as much fun getting their faces painted up as they did taking shots at barely-in-range Gadwall. And it’s an absolute joy seeing the 8-year-old scan the skies like a veteran, eagerly straining his eyes for something resembling fowl, ever alert and as ready as a kid that age can be. These things, the conversations and observations that take place, add a layer of enjoyment that we may not get often when the company is otherwise, when the focus is on providing an entirely different experience for an entirely different crowd.
We didn’t exactly put the smack down on the birds this day. There were a few shots taken at the gadwall and teal that stopped in to visit the youngsters, but none would make the jerky pile on this day.
We did, however, have an additional visitor. One known to a few of us by the name of “Old Longneck”…
Old Longneck had made a name for himself over the course of the 6-8 weeks leading up to the youth opener. He’d managed to stake his claim to our mud-hole and hold it as his own. Any and every morning we were out working on blinds, or just driving by scouting, he was there. Stalwart and steadfast, Old Longneck was vigilant as the keeper of the mud flat, regardless of hammer, drill, or saw goings-on merely 75-100 yards away. Fearless. I knew once the season started, we’d inevitably be butting heads with Old Longneck.
He needed only make it through the youth weekend, and then we would have our showdown, he and the Outdoorsmen.
Later in that Saturday morning hunt, we heard his haunting cry as he floated in to claim his post, seemingly unconcerned with the apparent impostors now floating about his domain. Old Longneck had arrived.
Walking through the decoys like a king in the mere inches of water, Old Longneck surveyed the motley crew of plastic, barking authoritative honks, clearly agitated at the lack of response from these apparently timid squatters. Meanwhile, in the blind, we were cautiously, quietly, preparing our crew for this highly anticipated showdown – knowing that Old Longneck might be more than the women and children could handle, we made the call and unleashed Youth’s Fury on the unsuspecting gander.
Calling the shot, however, did not phase Old Longneck in the least bit. He stared us down, unwavering, cursing us in ways that made us glad we didn’t speak the tongue of the Branta Canadensis. Surrounded by our posse of hungry youth, all barrels on him, he stood his ground, refusing to take flight – willing to defend this mud flat to the end.
Finally, I left the safety of the blind in an effort to push him out of the decoys, by force if need be, giving our guests a chance at bringing Old Longneck home. It took me walking halfway out into the water to get him to blink, and off he went, triggering a volley of shots that rang on until one final report, with an eyeball measurement of something in the 50-60 yard range, brought Old Longneck back down to the water.
It did, in fact, appear that my daughter had knocked down her first goose. Unfortunately, bringing Old Longneck down and retrieving Old Longneck for a journey to our table at home would be two very different tales.
Longneck, unable to return to flight, made his way to the damn across the pond. A sweeping team of four kids and two adults covering the acres below the damn turned up no clues, no findings; Old Longneck had escaped. There were some mighty unhappy girls finishing out that hunt, but a generally enjoyable morning was had by all. Nobody got cold, everyone got to shoot at some birds, and we had donuts and hot chocolate (and coffee for the teenage girls!) – a lot of “win” for everyone.
Sunday would be equally exciting, minus the girls, and adding another young fellow with an eye for birds at a distance. It’s amazing what the eyes of youth can find on those distant horizons… reminds folks like me that years are passing by, and my eyes are not what they used to be.
Sunday’s highlight ended up being a nice group of 8 geese that finished a bit out from the decoys. These gees came rushing in and hissed at the decoys, even so much as attacking their silent, molded brethren. This show was actually pretty amazing. Unfortunately, the lab thought so as well, and a breaking dog on geese in the decoys is not very conducive to inexperienced youth behind the trigger. For the sake of dog and decoys, all of these geese were spared the wrath of our collective offspring. Besides, we think these geese were sent by Old Longneck to deal with the “new gang” moving in on the mudflat.
It did not go unnoticed that for several weeks following youth weekend, a lone Canada goose with a very long neck was seen on the pond just down the road. We kept an eye out for Old Longneck, and feel pretty confident that he made his way to safety, and is, to this day, holding vigil over his very own mudflat somewhere…
Youth Weekend. Always a time for fun and stories. This year did not disappoint.
For a few additional pics from our Youth weekend hunts, click HERE.